Alumni Profile: Sophia Dhrolia, BSc ’06 Science & Business

Friday, March 1, 2024

Inclusion and the importance of being seen

By Sharon McFarlane

Advancement Communications Officer

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day that recognizes and celebrates women, raising awareness of gender equality as well as the social, cultural, economic, and political achievements of women. On March 8, the Faculty of Science will host a High Tea Social featuring a virtual panel of Science Alumni to discuss this year’s theme, #InspireInclusion.

Sophia Dhrolia, BSc ’06 (Science and Business), is one of the alumni panellists. As the Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Interac Corp, they are a staunch advocate for inclusivity, inclusive language, and the culture of belonging. Sophia is committed to creating a work environment where individual differences are celebrated, and people can express their authentic selves within the workplace.  “Inclusion is the feeling of not having to carry the burden of masking any part of your identity and being able to share your authentic views. Most importantly it’s about being heard and valued alongside your colleagues and peers.”

After several years working at TD Bank leading the Persons with Disability portfolio within Inclusion and Diversity, Sophia felt that diversity and inclusion was their formal calling. In a world where much of the population can walk with privilege, and accessibility is often an afterthought, Dhrolia says that a sense of belonging is the core piece missing from many work environments. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

“Employers need to ask, how are people feeling at work?  Are people allowed or encouraged to be their authentic selves,” Dhrolia asks, “There’s an internal fear at work that we don’t belong, that we might not be safe. We can overcome that fear by making changes that are embedded in corporate strategies so that inclusion is sustainable over the long term. Once people have psychological safety and they feel seen and heard, they’ll give you their whole person and unleash their creativity in this safe space you’ve provided. The return or impact is truly limitless.”

Dhrolia explains that workplaces have existing systems of oppression built in and that it will take time to establish new systems so immediate results won’t happen overnight. In Sophia’s case, their job is to break down systemic barriers, drive positive change in the organization and improve experiences. The good news is that we don’t have to wait for these new systems to catch up, we can start right away on a smaller scale. Inclusion doesn’t have to be huge, it’s a matter of how we make people feel at the end of the day. 

Five ways to be more inclusive:

According to Sophia, small changes can go a long way in making someone feel validated, seen and feel like they matter.  Here are some easy ways we can all inspire inclusion to those around us.

  1. As a parent or caregiver, teach children about diversity and inclusion. Ensure the media your family consumes is representative including movies, books, and even video games! Also, have an open dialogue about race at the dinner table, it's not taboo to acknowledge racial differences. For example, February is Black History Month, ensure your kids understand the significance of this month but embed it daily vs. one month in a year. 
  2. Use inclusive language. If you know what someone’s pronouns are, using them in regular correspondence shows them that you support them in being their authentic self.
  3. Show up to diversity and inclusion events.
  4. Take a look around your table and strive to make that table more diverse. If necessary, make your table a little larger.
  5. Ensure you get feedback from everyone at the table- you need to capture everyone in the room, not just those individuals who are vocal and overrepresented.

Sophia Dhrolia speaks regularly on the importance of advocacy, inclusive language and creating cultures of belonging. They have been a keynote speaker for ‘Steps of Pride 2022”, CPHR in BC and Yukon, a featured guest on the ‘Mom Strength’ podcast and in high school classrooms. They are also the proud recipient of the 2022 Women in IT ‘Diversity Lead of the Year’ Award. They live in Toronto with their wife and two children, embracing the hockey-mom life, frequent family trips to the zoo and watching movies together.

Registration for the Faculty of Science High Tea Social is still open. The virtual event will be held over Zoom on Friday, March 8, 2024, from 3-4 p.m. ET.