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Meet Sheila

A Conversation with Sheila

What is your current job?

I work at a think-tank, The Conference Board of Canada, where I am the manager and lead researcher for their flagship research program, How Canada Performs, which examines the socio-economic performance of Canada relative to peer countries in key domains that impact standard of living and wellbeing: Innovation, Environment, Economy, Education and Skills, Health, and Society.

What made you want to pursue a career in engineering?

I enjoyed and excelled at math and science courses in high school—so engineering seemed like the perfect fit. At the time, I did not know any engineers, and, in retrospect, have much of a concept of what being an engineer entailed. I just knew that I wanted to keep doing math and science and that studying electrical engineering was one way to make it happen.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

I am fortunate that the research program that I manage allows me to collaborate with a number of talented researchers across my organization; as well as actively participate on the publishing and communications side of things. So, I’m able to put my analytical and problem-solving skills to work; while continuing to broaden and develop my leadership and communications skills. I also enjoy the autonomy that this role allows, and the opportunity to explore creative and innovative ways to develop the program and convey the research results. And, of course, it’s rewarding to work on a product that contributes to evidence-based policy making and helps bring awareness to key issues that affect quality of life.

How do you celebrate National Engineering Month?

Last year, I took my son to the Aviation and Space Museum and we will likely do that again this year. I’m also participating in the 30 in 30 campaign!

What advice do you have for young women who hope to pursue a career in your field?

Go for it! Be confident in your abilities and do not be discouraged at the prospect of joining a male-dominated field. Also, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions – you would be surprised how many people have the same ones. The path can often be more challenging as a female, or for any minority, in a given field or workplace. But, if you are passionate and enjoy what you do, don’t give up!

Sheila’s Biography

Sheila Rao, PEng, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Queen’s University and an MBA from McGill University. Earlier in her career, Sheila worked as an engineer at General Electric, General Dynamics Canada, and Alcatel. Currently, she is a research associate at the Conference Board of Canada, an independent, not-for-profit research organization. Sheila is the manager and lead researcher for the Conference Board’s flagship publication, How Canada Performs, a multi-year research program designed to help identify relative strengths and weaknesses in Canada’s socio-economic performance. While at the Board, Sheila has also contributed to research projects related to productivity, competitiveness and benchmarking; and has been involved in international development projects.

Through outreach and professional development activities, research, partnerships, thought leadership and online initiatives, we work with industry and academia to educate on the value of diversity for innovation, to inspire women to thrive and to celebrate the contributions of women in science and engineering.
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