My name is Yehualashet, but most people in my current hometown in Hamilton, Ontario know me as Yohana.
When I came to Canada in June 2007 from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I was well aware that settling in a new country wasn’t going to be easy. I did my research about the barriers that professional immigrants face in terms of employment and also the resources available. Right away, I connected with settlement agencies and employment counsellors, I volunteered in areas in which I was interested and participated in job search workshops to learn about the Canadian workplace culture. But while navigating the job market and working on increasing my employability, one thing I didn’t consider that would stand on my way was my name.
I received advice that, somehow, I should shorten or choose a version of my name that didn’t sound ‘too foreign’. I read research about ‘resume whitening’ and how resumes with ethnic sounding names have a lower callback rate. Eventually, survival mode kicked in and I started to go by ‘Yohana’, which I use to this day. As a communications professional who deals with people most of my work day, this makes it easier. However, it hurts that I had to change part of my identity to be accepted and visible.
10 years after my arrival in Canada, and now a mother of two, I am happy to say I call myself a proud Hamiltonian. I am proud that through my work I get to contribute in the effort to make our city more welcome and inclusive.
I have worked in areas of youth career development, mentorship, settlement and integration and advancing true inclusion. Currently, I manage and run diversity programs at Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI) whose mission is mobilizing all Hamiltonians to create an inclusive and welcoming city. One of the programs I manage is DiverseCity onBoard, which is a national program that practically advance inclusive leadership on non-profit boards and public agencies. The program recruits potential board members from diverse backgrounds and then trains and connects them with board opportunities. The goal is to bridge the diversity gap in governance and raise the standard for modern governance, by promoting full inclusion, working with individuals and organizations to create effective boards and reap the benefits that inclusion provides.
I also participate as a Board of Director and a member with organizations like Neighbour to Neighbour, Hamilton Immigration Partnership Council (HIPC) and Immigration and Refugee Advisory Committee at City of Hamilton. I am a co-founder of a volunteer-based online magazine bornblack.ca, where I write occasionally on issues of the intersections of gender, race and class. I have also published a book documenting best practices in Canada on how to engage employers and institutions in preparing youth for the future workforce.
Recently, as part of Canada 150, I have worked as a co-lead in launching the #HamiltonForAll campaign, which is a public education campaign that aims at stimulating dialogue and opening minds by encouraging Hamiltonians to stand up against prejudice, exclusion and discrimination. I am very encouraged by the engagement that this campaign is creating. I believe that a Canada in which my kids don’t have to be worried about the sound of their names or the color of their skin is possible.