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International student researcher leads push for inclusive tech workplaces

Posted by Connor Dalton on December 11, 2023 in Students, News

When Reihane Sobhaeerooy and her husband arrived from Iran in August of 2022, she wasn’t thinking about equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility (EDIA).

Her priorities were settling into the Master of Science in Business (MScB) program at Dalhousie University and supporting her husband, Danyal Torabi, while he sought employment. Flash forward 15 months and Sobhaeerooy is conducting an in-depth analysis of Nova Scotia’s digital tech sector, aiming to make the industry more equitable, diverse, inclusive, and accessible.

Sobhaeerooy says, “I feel a very deep connection between this project and our experiences when we came here,” adding, “I experienced being left out.” She wants newcomers to Nova Scotia and its digital tech industry to have a different experience from that of her and her husband.

A frustrating job search

Sobhaeerooy’s husband began his job search before they even arrived in Canada. With over 20 years of experience in software development, he expected that the tech sector would welcome his knowledge and experience.

Instead, it took more than 100 job applications, 15 interviews, and four months of determined effort to land a position. Sobhaeerooy says she and her husband concluded that he needed Canadian work experience or references to get a job.

She says it was an ‘increasingly frustrating’ process, which put them under ‘financial strain.’

Once her husband found work, Sobhaeerooy began looking for ways to build her own network and income. As a tech worker herself, with experience in e-commerce and business development, she applied to join a research partnership between the Faculty of Management and Digital Nova Scotia (DNS), a membership-driven organization fostering growth of the digital economy in this province.

She competed for and won a business strategy internship for a project titled Creative and Inclusive Culture: Creating Tech Companies that Work. The project is being funded by Mitacs, a national non-profit that supports partnerships between academics and companies across Canada.

Creating welcoming spaces

That’s when she met Ila Jay, a project manager with DNS, and Dr. Scott Comber from the Faculty of Management, principal investigator on the project. Comber says he selected Sobhaeerooy because of her skills and attitude. He says “she’s very knowledgeable, focused, intentional, and skilled in the research areas we needed.”

Jay adds, “she's just integrated so perfectly into our team. She's trying to see firsthand what's happening in these spaces.”

Comber says he’s involved in the project because it aligns with his interest in social justice. “I've always had that in my head since I was a kid. Having fairness and equity and diversity and inclusion.”

“I enjoy our camaraderie,” he says, adding “we've discovered a lot together.” Both agree their weekly check-ins are an energetic back-and-forth, where they can respectfully challenge each other.

Sobhaeerooy says Comber’s passion has helped elevate her work. “This project is not a job for him. It is a real concern for him,” says Sobhaeerooy. “He likes helping people and it helps me trust everything he tries to communicate in this project.”

‘This job is meaningful’

The first phase of this project began in July and once they finish the review, the next step will be using the insights to create practical, ready-to-use frameworks employers can use to improve their inclusion and diversity.

In conjunction with Digital Nova Scotia, local tech companies have already volunteered to trial these resources by implementing them in their workplaces. 

Once that’s complete, they both hope their efforts can improve hiring, retention, and creation of a healthy, welcoming culture inside workplaces in the province.

Sobhaeerooy says that this research has not only built her analytical and critical thinking skills, it’s also altered the career she wants to pursue. She hopes to stay involved in the EDIA field in some capacity and support companies to become more welcoming to all.

She says, “this job is meaningful because in every step I can imagine I am helping other people.”

Dr. Scott Comber (L) and Reihane Sobhaeerooy have collaborated closely on this research project.