Athena Pathways participants learn and grow together as Asian-Canadians

When Mika Yasutake graduated from the University of British Columbia with a BA in Geography and a Master’s degree in Management, she had a wealth of knowledge under her belt and was keen to explore career opportunities. 

When she landed an internship last year at an AI start-up, Mika soon realized the business world can be intimidating. “I really felt out of my depth because I was a young, female graduate who didn’t have a tech background or experience working in a corporate environment. I wasn’t sure if I was doing well or not. I was expressing these concerns to my supportive boss who told me: ‘What you’re experiencing is called imposter syndrome’.”

On the advice of her leader, Mika joined the Athena Pathways mentorship program and was paired with mentor Sharon Lam.

“My experience from this program has been amazing,” Mika says. “Sharon has been a great support. She validated all of my experiences and told me I may continue to have these feelings and concerns, but that it’s normal and okay, and that I’m not alone.”

Mika adds: “Sharon also reminded me that everyone has something unique to contribute, regardless of their background.”

Today, Mika is a Business Operations Coordinator at Finn AI, a Vancouver start-up that creates AI-powered chatbots for banks and credit unions. “I help ensure everyone has what they need to do their jobs smoothly,” she notes.

The mentorship experience has been equally beneficial for Sharon, Section Head of Geospatial Technology at Minerva Intelligence – a Vancouver software company focused on AI solutions for geoscience companies.

“Mika is a bright, articulate woman who asks tough questions, leading me to reflect on my own career goals and check in with myself about what makes me happy, what I’m struggling with and what’s important to me,” Sharon says. “I will definitely seek a mentor of my own as a result of this experience.”

When asked about her Japanese background and the meaning of Asian Heritage Month, Mika says: “I grew up largely rejecting my Asian heritage and just wanting to be ‘white’. When I was younger, I never really accepted my Asian identity. To have a month celebrating Asian heritage is amazing. I’ve finally come to a place in my life where I realize that my heritage is important, and it comes with a lot of pride. It’s gratifying and powerful that these types of events connect us as a society and give other Canadians an opportunity to recognize that Asian roots are beautiful, valuable and resilient.” 

Sharon’s feelings about her Chinese roots have evolved over the years: “I didn’t know about Asian Heritage Month until recently. Growing up, I didn’t consciously reject my heritage, but I didn’t challenge stereotypes such as ‘you must be great at math’ or ‘your English is so great’. My family members and I didn’t talk about the importance of being proud of our Asian heritage. That was never a topic of conversation.”

She adds, “Now I celebrate my culture with pride and see Asian Heritage Month as a great learning opportunity. Let’s invite non-Asian and Asians of different backgrounds to join an open conversation and share our experiences. We can all learn from one another and celebrate the diversity of Canadian communities.”

Learn more about the Athena Pathways program