34 entries categorized "Interviews"

Promoting access and accessibility: An interview with Para triathlete and FACE™ grant recipient, Leanne Taylor

In 2018, Leanne Taylor was riding mountain bikes with her fiancé on the Bison Butte Trail in Winnipeg when she hit an unlucky bump and took a spill over her handlebars. Taking a fall is a regular thing for mountain bikers, but this fall was much different. Leanne dislocated her spine between the 9th and 10th thoracic vertebrae and was permanently paralyzed from the waist down.

As part of her rehab, Leanne discovered Para triathlon and competed in her first race just 8 months after her accident. In the five years since, Leanne has become a world-class athlete with her sights set on competing at the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris. She also received a Petro-Canada Fuelling Athlete and Coaching Excellence (FACE™) grant in both 2020 and 2022.

Picture of Leanne Taylor, Para triathlete
Photo Courtesy of Leanne Taylor

In advance of the annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities (December 3), I caught up with Leanne to talk about how her training is progressing, the impact Para sport has had on her life and how her wedding planning is going.

PT: Thank you so much for taking some time out of your very busy schedule to talk with me today! As you know, December 3rd is International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), a time specifically to celebrate achievements and promote inclusivity. From your perspective, what changes or initiatives do you believe are most important for fostering a more inclusive environment for people with disabilities in sports and society?

When a lot of people see a person with a disability, they think "That's so sad. That must be really hard." Myself, I'm a wheelchair user so people think "Life as a wheelchair user must be so hard."

But what makes life as a wheelchair user hard is lack of accessibility as opposed to the disability itself.

For example, there are some physical things I'm excluded from as a wheelchair user; however, there are a lot of physical things I'm not excluded from because of my disability but because of lack of accessibility or access. For example, I can swim 5k no problem - but I can't get into certain pools.

Another example, at certain sporting events, if a person with a disability wants to buy a ticket in an accessible spot, they can often only bring one friend. It’s all these little things that exclude you from full participation in what is “normal” or available to everyone else.

People think that disability is sad, but they don’t realise that the lack of accessibility is actually what’s sad.


PT: So, an important focus would be on finding ways to make these places and events more accessible?

Yeah. For example, if I approach an event and ask, “Can I participate?” a lot of the time people are uncomfortable with how to make it happen, so the answer is “no”. Not because they couldn’t do it, but because they are uncomfortable with not knowing how and with asking for help.

But in a lot of cases, people really want the answer to be “yes”, so they come back to me and ask what I need for an event to be accessible. This is hard for people to do! It can be difficult to say “yes”, but the people who are willing to have those conversations can open a lot of doors.


PT: What advice would you have for individuals with a disability who may be hesitant to pursue sports or physical activities?

When I think about getting into Para sports, I think about how I felt when I wanted to go swimming for the first time after my accident. One of the biggest challenges when going into a new sport, as a person with a disability, is that you don't know what you're doing. And people are going to watch you – people with a disability attract attention – not because they are unkind but because they are interested. That’s what can make trying something new difficult and that can create a lot of fear.

Something that motivates me when I’m in a unique environment – and people are looking at me and I feel a bit shy – is that the next time people see someone with a disability in this environment, it won't attract so much attention.

It's hard sometimes to be motivated to do something for just yourself, but then you realize that every time you go out and do something new or uncomfortable, you're doing a service to the entire disabled community. We can all become comfortable with seeing people with disabilities in these spaces.

Picture of Leanne Taylor, Para triathlete lined up in the water, ready to race the swimming portion of a triathlon
Photo Courtesy of Leanne Taylor

PT: You have several videos on your social media about making your home more accessible. Have you received any feedback on those videos?

I posted those videos because one time when I was out biking, I was approached by a woman who had followed my social media. She said that she had someone in her life who had become a wheelchair user and that she was curious how to make her home feel more friendly and accessible to that person, especially since she didn’t own the home. Our first home wasn’t originally designed to be fully wheelchair accessible, so I’m able to show the different, incremental ways you can make things a little bit easier or more accessible for a person in a wheelchair.


PT: How’s training going? Are the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games the next big event you’re working towards?

Training’s really good. There are athletes who absolutely love racing and there are athletes who love training; and I love training! For the Paris Games, qualification happens over a year period and is based on the top three scores you receive in qualifying events – then they take the top nine athletes in the class. I’ve got two really good scores so far. The third event was supposed to be the test event for Para triathlon at the Paris Games, but the water quality wasn’t good enough to allow us to swim. So I’ll be doing another full triathlon in March. If I perform like I’ve been performing, I should qualify – but we won’t know ‘til then. My coach tells me I should stop worrying!


PT: Sports can bring you to some high highs and some low lows. What motivates you to continue pushing boundaries and setting new challenges for yourself?

When you think about what you're trying to accomplish, you do have goals that are based on medals and race finishes and specific results, but if that's the only thing you're there for, you put yourself in a position to be heartbroken when things outside of your control happen that don't allow you to achieve the results that you wanted. Triathlon is, in some ways, a chaotic sport and anything can happen – a flat tire, different maps, race crashes – that can impact the results.

As much as I want a medal in Paris, it can't be the only thing keeping me coming back. So when I approach a start line, I take a minute to tell myself that I’ve been brave and worked hard and pushed past so much to be there in the first place. I take a minute to appreciate the skills I’ve developed and the kind of person it took to even get to that start line. Whether or not I get the medal, when I get home from the Games, it’s just a piece of metal and the person I’ve become is the real accomplishment.

Picture of Leanne Taylor, Para triathlete, in her racing wheelchair, racing along a track.
Photo Courtesy of Leanne Taylor

PT: How has participating in Para triathlon impacted your overall well-being and quality of life?

When I was first injured, people would come into my hospital room and cry which I understand because my kind of injury is sad and traumatic for everyone.  But I didn’t want to be the person that people think when they see me “Oh that's so sad what happened to her.” When I was still in the ICU, one of the things I said to my fiancé is that I want to build a life, after my injury, that is so good that we wouldn't go back and undo the injury.

That’s a really tall order and at the beginning, it probably wasn't true, but I've been injured for five years, and I can honestly say that if I had the option to go back, I wouldn't do it. The connections I’ve made with other people, the confidence that I've built in myself and the life that I have built for my family is so positive, and is just the place that I feel like I should be. So much of that can be attributed to Para sport, the environment that it puts you in, and the people that you meet and how much they teach you about what's really important.


PT: On a personal note, you’re getting married soon. How is wedding planning going, particularly as a person with a disability?

We chose a venue specifically that is accessible. There are going to be at least three wheelchair users, so we wanted to make sure people could navigate around tables easily. Also, one of my teammates who is visually impaired was originally going to be able to attend (sadly, now she isn’t). But at the time we discussed having someone narrate the ceremony; since she is completely blind, she wouldn’t necessarily know what’s going on. We thought it would be nice to open our guests’ eyes a bit to the experience of other people.


PT: Leanne, thank you so much for sharing your story and your insights! Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials; we wish you all the best. And we’ll be there rooting for you on your road to Paris.

If you want to follow Leanne’s Para sport journey, you can check out her Instagram and her TikTok. We also have more of our interview with Leanne on our own Instagram. We’re grateful for Leanne’s dedication to advocating for more inclusive spaces for persons with disabilities – a key theme in the observance of International Day of Persons with Disabilities – alongside her own Para sport goals and are proud to support her athletic dreams.

 Since 1988, Petro-Canada has supported over 3,500 Canadian athletes and their coaches by providing more than $13.5 million in financial support through the Fuelling Athlete and Coaching Excellence (FACE™) grant program. Hundreds of these athletes have then gone on to represent Canada at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Learn more about the FACE programand how we’ve been supporting Canadian athletes and coaches for 35 years.


Innovation and Inclusion in Sport: An Interview with Paralympian Zak Madell

At Petro-Canada, we believe in the transformative power of sport, for both individuals and communities. We see it in the growth and development of the Canadian athletes and coaches we support through the Petro-Canada Fuelling Athlete and Coaching Excellence (FACE) grants. We feel it when we watch Canadians compete at the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and all of Canada comes together to root for the athletes and coaches wearing the maple leaf.

This belief is one of the reasons that we’re excited about the theme for this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (December 3): Transformative solutions for inclusive development - the role of innovation in fuelling an accessible and equitable world. In particular, the UN holds up sport as an exemplar case in innovation for disability inclusive development and a sector for innovation, employment and equity.

Zak Madell, Wheelchair Rugby, Tokyo 2020
Photo Credit: Canadian Paralympic Committee

We wanted to hear from a Canadian athlete about how innovation has impacted their sport. Last year in our interview with Catherine Gosselin-Després, Executive Director of Sport at the Canadian Paralympic Committee, we learned about on-site repairs for athletes during the Paralympic Games, especially in the rough-and-tumble sport of wheelchair rugby (aka Murderball), so that seemed like a good place to start for a chat about innovation in sport. We were delighted to connect with Zak Madell, wheelchair rugby athlete and 3-time Paralympian.

When Zak was 10, he lost his fingers and legs to a septic staph infection. After his recovery, Zak first got involved in Para ice hockey, but had difficulty holding the stick well enough to play at a high level. Next, he was introduced to wheelchair basketball, which appealed to his competitive nature and his love of speed. Finally, he was recruited to wheelchair rugby in 2011 and has experienced a meteoric rise in the sport ever since. Zak has competed in 3 Paralympic Games (London, Rio and Tokyo) as well as several other international tournaments.

Zak, thank you so much for speaking with us today! Wondering if you can talk about how this year’s IDPD theme speaks to you? In particular, the UN holds up sport at an example of a sector which creates equity, employment and innovation for persons with disabilities. How has sport impacted your life?

My life would obviously look very different if I was not involved in sport. After I had my fingers and legs amputated at the age of 10, sport played a key role in rehabilitating both physically and more importantly mentally. Another advantage of getting involved in Para sport are the relationships that you develop over the years. For many having a disability can feel isolating at times. I know for myself that growing up it was difficult being one of the only people in my school with a physical disability. Through the sport community I met countless other athletes with disabilities that share both similar life experience as well as a passion for sport. 

Have there been innovations in your own sport of wheelchair rugby that have improved inclusion or equity?

We have seen a lot of innovation in the sport of wheelchair rugby since its inception in Winnipeg back in 1977. Originally the sport was played in heavy and cumbersome everyday wheelchairs. Fast forward 40+ years and we now see high performance, durable and lightweight devices that are specifically designed for the sport. These are usually custom fitted to the athlete depending on their level of function, with increased support and stability for athletes with limited core muscles, and custom frames designed to accommodate athletes with limb deficiencies. This has helped people with a wider range of disabilities to get involved in our sport, while the chairs allow them to compete at the highest level possible.

Any advice for persons with disabilities who are considering getting involved in sport?

There is a sport out there for everyone. However, sometimes you may have to try a few different ones to find the right fit for you. The first step is just coming out and trying them! There is no need to be nervous, or any expectations for you to be the next superstar Paralympian. Just go and enjoy yourself, and hopefully find a passion for a new sport that will create some amazing opportunities, introduce you to some great communities and will change your life in the best ways imaginable.

You've competed in 3 Paralympic Games. Do you have plans to compete in Paris?

Yes! That is my current plan. Before Tokyo I was unsure if I would continue the life of a high-performance athlete. However, I still have a burning passion for wheelchair rugby and the desire to bring home another Paralympic medal for my country. Also, the fact that the Tokyo games were delayed one year meant that it was only a 3-year cycle before Paris, and that made it feel like a more manageable commitment. 


Thank you, Zak! We really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today. If you’d like to hear more from Zak (and you do because he is an inspirational speaker), you can tune in on December 5th for a Paralympic panel discussion on International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Zak will be joined by fellow Paralympians and members of the Paralympic community.

Get to know the artists behind our beaded logo – Part 1

No one likes to be stereotyped. Historically, Indigenous people in Canada have put up with racist imagery that doesn’t represent their full cultural spectrum as unique and varied nations.

Several years ago, in preparation for Indigenous History Month, we consulted with our Indigenous associates, and members of Indigenous communities, about the visual materials we wanted to use in honour of the occasion.  The images we had chosen were respectful but somewhat traditional, including various dancers at a pow-wow.

An elder and board member of one of the Indigenous nations said, “We are more than feathers and leathers. There is more that represents us as a people.”

We took that comment to heart and sought to listen, learn, and understand how we might better represent Indigenous culture and our respect for our Indigenous relationships. Through this, we discovered that art through the form of beadwork is an important, and beautiful, aspect of Indigenous culture. Different nations and tribes have unique colours and designs in their beadwork practice, but the traditional craft is one they all have in common.

Petro-Canada Beaded Logo Artists

With that idea in mind, we reached out to our Indigenous partners and got recommendations for Indigenous beadwork artists from associates, chiefs, and board members of Indigenous nations. We commissioned artists from several First Nations across Canada to design their own version of a beaded Petro-Canada logo. The idea was to choose one to digitize and share to acknowledge the history and experiences of Indigenous peoples as well as celebrate our relationships.

After seeing all the artists’ designs, we wanted to share all of them – along with each of their stories – with Canadians. Here, we introduce four of the artists, along with their beaded logo designs.


Didi Grandjambe

Didi Grandjambe, a Cree beadwork artist residing in the Fort McKay First Nation

When Didi created her version of the Petro-Canada logo, she knew what she wanted to do – though it did take her two tries. “When I imagined my design, I could immediately see it. I wanted to take a different way around the maple leaf. I did have to try it twice – I ended up taking the first one apart but got it the way I wanted the second time. Took me about three weeks of work to complete.”

Didi is pleased to be part of Petro-Canada’s beaded logo initiative and hopes more companies will follow suit with projects that will start the process of educating others. “Reaching out to local people who do traditional crafts… it really brings awareness to our culture. It starts a process of people asking questions and wanting to learn more.”

Read more about Didi, her beadwork background and her thoughts on the role that companies like Petro-Canada, a Suncor business, can play in Truth and Reconciliation


Rosita Hirtle

Rosita Hirtle, a beadwork artist of Dene descent from the Fort McKay First Nation

Rosita’s designs are inspired both by her traditional culture as well as pop culture. “Dene beadwork is an inspiration. The different ways the flowers are drawn in our culture. Our different colours.” Rosita laughs, “but I’ve also made a phone grip of Yoda. I love the craft. I don’t even look at it as time. If I’m troubled or stressed, I just sit down and work on my beads. There’s an area at my kitchen table that is just for beading. No one sits in Mommy’s chair!”

Rosita sees beadwork, like other visual arts, as a way to contribute to healing and reconciliation. “Art gives notice, it gives recognition to a cause. It starts conversations. It’s something that people can point to and say ‘have you seen this?’ Art helps bring things to the surface. We need to talk about things (like MMIWG or Every Child Matters) so they aren’t forgotten. Healing starts with conversations.”

Read more about Rosita, her 40 years of beadwork experience and the importance of learning to her spirituality


Janice Johnstone

Janice Johnstone, a beadwork artist and member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation

Even though Janice has been beading for over twenty years, she’s never done a dream catcher like this one before. “I make little ones for your car with pendant feathers. And I’ve done a big one before with fringes. But never one this big with a centrepiece. I used the biggest hoop ring I could find – it’s half webbing and half centrepiece. But the fringes were the hardest part.”

For Janice, initiatives like Petro-Canada’s beaded logo project are an important contribution to Truth and Reconciliation. “Asking for participation from Indigenous artists and sharing Indigenous cultures helps. Putting a logo like this up, whether at sites across Canada or online, helps. It recognizes what Indigenous people have gone through. It’s an awesome idea and I’m honoured I was asked to participate.”

Read more about Janice, her other beadwork projects and her connection to Residential Schools


Shantel Nawash

Shantel Nawash, a beadwork artist with Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) and traditional Blackfoot heritage (Siksika Nation); member of the Saugeen First Nation

When Shantel was asked to design a logo for Petro-Canada, she knew that she wanted it to be functional. Not something that was simply hung in the lobby but could be worn to events and seen by people. So, she chose a medallion. “Beadwork is so intricate, so time-consuming. There is authenticity in something that is made from your own two hands. It’s a very sacred thing. It’s a piece of me.”

When she isn’t beading, Shantel is a full-time employee at Suncor for the past 11 years, currently an SCM Administrator/Analyst. She is also the Cultural Awareness Circle Lead on Journeys, Suncor’s employee inclusion group for Indigenous employees. When Shantel first got involved with Suncor and its support of Indigenous culture, it was surprising to her that more people didn’t know about Indigenous culture – from something as simple as bannock to more complex issues like the history of Residential schools in Canada. “It’s not that people don’t care. It’s that they don’t know. And how can you care about something that you don’t know? That’s why visibility is really important. All during the (National Indigenous History) month I’ll be wearing my ribbon skirt and my kokum scarf. The more visibility, the better!”

Read more about Shantel, her process for beading and her perspective on generational trauma


Many thanks to these artists for their contributions to this project and sharing their stories! We are honoured to share them with you. Look for an introduction to the next set of artists later this summer.

Living Life and Taking Care of Business in the Yukon – an interview with Bobbi-Jane Kellestine

Readers, I have a confession. I’m not a fan of winter. Or cold. Or snow. I’m firmly a summer sport gal. I’d rather swim than ski, vacation on a beach rather than a mountain, and wear linen capris rather than a parka. So I have a lot of admiration for people who live in extremely cold areas.

Igloo on Fish Lake. Photo Credit: Ben Howie
Igloo on Fish Lake. Photo Credit: Ben Howie

I recently spoke with Bobbi-Jane Kellestine, the assistant manager at Dall Contracting, a residential and commercial bulk fuel distributor in the Yukon. As the youngest female bulk fuel manager in Petro-Canada’s Western network, I was keen to discuss some of the challenges with fuel distribution in Canada’s northern regions but also understand what life, in general, is like in the land of the midnight sun.

Bobbi-Jane Kellestine
Bobbi-Jane Kellestine

PT: Hi, Bobbi-Jane - thank you for taking the time to chat with me about all things Yukon! Can you tell me a bit about your journey to Canada’s north?

BK: I moved to the Yukon with my mom in 2006 from Muskoka, Ontario. While Muskoka is an amazing place to be, and I will always treasure my memories of life there, the Yukon is my Home. As the years have passed I’ve been very blessed to be able to explore so much of this captivating territory and now I couldn’t possibly imagine living anywhere else. I attended the Yukon University (then Yukon College) Health Care Attendant program. I worked various health care positions over the years but in the summer of 2019 I found myself looking for a change.

A January 2022 day in Whitehorse. So. Cold.
A January 2022 day in Whitehorse. So. Cold.

PT: How did you get started in the oil and gas business?

BK: Being a young Ojibwe woman, I was a bit hesitant to apply on a job in the petroleum industry with no previous industry experience, but I applied on a position at Dall Contracting and finally discovered my true passion. I was so lucky to have found a company like Dall that was willing to guide and counsel me as I dove headfirst into learning the inner workings of life at a bulk petroleum plant. I’ve been provided with so many fantastic resources and mentors to help me expand my knowledge of the industry that I was able to advance into a management role at our Whitehorse bulk plant.

PT: What’s the work like at Dall Contracting? What kinds of customers do you serve?

BK: We operate 5 bulk plants in Whitehorse YT, Watson Lake YT, Fort Nelson BC, Fort St John BC, and Dawson Creek BC. We provide bulk petroleum to a wide variety of industries including mining, drilling, construction, road maintenance, agriculture, automotive, forestry, and many others. Additionally, Dall Contracting sites offer commercial cardlock services, residential heating fuel deliveries, and the supply of lubricants*. In Whitehorse, we also have the distinction of being the northernmost Petro-Canada Commercial Cardlock in the Yukon Territory.

Carcross Railway Bridge. Photo Credit: Ben Howie
Carcross Railway Bridge. Photo Credit: Ben Howie

PT: What unique challenges do you face supporting your customers?

BK: On the shortest day of the year in Whitehorse, the sun rises at 11:09 AM and sets at 4:46 PM. In December we saw more than 21 days of snow, and in January local temperatures hit -45 degrees Celsius, -51 with the wind chill. Conditions like that make for a very cold, dark day at work. It’s on days like this, when nothing wants to work in the extreme weather that our drivers are called on to do just that. They face frozen equipment, deep snow drifts, difficult driving conditions, and countless other challenges to ensure that our clients as well as their homes and businesses stay safe, warm, and well cared for.

South Canol Road in the Yukon. Photo Credit: Ben Howie
South Canol Road in the Yukon. Photo Credit: Ben Howie

Avalanches, mudslides, wildfire, and flooding are all challenges we face each year in the north, both locally and through the impacts of road closures resulting from these events. We do what we can as a community to be prepared and to support one another in the aftermath but it isn’t always easy.

PT: Are there particular areas of growth that you see in the Yukon?

BK: I believe that it’s important to shop and support local with the things we use most often when it’s possible to do so, and being able to supply quality Canadian fuels is something that I take pride in. The Yukon has a fast-growing agriculture industry with more than 10,000 hectares of agriculture area. Farming in the north presents unique sets of challenges that Yukoners seem eager and ready to face. I feel that the opportunity to grow with and support the local farming community is an exciting one.

PT: What else about the Yukon would you like to share with our readers?

BK: The Yukon is home to some of the most spectacular sights and scenery in the country. We boast the world’s smallest desert in Carcross, coming in at just 1.6km2. 17 of 20 of the country’s tallest mountains are in Yukon, including Mt. Logan, Canada’s tallest peak at 5,959m. The Yukon River is Canada’s second longest river measuring 3,190km. We are so lucky to be able to live, work, and play amongst these phenomenal places. As a reward for surviving and thriving in the Yukon’s harsh winter playgrounds, we are blessed with Yukon summers. With up to 24 hours of daylight in some areas, you can really keep a good day going.

Yukon River. Photo Credit: Ben Howie
Yukon River. Photo Credit: Ben Howie

PT: Anything you miss about living in a more southern area?

BK: The Yukon doesn’t leave me wanting for much, but if I had to identify one thing I miss about living down south I’d have to say I miss experiencing warmth and darkness at the same time. There is something to be said for a nice bonfire with friends on a warm night under the moon, rather than under the Midnight Sun.


Bobbi-Jane, thank you for sharing some insight about living and working in the Yukon! And thank you to Ben Howie for letting us share some of his photos here. For more of Ben’s photos and life in the Yukon, check out our Instagram post.

~ Kate T.

*PetroCanada Branded Lubricants are supplied by PetroCanada Lubricants Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of HollyFrontier.

Moving the Needle - a Conversation with Melba Da Silva about her Inclusion and Diversity Journey

Over the last couple of years on PumpTalk, it's been a great privilege for me to speak with a number of people across the Petro-Canada family who have shared their stories, particularly around inclusion and diversity: Chris Forward who speaks about the importance of 2SLGBTQ+ people being able to bring their authentic selves to work, Melissa Tacan who encourages us to be "heart in" around Truth and Reconciliation, and Andrea Decore who reminds us that diversity in the workplace is an economic issue, not just a social one.

As a result of these interviews, I've spent a lot of time thinking about how to be an ally - as an 2SLGBTQ+ person, I have a bit of perspective on what good allyship looks like, but as a white person, I know that I have a long way to go in supporting colleagues who are Black and Persons of Colour. So, in not-so-coincidental timing with Black History Month, I connected with Melba Da Silva. Melba is a 20-year employee of Petro-Canada in Downstream Operations plus she is a founding member of Mosaic at Suncor (proud parent of Petro-Canada); Mosaic is a network of Black employees, advocates and allies that is empowered, informed and positioned to positively influence Suncor’s people & cultural journey.

Melba Da Silva

I spoke with Melba about her perspective on diversity, being Black at work and how colleagues can be supportive and true allies.

PT: Thanks for talking with me, Melba! I’d like to start by chatting about Black History Month. Admittedly, I was a little hesitant to do this interview because I didn't want to just be "checking a box".

MD: Let me ask you a question: since we started talking (Editor’s Note: we’ve had three meetings to discuss this article), have you spoken with other people about the issues we’ve been discussing? If yes, then this is not just a check box. Being an ally is repetitive behaviour; it’s all about persistence.

Just by having our conversations we’ve moved the needle on inclusion, diversity and understanding. A small move, but a move nonetheless. I work in agile development and I think about I&D in those terms: make a small change, assess and, if it works, repeat.

PT: What's been your experience of being Black in Canada?

MD: I never really thought of myself as different until I experienced some discrimination because I’m Black and a woman. An example… when you have great leaders (at work), you tend to pick up on their qualities, try to emulate what has made them successful. I learned, however, that I couldn’t emulate a white male leader’s qualities because I would be labeled as aggressive. I felt like I didn’t have a voice.

Being Black, I have to be aware that everyone has their own unconscious biases that they bring to interactions with me. It’s extra work I have to do to be successful.

But what really highlights the problem of systemic racism in Canada is seeing how my son is treated. Every time he drives my car, he is stopped by the police. Once, he was riding the TTC (the subway system in Toronto) and exited the station through the wrong door; he was aggressively confronted by TTC security. If he puts on a hoodie, he’s considered dangerous. And this has nothing to do with his character. A white colleague once said to me that we don’t have racism here in Canada. I reminded him how differently our sons are treated if the police stop them. It gave him a moment of pause.

A very timely example of systemic racism in Canada – the truck convoy protest against vaccine mandates. They are allowed to build forts, bring propane to the sites where they are protesting. If that were a Black Lives Matter protest, none of that would have been allowed and they would have been shut down with force immediately. (Editors note: Since this story was written, the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time ever, which ended the convoy protest after three weeks in Ottawa.)

PT: Do you have any recommendations for people who want to strengthen their allyship? Resources, attitudes, etc.?

MD: Allyship is not just talking about things, but actually doing things. That can be a range of things. First, we all need to have more uncomfortable conversations. And we have to be comfortable having uncomfortable conversations. We have to unlearn and relearn some of our basic attitudes about Black people.

Corporate leaders, in particular, have a responsibility. We need advocacy in the boardroom, particularly when making hiring and promotion decisions. Note your language when describing someone – are they truly aggressive or simply assertive and you label them as such because they are Black? True allyship is when one leader calls out another on their own biases.

In terms of education, do your own homework. There are so many books, movies, stories on YouTube. And remember, you can learn about Black excellence and Black history outside the month of February. A colleague mentioned to me recently that she watched Women of the Movement. I have a lot of respect for someone who does that on their own, to enhance their understanding of Black history.

If there is something you don’t know, then ask. It’s okay to ask, to acknowledge that you don’t know or understand a Black person’s experience. It’s important to approach sensitive topics with humility. And be willing to apologize if you’ve made a mistake. In a meeting, I once made a comment about being “at the bottom of the totem pole.” After the meeting someone pointed out to me how racist that idiom is. I apologized to the group immediately. This is hard work. And we all have the opportunity to learn from each other.

PT: What has your work in the Inclusion and Diversity space taught you?

MD: I have never felt so fulfilled until I came into the I&D space. It’s taught me the power of connection and how people can be so much more productive and reach limits beyond their imagination. I’ve learned about the importance of finding those connections; when people learn they have shared interests, there is a moment of excitement, a moment of belonging.

For example, I once worked with a young new grad of Asian descent. She told me about a time she went into an upscale store and wanted to buy an expensive handbag. The store staff treated her poorly and she felt like she was being discriminated against, that they thought she couldn’t afford the handbag because she is Asian. We tried to have a conversation about discrimination, but we weren’t really connecting.

So, I flipped the script. There is a root vegetable called cassava that my family cooks. She’d mentioned that her mom cooks yucca, which is the same vegetable, just a different name. When I told her this, she opened up about her mom and the different recipes she used to make. And that was the conversation we bonded over, not necessarily the one about discrimination.

That’s really the secret to the success of inclusion and diversity – it lets people form bonds over common interests. Yes, bonding over struggles are the deepest connections, but for someone who hasn’t experienced those struggles, bonding over common interests works as well.

Sharing these common interests among people who don’t have the same life-experiences is what will help break through systemic racism. For example, in a group of leaders making hiring decisions, someone might say “Let’s hire Johnny.” When asked why, he might say “Because he reminds me of me when I was young.” This is another example of systemic racism; someone who looks like me doesn’t have a chance because there isn’t anyone at the table who can say the same thing. People tend to hire people that look like them. This is one of the barriers we have to try to break through – and one of the benefits of having an employee network like Mosaic at Suncor.

PT: You've been involved in establishing the Mosaic Network at Suncor. What's that been like? What's surprised you about the experience?

MD: Mosaic is a body of people who are there to uplift each other, to drive change, to mentor and sponsor each other. It includes people who can guide us through our corporate careers. It’s important to work with people who look like you and work with people who share your same pain and struggles. This has been very uplifting. It's like family - you may not always agree but you're working toward the same goal.

Being a part of Mosaic has created opportunities for unexpected conversations, perhaps most surprisingly about hair. As a Black woman, my hair is often a topic of conversation. Wearing my hair in its natural state has been deemed “unprofessional” at times, not considered “acceptable” in the workplace. I also regularly experience the microaggressions of people wanting to touch my hair. I talked about this at a Mosaic meeting and made a couple of unexpected connections. First, colleagues with mixed race children talked about their challenges. And then an older white colleague told me about his child who dyed his hair blue; learning about the importance of my hair to me, to my identity, helped him understand how to relate to his child.

Having a network that supports you and your career as well as your culture is a beautiful thing. It brings me so much joy when I log into a meeting and I see so many Black and brown faces on the screen, to see so many talented and accomplished Black people working together. All the degrees held and languages spoken by this group of people. We truly have Black excellence working at Suncor.


Melba, thank you so much for sharing your experiences along with your insights about how to make connections to foster understanding and how we can be strong allies. I have found our conversations powerful and humbling, and a good reminder that, as a white person, I have benefited from systemic racism.

As part of my personal education, I try to make sure that the books I’m reading and the shows I’m watching include content by Black creators. One of my recent favourite reads was You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism written by Amber Ruffin (an American comedy writer and TV host) and her sister Lacey Lamar. Her book documents modern day racism and microaggressions against Black people with both humour and disbelief. It was a real eye-opener to me and helped me strengthen my own resolve to be a good ally.

Are there resources you recommend or stories you’d like to share? Leave a comment below.

~ Kate T.