Last Tuesday morning Sister Leadership had the joy of attending a Women in Communications and Technology breakfast event, featuring Sangita Patel of ET Canada in conversation with Janice McDonald, of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women (and past SL interviewee!). The timing of this conversation couldn’t have arrived at a better time during our Logical Smart series that sees the analytical mind combined with Spirit and purpose.
The tag line of this event? From “Geek to Chic” (in capturing Sangita’s career path from engineering to television). Can it get more perfect than that?!
We gathered for a lovely breakfast at the Chateau Laurier in downtown Ottawa, the event full of talented and ambitious women keen to hear Sangita’s story. Settling down at the front, Janice McDonald lead a fascinating conversation of practicality, purpose and passion. Sangita immediately grabbed the room by welcoming everyone, and engaging the audience before her. The conversation between Janice, Sangita and the WCT crowd was gripping, so let’s dive in.
Geek to chic:
What does that actually mean? Sangita explained how her interests and talents drew her toward different areas.
When selecting her course at university out of high school, she applied for an engineering degree but also quietly applied for one in journalism. She was offered scholarships for both streams.
“I live by passion, and I go for things where I think this is interesting, I need to try this. I had a passion for doing journalism. I knew there was something there that I absolutely loved, and I do live by the word passion. I live by that every day in everything I do. So when I applied, I secretly applied for journalism – most of it was engineering – and I got a scholarship in both.
At that point, I thought what do I do? I sat down with my dad, and he goes: where are you going to make money? I go, journalism! He goes, you’re not going to make money in journalism. You have to do engineering.”
That was how she landed in the engineering program.
(Which is along the lines of what my father said to me as well when I was making final choices about my career “You won’t make money in the arts, you will make money in advertising.” I went in the marketing direction and left my artsy goals in the dust.
I know it was a practical approach, however I think that I would have been better served with a better question. What’s important about the arts or marketing? There lies the gold in us uncovering our career purpose. I think that I would have really understood my curiosity in behavioral science. I sometimes wonder how studies in positive psychology would have impacted my life. Personally, I do believe that I made the best choice possible when I was 19 and now believe that better questions create greater choices.)
“I think there were twenty girls in total, five of us didn’t make it, and there was a class of 128 guys. Very difficult time in the first year being a girl. It’s hard to make friends when in your first year of engineering. The girls did stick together; three of us studied through all of our four/five years together. I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I loved the science, I loved the math, and it was intriguing the way things worked.
The Pivot Point:
What was the changing point for Sangita, which moved a lingering passion to a career jump?
There was a point when I was working as an engineer – this was my last job when I was an engineer, I was spending maybe five million dollars in a year for this one company that I worked for. I used to go to (out west) and would stay there for months in the cold, and was working, spending all this money, and this one engineer, a guy I worked with, would not look at me in my eyes. He would not communicate with me. He would talk with my senior engineer who was a guy, but he would not look at me. At that point I really got fed up. That was the moment I quit engineering. I was done with it. That’s when I went, when am I going to get the respect that I deserve?
I worked as an engineer for five years, got my PEng, and I thought this has to change, something has to happen. I went to my boss and he said, take a break, maybe go back to Toronto, maybe you need to be away.”
But despite being assigned to another project within the company, her heart had already left the profession and she took up volunteering in television, which lead her to apply for a job. “Things started changing for me. I applied to the weather network where I met a man who said, well you like math and science, why don’t you do the weather?”
Which was one step along her path to ET Canada.
Passion was a word that kept surfacing during Sangita and Janice’s conversation. In making the world a better place, what really matters to her?
“Raising the best kids is the most important thing. I think the hardest job. But at the same time, I still find things that make me happy. There’s a point where you think you gotta take care of your kids and you forget about yourself. But I learned if I’m happy, my family is happy. That took me a while to figure out. I think once I turned thirty – I just told my age, I’m over thirty – I realized the importance of taking care of myself. I went to the gym, I started eating healthy, I made sure I enjoy work and that’s really important to me.
I think it is important that I am happy, because life is too short, and if I come home stressed my kids are going to be stressed. That’s pointless, that’s not worth it. I do take breaks. I take vacation to spend with my kids. They are my priority.”
But she doesn’t do it all alone, either.
“My husband is the best. He’s my best friend and he supports me with what I do. He called me this morning and said good luck today. Last night as well. He’s just awesome. He’s not just a great guy, he’s a great father. Without that support, I think I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing right now.”
I had to ask Sangita a question that really resonates between passion and purpose –what kind of signature presence does she want to impress upon her girls?
“It’s just about them being able to do whatever they want. If they want to be prime minister, they can do it. It’s important that they take that opportunity. Even now when they play together and one starts crying – one hits the other, I say “talk about it, discuss it , figure out what’s going on and keep going.” The little one gets frustrated when she can’t do certain things, I go “never give up, keep doing it.”
My legacy for them is for them to know they are not judged.”
When a question came up from the audience about Sangita mentoring others, her response was not only touching, but I think represents how mentoring can be direct but also indirect, and how it’s a relationship that gives both ways.
“I stay very connected with a lot of engineers. Girls do email me. What’s been great, social media has been phenomenal – Twitter, Facebook, people have connected with me and I still get those questions. Luckily I got an award, I was really excited, on Sunday at the ReelWorld Film Festival, and there was a moment this girl came up to me. She goes, I was reading your bio, and she started crying. And I say, oh what did I do? And she goes, no, you helped me find my path. She didn’t want to be an engineer. She wanted to be in movies, she wanted to do film. She said, I’ve always felt this pressure that I needed to become an engineer because I was so good at this and this, but I realized what my real passion was.
And she is living it. I thought to myself, I affected you. That was definitely a moment I’ll never forget.”
Janice McDonald was very clever in finding the career tips and strategies from her conversation with Sangita. The huge benefit in volunteering was spoken about, as was speaking your truth – telling people where you want to go, and also taking criticism as an opportunity to improve.
“I take criticism really well,” explained Sangita, “I think that is the only way you can really grow. Don’t take it like they’re attacking you personally, I think they’re helping you grow as a personality, as a person.”
That’s a sentiment that Janice echoed, sometimes women can make things personal. And, if you choose not to see it that way, it can be quite powerful.
Sangita also suggested telling people what you want to do. “People need to know what you want to do. You need to be open to discussing what you want to do.”
Janice added to that, “Telling people what you want from your career is important. Your bosses and colleagues don’t read a crystal ball.”
And volunteering? It was huge for Sangita as she tested the waters of television and got to learn the industry.
“When I volunteered, I thought of it as my job. I thought this is the place I can improve myself, this is the place I can make connections, this is the place I can grow. So that’s where a volunteer position is really good. Don’t just sit back and do that one job, try and do a lot of things. If you had that opportunity, you have that foot in that business. Take advantage of it.”
The conversation was truly engaging not only because of the topics and ideas, but because of the confidence, experience and warmth both Sangita and Janice carry. This post could go on for days with all the amazing conversation, but we’ll end it here with a large and sincere THANK YOU to the WCT for inviting Sister Leadership to be part of that breakfast experience. It was such a great event, and we look forward to experiencing more from this group of Women in communication and technology.
Till next week, be well,
Camille Boivin is founder of Sister Leadership, certified in EQi 2.0 and EQ360, a master practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), has been coaching high-level women and men for over six years, and is now opening her expertise to those emerging in business. Camille pulls her blog topics from her unique coaching approach that combines her training as a EQi 2.0 and EQ360 certified facilitator with the dig-deeper tools of NLP.
Get in touch here if you’d like to talk with Cam about group or one-on-one coaching, and EQ assessments. With the miracle of Skype and telephones – distance is no issue!