Meet Aisha Shafaqat! Aisha is a determined and energetic 4th year Political Science student at the University of Toronto, interested in the intersection of social impact, technology, and the humanities. She believes in the importance of diversity and equity in the workplace to inspire authenticity and inclusive leadership. Aisha has advocated for students and early-career professionals as the Vice Chair of the Student Advisory Board at the Business + Higher Education Roundtable with the goal of spotlighting underrepresented voices.

Aisha has also been a strong advocate of AHF from inception. She was motivated to apply to the AHF Fellowship Circle after attending the one-day AHF Summit in 2019 and seeing the passion and impact of the AHF team and broader community. When the AHF team announced that they would be creating a 10-week program built on the same purpose and values, it was something she was excited to be a part of. Through the Fellowship Circle and Career Expo, Aisha landed a summer internship within financial services. This summer, she has joined the AHF team as a Research Analyst bringing her passion and advocacy for student and early-career BIWOC professionals to help advance our mission.

Tell us about what motivated you to pursue a degree in Political Science with a minor in Environmental Law and Policy?

“I love Political Science because I really wanted to understand why our world is the way it is. We live in a world where everything is impacted by political choices and by studying the underlying structures, theories and ideologies that frame our understanding of the world, it allows me to answer the “why” questions I have,” explains Aisha.

Aisha has always been interested in understanding and impacting her community, and studying the subjects tackled in political science classes provides her with a roadmap on how we can engage in and influence our communities. 

You have had a passion for youth employment. Tell us about your work in this space and what you believe are priorities right now especially for early-career BIWOC.

Aisha’s passion for youth employment stemmed from her own anxieties with career development that had manifested early on. “I had been anxious about my future and career since middle school and didn’t have the tools to properly learn or explore career options,” reflects Aisha. “I know I’m not alone in this experience which is shocking based on the sheer hours of our lives we spend working.”

Aisha asserts that students, particularly BIWOC and those from systemically excluded populations, should have more resources and tools to make these decisions, access to mentorship and career exploration opportunities emphasizing that AHF’s work is critical.

“I was the Vice-Chair for the inaugural Student Advisory Board for the Business + Higher Education Roundtable and a Strategy Intern at Riipen for two terms, where I learned what solutions are available and what the youth employment landscape could look like.” Aisha adds that while there are several amazing organizations in this space making impacts, there is a lot of work to be done in Canada so that students from all backgrounds can thrive and make the most of their careers such as an emphasis on lifelong learning and preparing for non-linear career paths.

Tell us what motivated you to apply for the AHF Fellowship Circle and why do you believe a program like this is important for BIWOC students?

As a second generation Canadian and a first-generation post-secondary student, Aisha needed representation and mentorship to help guide her in navigating early career life. “While my immigrant parents supported my education and encouraged me to excel, I didn’t see people like me in the rooms that I was entering, nor did I have connections who could help me make informed decisions or introductions.”

Through AHF, Aisha realized that she had lacked exposure to people who would prepare her for the opportunities and barriers she would face. “Through this experience I also began to articulate more clearly what it means to be a woman of colour. Being able to understand your identity and lived experiences is a powerful thing.”

AHF’s Fellowship Circle not only provided a weekly candid and safe space for Aisha and her peers to discuss very real and prevalent issues often faced by BIWOC, but also a solutions-focus with an opportunity to take away tools and strategies. “We also learned about taking real action in solidarity and how to pay it forward through a model of reciprocal mentorship.”

Throughout the fellowship, my peers and I were not only able to build connections but also foster a tight-knit support system of talented BIWOC to help navigate our own careers. These connections have helped me grow my network and continue beyond the program.”

Aisha adds, “Throughout the fellowship, my peers and I were not only able to build connections but also foster a tight-knit support system of talented BIWOC to help further our own careers. These connections have helped me grow my network and continue beyond the program.”

You interviewed with and landed a summer internship with one of the employers at AHF’s Wrap up Event and Career Expo. Tell us about this experience. 

 Aisha was in the deep end of recruiting season at the time of the AHF Wrap Up Event. Coming into the wrap up event, she prepared by applying to available internships that resonated for her and researching companies that aligned with her career goals and values.

“Throughout my previous work experiences, I knew I was looking for a very purpose driven organization that actively works to create an inclusive and diverse workplace,” reflects Aisha. “Seeing recruiters show up to AHF served as a sort of preliminary background check on these companies because it at least showed that they were making an effort to attend events that focused on showcasing BIWOC talent.”

“Seeing recruiters show up to AHF served as a sort of preliminary background check on these companies because it at least showed that they were making an effort to attend events that focused on showcasing BIWOC talent.”

“I was nervous about the Career Expo as it was the first time I participated in  an online recruitment event. However, the process and people were so amazing that it was really easy to adjust to the online environment.”

Aisha was able to get face time with several recruiters from top companies that she would not have been able to have otherwise. “This is where I met the RBC recruitment team and what sparked the process for my summer internship with RBC Ventures, Ownr as a Customer Success Analyst.”

What gives you hope for the future when it comes to early-career BIWOC in the workplace?

What gives Aisha hope for the future is “seeing my amazing AHF cohort (peers and mentors!) do great things and advocate while they do so.”