Written by: Guneet Benipal, Marketing and Communications Associate at Matrix360

The Leadership X-cellence Spotlight Series has been created to connect the human experience while amplifying the importance of voices who are contributing to the evolution of the workplace through action and words of inspiration. We are celebrating Black History as well as the Black community beyond just the month of February and encourage others to do the same. 

As a continuation of our series, we bring to you our second Canadian leader while honouring the contribution of the Black community to the business world. This week’s spotlight is on an experienced environment and sustainability professional who has a proven track record of providing sustainability expertise and solutions to large organizations. Jacquelyn Kankam is the Manager of Environment Sustainability at Air Canada where she is recognized as a distinguished, results-driven professional.

Jacquelyn Kankam, Manager of Environment Sustainability at Air Canada

Where are you from and what is your cultural background?

I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Both of my parents are of Ghanaian heritage.

What inspired you to work in the field that you are today?

I originally started out working in the Business field, followed by International Relations, but ironically got into the environmental side of work and fell in love. There is something particularly special about the fact that I get to work on projects which make an impact and are focused on decreasing our environmental footprint on the planet.

What are some of the struggles you faced throughout your career and/or life journey that you would like to highlight?

Definitely burnout. As a woman of colour working in a growing space, some days it’s just exhausting being the only person who looks like me in the room. I’ve come to realize after working with many organizations that I always feel the most passionate when I can look at a company and know that they share my beliefs and desire to push boundaries and aim for improvement.

Did you have any role models and/or mentors that have shaped your career?

Yes! I’ve been lucky to have mentors who have believed in me, especially my manager at Air Canada, Teresa Ehman, Senior Director of Environmental Affairs. This is truly the first time in my career where I’ve had a safe space and a mentor with whom I can speak about issues related to diversity and inclusion. I believe we need more people like this at the table to open up that conversation and it has been a breath of fresh air to interact with leaders who share that same vision.

What is your mantra or what are your words of inspiration?

“The difference in falling and failing is whether or not you get back up”. 

Yes, there are times when I feel exhausted or even lonely. I may also fall but I always tell myself: I need to get back up because I have two little nieces who I know would never want to see me fail.”

It is evident that a lack of diversity and inclusion in a workplace can limit the momentum of an employee, and create a sense of isolation. Jacquelyn recognized this imbalance and chose to work with people that embraced and fostered diversity and inclusion in the workplace. She knew that in order to push through and not allow her career to be limited, she needed to use her voice and build connections to senior leadership. There were challenges that did affect her wellbeing. However, with her natural tenacity for excellence, Jacquelyn continues to forge ahead with style and grace. Jacquelyn found support in her mentoring relationship which helped her to open up about issues related to diversity and inclusion in the corporate sector. 

It is a collective responsibility for all of us to work together and eliminate the systemic barriers that continue to uphold prejudice, bigotry and racism. Matrix360 is committed to breaking these barriers and ending institutionalized inequalities in the workplace. Let us not forget that honouring and respecting the contributions of our Black community is not only valid for February but must be celebrated all year long.