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Women in tech share how the Ivey EMBA expanded their thinking

Oct 4, 2022

L-r: Sura Alshear, Kim Phuong de Jeu, Chaula Anjaria, and Katherine Isaac

L-r: Sura Alshear, Kim Phuong de Jeu, Chaula Anjaria, and Katherine Isaac.

Having spent her entire career in technology, Chaula Anjaria knew that as she took on greater leadership roles, even within her area, she’d need a broader understanding of how to run a business. She took Ivey’s Executive MBA (EMBA) to expand her knowledge.

“I had no intention of moving to another profession, but I knew that even to lead a technology team, I needed to learn the different aspects of running a business,” said Anjaria. “I knew Ivey had a real emphasis on the global aspect of running a business, which was of interest for me.”

Anjaria, EMBA ’22, Vice President of retail credit and payments systems at RBC, was one of four women leaders who discussed how they grew personally and professionally by continuing their education, at a recent webinar called Ivey Women in Tech. The alumnae panel also included Sura Alshear, EMBA '21, Director of IT Security at Kinross Gold Corporation; Katherine Isaac, EMBA ’20, Vice President of Customer Success at Carbide; and Kim Phuong de Jeu, EMBA ’22, Director of Transformation and Delivery Excellence at Manulife.

The event was part of a new webinar series sharing perspectives from EMBA alumni from a variety of industries and equity-deserving groups. The alumni discuss why they were interested in the program, what they got out of it, and how they fit it into their lives. Other recent events in the series included an Indigenous Perspectives panel and a 2SLGBTQ+ Perspectives session.

Diverse experiences enrich the classroom learning

Kim Randall, Associate Director of EMBA Recruitment and Admissions, said the goal of the series is to provide resources for those researching the program as well as to highlight the diversity of EMBA participants.

“Representation matters and the benefit of the program stems from the diversity of the participants in the classroom, whether it’s gender diversity, industry diversity, or racial diversity – it’s the diversity across all experiences, both personal and professional,” she said. “All of those experiences are shared and communicated in the classroom discussions and that’s what enriches the learning.”

The chance to learn from a diverse group of EMBA participants drew Katherine Isaac to the program, but she acknowledged that it was initially intimidating coming in as “a techie” when other participants had strategic roles. And while she learned a lot from her EMBA colleagues, she also discovered that her own contributions mattered.

“I wouldn’t say that I wasn’t confident before coming into the program, but I think by the time I got through it, my confidence grew in such a way that I can walk into any room and not feel uncomfortable,” she said. “I can acknowledge now that my input is really valuable.”

Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable

Like Ajaria, after 20 years in IT, Sura Alshear wanted to expand her knowledge beyond IT and learn about other areas of business. Alshear said she took the EMBA for the opportunity to get out of her comfort zone.

“I learned how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable … The program puts you through a series of challenges and that might feel frustrating at times, but at the end of the road, you will see the value of it,” she said.

Alshear said one of her proudest moments was being named an Ivey Scholar upon completing the program.

And even though Kim Phuong de Jeu came into the EMBA with a technology-focused mindset, she told how she came out of it as a more conscientious leader. Her goal in taking the EMBA was to be challenged into new ways of thinking.

“I wanted an accelerated way to launch my thinking into a new level of productivity. I’m so used to thinking within the IT space so I decided that I was going to surround myself with business people from all kinds of backgrounds and just really stretch my comfort zone,” she said.

de Jeu said she was indeed stretched, particularly when working on the finance modules, and pleasantly surprised when some of her highest marks were in finance.

 “I learned that I can think critically, just like everybody else,” she said. “You realize your potential and you are no longer in this little IT box.”

Anjaria shared how she has become a well-rounded leader and a better person from the experience and hopes to pass on some of her learnings to others.

“As a leader, you are to some degree a bit of a custodian of the community so [you need to think about] how you can shape that next generation of our workforce or help develop it,” she said.

Making time for an EMBA

The panellists also discussed how they juggled the program with other responsibilities. This included reading course materials on the train or using text-to-speech software so they could listen to the course content while doing other activities, leaning on their support systems, stepping back from some activities, and setting up expectations with the people around them.

“You have to understand that this will require a commitment from you,” said Anjaria. “You have to come up with new routines and decide what tradeoffs you are going to make.”

de Jeu also stressed the importance of determining what you want to get out of the experience and setting expectations for yourself so you can still make time for other priorities in your life, such as family.

“There were tradeoffs. With individual work, I had to determine, when is it good enough? I’m not going for the marks; I’m going for the learning experience,” she said. “I saved my best critical thinking for group work because that’s when I relied on others to teach me.”

Additional advice from the EMBA alumnae

Know for yourself why you entered the program and what learning you are looking for … Learn to sift through the discussions and get what you need and don’t let the rest of it discourage or distract you.”
– Kim Phuong de Jeu
It’s an amazing life experience and, if you really take advantage of it, you’ll come out of it as a new person with a new perspective.”
– Sura Alshear
Don’t second-guess yourself. You have the resiliency to take it on so just go ahead and take it on. Your team and your family will look up to you as a role model.”
– Chaula Anjaria
You can absolutely do it. Every reason that you’re putting in front of you to say that you can’t do it, the four of us thought the same … You can do it, just like we did.”
– Katherine Isaac