Meet Noelle Roque, one of our delightful Mentors from AHF’s 2021 Fellowship Circle.
Noelle Roque is a seasoned Strategy and Transformation Leader. She is an Industrial Engineer by training and has built a career in management consulting as a generalist and strategist. She has partnered with leaders in a wide variety of sectors including banking, non-profit, retail and energy infrastructure, and she has worked within the Canadian and Asian markets.
Noelle is currently a Senior Principal at Slalom and a Board Member at Jessie’s Centre. Outside of these, you can find her sharing and learning about culture through food and travel, geeking out on all things musical theatre, and getting into a flow with plant care.
We had a chance to sit down with Noelle to explore her career journey and more.
The Value of Spaces With, For and By Women of Colour
When asked what motivated her to apply for the AHF Fellowship Circle as a Mentor, Noelle had some deep insights to share. “In the early stages of my career, I struggled to find resources and communities that supported individuals like me as I shaped my career in consulting,” Noelle reflects. “At that time, a lot of the support I came across fell short of the practical information and resources I truly needed.”
The lack of representation of Fillipinas in leadership roles impacted Noelle’s view of her career, as is the case with many women of colour in business and tech. “The concept of purpose-driven careers felt so inaccessible to me even as an adult. I did not see myself represented in the stories of those who designed purpose-driven careers,” Noelle recalls, “I only knew of the broad majority of Filipinx immigrants to Canada making the difficult choice of simply being grateful for any job they can get because their Philippine credentials and experience were not recognized.”
Research shows that 58 percent of Black, Indigenous, and racialized women agree that they don’t have senior leaders who look like them. The representation of Black, Indigenous, and racialized women drops by more than 75 percent from entry level jobs to the C-suite, with only 4 percent of C-suite positions in Canada being held by women of colour. “So when I came across the AHF Fellowship Circle,” Noelle reflects, “it just struck me as a great opportunity to help create the space that I longed for when I was starting out in my career.”
“At the risk of sounding like I’m exaggerating, it was, hands down, one of the best decisions I’ve made.”
Noelle also recalled some notable takeaways and learnings from the program:
- Richer discussions on intersectionality. Noelle learned about the Social Identity Wheel through the program, which widened her access to the language and framework needed to have better grounded conversations on enabling more equitable, inclusive, and anti-oppressive outcomes. “These also helped me identify where I might have blind spots, as well as opportunities to affect greater change,” Noelle recalls.
- Reclaiming her right to self-care. “There was something about the mainstream self-care movement that always felt inaccessible and fell flat to me,” Noelle muses, “when Chivon John, one of the guest speakers reframed self-care through the lens of activism, this unlocked something in me. I have since then widened my definition of self-care by taking on a more decolonized approach to wellness.”
- Power of representation. Noelle did not expect to be this deeply inspired by being in the Fellowship Circle. “I have, quite literally, never shared a space with and only with seasoned Black, Indigenous and women of colour professionals in business and STEM. It was deeply validating, healing and empowering,” Noelle exclaims. “Is this what it felt like, at the most fundamental level, to operate in a world where you were not the ‘other’? More spaces like this please.”
Shifting Your Goals and Aspirations
Career development is a broad concept that incorporates both one’s professional career advancements, and the evolution of one’s goals and aspirations. “Like so many of us, I was raised to define career success by salary, title, and scale of accountability,” Noelle recalls. “At the start of my career, my goals and aspirations were defined solely by these measures of success, and my career choices were based on how quickly I could achieve these goals.”
When asked how her goals and aspirations changed since the beginning of her career, Noelle outlined four anchors:
- Alignment with values. In this role and work environment, am I empowered to show up with authenticity? To participate fully? To do what I love to do and in the unique way that I do it?
- Intentional learning. In this role and work environment, do I have opportunities to expand my knowledge and skills in my focus areas? Will these learning experiences allow me to expand/amplify my impact?
- Alignment with the market. What does the market need today and how is it changing? How might I use my skills and experience to address market needs, thereby delivering business results? How fairly am I being rewarded for my impact on business results?
- Meaning. In this role and work environment, beyond my contributions to business results, do I have opportunities to create a positive impact on people or our planet, regardless of scale?
“This shift in my goals and aspirations transpired slowly over time,” Noelle reflects. “It was made possible through consistent moments of intentional pause and curious reflection: With what I’ve been given, what do I want my life to look like? More importantly, why? What do I get to do in my current job that contributes to creating this life? How do the compensation and rewards I receive in my current role open up access for me to continue shaping this life? How might my potential next step and overall career journey contribute to this life?”
Celebrating Initiatives and Accomplishments
Along with contributing her time as a 2021 AHF Fellowship Circle Mentor, Noelle is currently a volunteer Board Member at Jessie’s Centre, a Toronto-based agency that supports pregnant and parenting young women and their children in the GTA.
“Jessie’s stood out to me because the Centre’s approach, programs, and services are guided by the Social Determinants of Health Framework, which acknowledges the criticality of socio-economic conditions on health outcomes,” Noelle explains. “Jessie’s mission and spirit resonate a lot with me, because I want to pay it forward in a way where I am utilizing my skills to support others in fully becoming the hero of their own stories.”
When asked what compels her to be involved in these initiatives, Noelle says, “my ancestral history and lived experience drive me to actively prioritize community involvement as I design my life. With the life and opportunities I’ve been given, I feel compelled to do my part, however small, in leaving the world better than I found it.”
“I am the product of how my parents stepped into their own power, despite being born into poverty in the Philippines. I am the product of strength in community and interconnectedness. I am also the product of generations of Filipinos who fought against our oppressors and dared to dream beyond the walls of our colonial state.”
Powerful words from an inspirational woman.
As Black, Indigenous, and racialized women, we seldom take the time to celebrate our well-deserved achievements. When discussing accomplishments, Noelle believes her “proudest accomplishment to date is not a point-in-time achievement, but an ongoing endeavor; it is my journey to reconnect with my identity as a Filipina.”
“As a Filipina newcomer to Canada in the early stages of my career, I struggled to define my personal brand and advocate for myself,” Noelle explains. “I did not see people like me represented in the workplace; I was an ‘other,’ and there was no example of what a successful ‘other’ could look like.”
To overcome this challenge early in her career, Noelle crafted her personal brand based on behaviours and words that were traditionally attributed to competence and confidence in the Canadian consulting environment, focusing on more Western styles of communicating and collaborating.
Although this approach worked, as Noelle stepped into increasing leadership responsibilities over time, she found herself feeling more disconnected from who she was.
“I struggled even more with impostor thoughts. How could I be confident as a leader when my confidence was based on a validation of how well I’ve been able to mimic the prototype?” Noelle asks, “How could I be truly influential and effective as a leader when I have watered myself down to a copy of the prototype? The brand story I wrote for myself was not authentically me, because the workplace was not ready to embrace radically different stories.”
To return to her authentic self, Noelle needed to reconnect with her identity as a Filipina. “As silly as it sounds to some, I reclaimed how I pronounce my last name. I’ve been re-learning relational presence. I’ve been detangling myself from behaviours centered on individuality and returning to those centered on interconnectedness,” Noelle explains.
Our takeaway from a rich conversation with Noelle is to be deeply proud of all of who we are, our ancestral and cultural roots, and to not settle for a watered down version of ourselves.
“I am hopeful that more and more people in the workplace are eager and ready to widen the circle, especially in the spaces that matter, and invite ‘others’ in.”
We couldn’t agree more, Noelle. Thank you for your impactful perspectives.