Celebrating Black History Month
By: Krista Henry (she/her)
Aileen Agada (she/her) is making strides in the Black beauty hair care industry through her startup, BeBlended.
A Waterloo engineering co-op alum and entrepreneur, Agada (BASc ’21) is a current master's student in the Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) program at the Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business.
Agada has a passion for solving problems and inspiring women to be their best selves. Agada is a panelist on Co-operative and Experiential Education’s (CEE) upcoming ‘Elevating Black excellence in the workplace’ panel discussion.
Tell us a bit about your career history and current role.
I have been fortunate enough to work at a variety of companies and organizations over the past decade.
To date, I have held several business and technical positions at the Government of Canada, the Toronto Transit Commission, Manulife Financial, Maple Leaf Foods, Emerald Technology Ventures and a startup in Belgium.
My interest in entrepreneurship has driven me to start my own venture, work for various startup incubators and contribute to the overall startup ecosystem in Canada.
I am the founder of BeBlended, an online marketplace that connects Black women with freelance hairstylists across the globe.
What’s the best advice you ever received, career-related or otherwise?
It's a common phrase that is often thrown around, but I would have to say, "your network is your net worth." The more you interact and genuinely connect with people, the more opportunities are placed in your path.
Why is it important to celebrate Black History Month?
It's important to celebrate Black History Month because it gives the Black community an opportunity to inspire the next generation, showcase our achievements and honour those who came before us.
What figure in Black history do you look up to most and why?
It's hard to choose just one person, but I would say Ruby Bridges! At the age of six, due to her high-test scores, Ruby was selected by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to attend an all-White school in New Orleans in 1960. This led her to become the first Black child to desegregate an elementary school in the United States.
As a kid growing up in Toronto, with little to no Black people in my class, I was inspired by her strength and perseverance at such a young age. Reflecting on my childhood — my mom would intentionally watch the Ruby Bridges movie with me at least once a year as a kid. As an adult, I now understand what my mom was trying to instill in me. I think that it worked! #greatparenting
What is your understanding of the experience(s) Black employees have at work today? Based on what you know, what is and is not working?
This is a tricky question. It's not always so straightforward because everyone's experience can vary. Personally, I've noticed that Black employees still happen to find themselves as the only one in their workplace — especially at small medium enterprises (SMEs) or private firms.
As a Black woman, learning to navigate optics, advocating for myself and emphasizing my credibility are just a few aspects that I've had to constantly think about throughout my career.
So, what's working right now? Now, I can say that there are clearly more initiatives being put in place to hire Black employees — which is super exciting! However, the problem is that a lot of these companies and organizations are slacking in the retention department.
Retaining Black talent in some companies will require a shift in culture, an emphasis on diverse leadership training for managers and potentially introducing a mentorship program to ensure Black employees receive a fair shot at integrating well into the company. There's more I can say, but I'll just leave it at that!
Want to hear more from Aileen?
Register today for our FREE virtual panel discussion titled ‘Elevating Black excellence in the workplace.’