What Went Down at the TL Insider and Amazon Canada Event Celebrating Black History Month

TL Insider, Amazon Canada and TECHNATION Canada’s fireside chat celebrated the work of Black leaders and entrepreneurs with an intimate discussion about diversity, leadership, and innovation
Wayne Purboo, Vice President at Amazon Shopping Video, Alesana Pereira, Account Manager at AWS and Former Co-Diversity Lead at LinkedIn, Marissa Smith, Site Leader at YYZ1, and Donna Alexander, Former President of Amazon Canada’s Black Employee Network and Learning & Development Program Manager at Amazon.

On February 27, TL Insider, Amazon Canada and TECHNATION Canada marked the final week of this year’s Black History Month with an evening of celebration and recognition of the ongoing contributions of Black leaders, artists and entrepreneurs, hosted at Amazon’s downtown Toronto Tech Hub. 

Toronto-based R&B artist Joël Lobban set the tone for the night, opening the event with an intimate stripped-down performance that included the new track “Wait For Me” from his 2024 EP I Still Think About You

R&B singer songwriter Joël Lobban and guitarist.

Donna Alexander, Amazon’s Program Manager, Learning & Development took the stage next as moderator for the evening’s first panel discussion, Black is Building: Leadership and Mentorship, to explore three different perspectives on how mentorship can transform a career path and the landscape surrounding it. 

Wayne Purboo, VP, Amazon Shopping Video, spoke to the importance of inclusion as an essential ingredient of an equitable workplace. He explained how diversifying your staff is only a starting point, and there is more work to be done to make sure that Black talent is being developed, valued and supported. He emphasized how critical coaching and mentorship are for Black employees in developing social capital, and how he is working to create those opportunities as the chair of Amazon’s Black Experience program. 

Attendee asking a question to the panelists at the event.

For Marissa Smith, Site Leader, Amazon YYZ1 Fulfilment Centre, building community and finding action-oriented allies has been vital to her success in navigating a leadership position as a woman in a male-dominated field. She explained how she extends that perspective to recruitment, pointing out how in order to really diversify a team to include different backgrounds and perspectives, you need to also be able to consider candidates from outside elite institutions that may be out of reach for segments of the population. 

“We need to be willing to go to schools that position themselves as helping the first-generation graduate in a family, who may have lower tuition fees and attract more local students to diversify our talent pool from the very beginning.”

Alesana Pereira, Account Manager, AWS gave practical advice about the benefits of seeking mentorship both within and outside your organization, and emphasized that at its best, the mentor relationship should be a two-way value stream.

“Make sure there’s a feedback loop; too often I hear of people who have mentored someone and don’t hear anything afterwards about what happened next.” 

Representatives of Amazon Canada, TECHNATION, and panelists of the event.

His advice was to set clear expectations around what you want to get out of the mentorship and what success looks like for you. Mentees can highlight the value of mentorship by going above and beyond when saying thank you, giving the example of how in a data-driven environment like Amazon, it can go a long way to acknowledge your mentor’s effort and the outcome not just to them, but to their manager with a note detailing how you benefited from their leadership.

The evening continued with a second panel discussion, Black is Empowering: Entrepreneurs and Entertainers, moderated by Lola Adeyemi, Director, Olade Consulting Inc with panelists Joelle Bertrand, Senior Music Curator, Amazon Music, and Medge Beauvoir-Yellowlees, Digital Content Creator and member of the Amazon Influencer Program.

Medge Beauvoir, content creator, Joelle Bertrand, Senior Music Curator at Amazon Music Canada, and Lola Adeyemi from It’s Souper and Olade Consulting.

As three Black women working in different areas of entertainment and entrepreneurship, the discussion highlighted how important representation is, and how empowering it is to see somebody who looks like you achieve success. Medge also explained that representation can be crucial in combating the scarcity mindset or tokenism that can come with being the only Black person in the room. “You want more Black people to succeed, so there are more Black people who are succeeding.” 

They each shared how their ongoing practice of empowering and elevating other Black women has contributed to their own success, and how a supportive, collaborative community inclusive of marginalized people and trusted allies is an invaluable resource for pay transparency and creating new opportunities.

The lively cocktail reception that followed the panel discussions continued in the same spirit of connection and celebration, giving TL Insiders an opportunity for networking, community building and reflection on Black History Month and the future ahead.