5th Year Business student, Venassa Baptiste is an Accelerate Her Future 2021 Fellow graduate, who has taken on many leadership and volunteer positions within and outside of school. As she prepares to transition into the world of work, she is not only leaving a legacy as a student but also embarking on an exciting professional career where we have no doubt she will continue to have impact. 

Leaving a Legacy at Carlton University

Venassa is in her final year of the Business Commerce program at Carleton University, with a concentration in Accounting and minoring in Political Science. She has held a number of positions on campus since she started her undergraduate program. Some of these positions include: VP EXternal for the Sprott Marketing Students’ Association, VP Operations and 2021 Chapter President for Carleton University’s Women’s Organization Delta Phi Epsilon, VP Finance for the Black Students Alliance, and now VP Finance for Carleton University’s Student Association (CUSA).

“It’s important to me to be an open-minded individual, who has focused my time, skills and energy on volunteering and working on and off campus. I want to ensure my actions leave a positive impact not only on the people around me, but also on my campus community,” reflects Venassa.

Through these leadership positions, Venassa has learned how to use her intuition to determine how to best navigate a difficult situation, as well as balance all the responsibilities that come with juggling multiple responsibilities. “Being a leader requires self-awareness, self-trust, and the ability to make hard decisions,” explains Venassa. “But it is more than that. It is also about creating opportunities for others to thrive socially, personally, professionally, and in the case of school, academically. I have also found that how a leader shows up matters. My optimistic nature allows me to do this work in a light-hearted way while bringing creative solutions to difficult situations.”

A notable moment of realization for Venassa was during her conference for the Student Union Development Summit (SUDS) at the University of British Columbia (UBC). After a riveting workshop on implementing and maintaining financial and internal controls in student-run organizations, the importance of recognizing her impact on Carleton University’s Students Association (CUSA) hit her like a brick. 

“In roles such as mine, it is a requirement to view each decision with a critical, objective eye in order to act ethically and in the best interests of our primary stakeholders – Carleton undergraduate students,” recalls Venassa. From one simple workshop, Venassa found her voice to speak up and speak out, to work to find a solution that benefits students first, and to ensure that she can contribute to building an ethical workplace culture and foundation for future student union leaders. 

Growing as an Impact Leader and Changemaker

Venassa adds that part of developing as a skilled leader includes surrounding yourself with a community of leaders, mentors, peers and changemakers who care about addressing big complex challenges like inequities in workplaces, climate change, and Indigenous rights. Getting accepted into AHF’s Fellowship Circle and Ryerson Leadership Lab #CanStudyUS Fellowship have both been notable for Venassa.

Venassa applied to AHF’s Fellowship Circle in her 4th year and was one of 54 Fellows accepted into the program. She saw the program as an opportunity to find a supportive community of Black, Indigenous and women of colour in leadership roles in business to help her through the trials and tribulations of navigating post-graduation life and kick-starting her career. 

“I was looking for guidance on the CPA PEP pathway,” explains Venassa. “I also found myself in a space where women talked about real issues, the things we all navigate but rarely talk about – coping with stress, burnout, imposter moments, and other topics related to being in a professional position and thriving as a young leader.”

Venassa adds that AHF’s Fellowship Circle was the perfect program to help her transition from the mindset of a student to a focused young professional. “The topics and discussions presented every week challenged me to look inwards and combat the areas of my life that I was too comfortable in, and pushed me to work towards a version of myself that balanced my ambition, relationships and mental health equally.”

Venassa also came across and applied to the CanStudyUS Program offered by Ryerson Leadership Lab. “I remember my excitement to be able to learn about democratic leadership and public policy related to Canadian and American politics,” recalls Venassa. 

From a young age, Venassa always wanted to be a part of the political sphere where legislation and impactful action thrived. Now, she has honed that desire to the municipal level with the intent to make a difference in her local community. 

Throughout my time in the CanStudyUS program, I hope to broaden my civic engagement network with like-minded individuals passionate about making a difference through Canada’s political and grassroot systems as well as learning how to place Black, Indigenous, and other women of colour’s needs first when it comes to decision making and disrupting the current system.

 

More Equitable Workplaces for Black Women

Venassa hopes to see more of Black women thriving in business and STEM and in leadership positions, while ensuring they are able to create a lifestyle that balances their career aspirations with other aspects of their lives (family, self, service).  

“We as a society – that includes workplaces – need to move forward to a point where we can support the goals and dreams of women without the influence of patriarchal expectations,” advocates Venassa. 

“It’s unfair and outdated to force equality in the workplace without equity: individuals receiving the support they need to thrive in a situation with pre-existing obstacles.”

Venassa reflects on her mom’s experiences with transitioning into the world of work. “My mom had to transition from being a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), with four children under the age of 10, to applying for work, going for interviews, transitioning into the world of work,” remember Venassa. “She did this all without any support, mentorship, or guidance. I can only imagine what she has gone through.” 

Organizations need to invest in coaching, mentorship, sponsorship and career development initiatives to create the pathways for Black women to find their way back into the workforce after a prolonged break and to develop and advance to become leaders once they get there. 

“What we need is a relational approach to career development in workplaces that support women in building their networks, especially for those like my mom who are further along in their journey,” expands Venassa. “My advice for corporate leaders and managers is to truly believe in the success of and meaningfully support Black women to advance.”

Beyond Graduation

Venassa is in her last semester of her undergrad, and plans to volunteer for grassroot organizations that benefit the Black community through financial assistance, obtaining grants, and internal operations. “From my perspective and experience, Black-led initiatives and organizations such as the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce or the Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals show immeasurable value and deliver a unique service in today’s unstable and uncertain economy.” Both organizations serve the Canadian Black community in ways Venassa couldn’t on her own, and she is excited to one day give back to a community that has supported her so much throughout the highs and lows of my academic journey.

“Once I pass the Common Final Exam (CFE) and obtain my CPA, I aim to enroll in the Public Sector certificate program with CPA Ontario to further my aspiration in serving within a municipal government.” Venassa’s long-term goals include working her way up and through the City of Pickering’s municipal government after making her mark with one of the Big 4 professional services firms, by becoming a Senior Financial Accountant, a Financial Resources Manager, Chief Financial Officer, and eventually Mayor of Pickering(!). 

“As I wrap up this chapter of my life, I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve encountered to discover and push myself into the person I am today. I’m excited to see what’s next after university!” We celebrate with you Venassa and thank you for the impact you’ve had in our community!