Six years ago, Sischa Maharaj was already an established advocate for helping new immigrants integrate in Canada. In 2007, she won a TRIEC Immigrant Success (IS) Award, the Canadian HR Reporter Individual Achievement Award, for her work on a variety of initiatives to support the hiring of skilled immigrants at CIBC.
That recognition came at a time of transition for her. Having worked as CIBC’s senior manager of intake programs, she was moving to a new role as assistant director at Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.
In many ways, the timing of the award was fortuitous.
“It meant a lot because it raised the profile of the work within CIBC. I hoped it meant that the work to remove barriers for new immigrants within CIBC would continue even though I was leaving, and they’ve continued to do great work,” says Sischa.
“At the same time, it signaled to my new community that this was an area I was passionate about and had strength in and it built my reputation in this area.”
At Rotman, Sischa was responsible for the banking stream. She counseled students looking to work in the banking industry, including many immigrant and international students, and managed relationships with banks seeking to hire top talent. “It gave me a broader platform to reach more people,” says Sischa.
And reach them she did. Throughout her time at Rotman, Sischa was an active mentor to new immigrants, both professionally and personally, through The Mentoring Partnership. Her new role also expanded her reach with employers.
“I was able to continue to advocate for immigrant integration, not just with CIBC but with all of the banks that were my clients,” says Sischa. “We talked openly about the challenges for new immigrants and how to solve them. For example, we talked about interview practices and making sure there is a bias-free interview process and experience.”
After five years at Rotman, Sischa took up a new challenge as manager of the International Student Centre at the University of Toronto Scarborough for a year. In this role, she supported 1600 international students and focused on how to support immigrant youth. One of her goals was building cultural competence on campus and expanding support for refugee and immigrant youth.
“I worked with the Director of Student Life at UTSC and a talented PhD student who is specializing in cross cultural psychology to research and develop an intercultural competency framework. This outlines a long term plan to build and enhance intercultural awareness and education on our campus. Including, activities, cultural dialogues and educational workshops with clear learning outcomes linked to inter cultural development.” says Sischa. “I invited TRIEC to conduct an intercultural communications workshop for our work study students and volunteers because we are a very diverse campus.”
Over the six years since winning the Immigrant Success Award, Sischa has continued to champion immigrant integration into the Toronto Region. While her focus has expanded to international students and newcomer youth, her commitment remains the same.
“I think there has been great progress over the years because of work that TRIEC has been doing and other initiatives,” says Sischa. “But I talk to newcomers on a regular basis and it’s still hard. There is a continued need to invest in programs to help newcomers not just to enter but to advance within their organizations.”