author headshotZabeen Hirji is a strategic advisor to the business, government and universities sectors, and a director on corporate and not-for-profit boards. Prior to that she had a distinguished career at RBC, including Chief Human Resources Officer from 20072017. Current roles include Executive Advisor Future of Work at Deloitte, Board Chair of CivicActiona city-building organization, and executive-in-residence at Simon Fraser UniversityHirji is a long-standing champion of building inclusive prosperity through unlocking the potential of people and has been recognized for her leadership through numerous awards.    

Hirji will be delivering the opening keynote address at CERIC’s virtual Cannexus21 conference on Jan. 25, 2021. Cannexus is a bilingual, national career development conference that explores innovative approaches in the areas of career counselling and career and workforce development. 

In a sentence or two, describe why career development matters. 

Career development is about lifelong learning, skill building and choices about the work we do. Work provides meaning to our lives. Career development is about creating our best meaning. What’s life without personal growth?  

Which book are you reading right now and why did you choose it? 

Promised Land by Barack Obama. Need I say moreHow you build power, not by putting others down, but by lifting them up. This is true democracy at work, democracy earned, the work of everybody. 

Other takeaways: Leadership is not a title; it is actions and behaviours. (Obama’s team was filled with passion-driven people in the background.) Also, do what’s right, not what’s easy.  

What was your firstever job and what did you learn from it?  

McDonalds customer service, $2.10/hour. Part timeshortly after my family immigrated to Canada. It wasn’t glamorous, but I learned teamwork and taking initiativeIt helped me integrate into my new home.  

What do you do to relax and how does it help you? 

I love hosting conversations – during COVID in my garden or via ZoomRelaxation is about breathing new life into yourself, and authentic conversations with colleagues, friends and family give me energyConventional response: PilatesSelf-care is good for my soul.  

What is one piece of advice you have for Canadians as we navigate these challenging times?  

Don’t waste a good crisis. Dare to dream of the world you want and act boldly to make change. Leadership has become more human: Make it a leadership movement. 

What is the most unusual job interview question you’ve ever been asked and how did you respond? 

Q: Where are you from?  A: Vancouver. Q: Where are you really from? A: Vancouver, and you, where are you really from?  

What’s something you want to do in the next year that you’ve never done before? 

Create a social movement to make meaningful change toward equity, diversity and inclusive prosperity for all. 

Who would you like to work with most and why? 

My father, who died when I was 11. A loving dad, brilliant entrepreneur, feminist ahead of the times, who touched so many lives through his volunteer leadership. He lived a balanced, happy life and taught me about paying it forward.  

Which talent or superpower would you like to have and how would you use it? 

Self-care: healthytasty eating, exercise, meditation, enough sleep, time with friends and family, being kind. Why? To be my best self for myself and for others. I’d encourage younger women to build this superpower. 

What do you consider your greatest achievement and why? 

My two children, now in their 20s. They care about people, help others and judge their success by their own standards.