Wuwuoritseetan (Wuwu) Ugbeye
In 2016, the Division of Human Resources & Equity launched the Diversity Internship Program — a one-year program aimed at recruiting emerging HR professionals from underrepresented groups.
Our first call was met with a tremendous response. “The inaugural Diversity Internship received 846 applicants,” states Cherilyn Nobleza, manager of HR policy and projects for Integrated HR at the University of Toronto (U of T).
“Wuwu was the candidate best able to articulate the intersection between her studies, her work, and her personal experiences and how these could be applied within the context of the internship.
“There are very few opportunities for new and recent HR graduates to apply the skills they are learning in class within a workplace setting. We knew by launching the Diversity Internship that we’d be servicing the needs of both recent HR graduates and of the broader institutional goals of increased representation from designated groups.
“It was a win-win situation,” explains Cherilyn, “and we hired a fantastic HR assistant through the process.”
About Wuwu Ugbeye, CHRP
After completing her BA in English & Literature at the University of Benin, Wuwu enrolled in a mandatory program for recent grads in Nigeria called the National Youth Service Corps and was placed with the Confluence Cable Network (CCN), a broadcast media house.
During that year, she was involved in organizational development, succession planning, and the development of CCN’s HR department.
What attracted you to the field of human resources?
Initially, choosing a major for my first degree was hard to decide on. I had been influenced by my father (who is an orthopaedic surgeon), my mother (who is an actor and English lecturer), and my grandfather (who was a lawyer and economist), so my areas of interest were a bit broad. I chose to study English and literature but knew I wanted more.
While working at the Confluence Cable Network (CCN), the managing director, Simbabi Ogbeha, asked me what I saw myself doing in the future as a career. My answer was “Managing people.” I didn’t have to think about it. He asked if I had ever considered HR and my answer was “No,” so he suggested I do some research.
He never fit anyone into a box. And as someone who is passionate about giving young people the chance to grow and gain relevant work experience, a few months later, he offered me the opportunity to start off the HR department for CCN with the assistance of an external HR consultant.
That was literally life changing!
I came to understand that people — not machinery, policies or money — make an organization successful. You can have the best ideas, but if no one goes on that journey with you, it’s just that, a good idea.
Simbabi allowed me to explore my passion for HR. He knew that at some point it would take me to another organization.
How did you find out about the Diversity Internship Program?
I wanted to go back to school to learn more about the theory side of HR. This led me to search online for HR programs. Eventually I found the Human Resources Management graduate certificate program at Seneca College here in Toronto.
A friend from my HR program had posted about the Diversity Internship Program on Facebook. I read the description and found that it fit what I wanted: a balance of applying what I’ve learned with my work experience to date. I also liked that there would be teaching and guidance throughout the year.
Nigeria is a country known for its large cities, with a population so diverse that it makes Toronto look like a small town. Having grown up there, can you speak to the ways that this experience enriched your internship and the new frameworks the program exposed you to?
Apart from getting used to the weather and the TTC, being Nigerian prepared me for so much more than I had imagined. There are over 400 ethnic groups and dialects spoken. It’s not unusual to be on a bus and hear different languages. In fact, after a while you pick up certain phrases.
I’m from Southern Nigeria, was born and raised in South Western Nigeria and lived for a few years in the Middle Belt; I had the opportunity of experiencing a mix of cultures. You learn to respect, accept and embrace diversity and the uniqueness of certain cultures, and I can say that it helped in developing my emotional intelligence.
Stereotypes are just ideas, but I’ve found that it is true that culture can influence certain behaviour(s) unique to certain ethnic groups or countries. It gave me an understanding that not everything or everyone should be treated the same, as our experiences are all different.
The work I’ve done with iHR (Integrated HR) over the last few months has further grounded this view as the office itself has such a diverse group of people. Our approach to issues and ideas is never one-way traffic, which I find refreshing.
The HR & Equity portfolio at the University of Toronto understands the importance of promoting diversity and inclusion, which is always a step in the right direction. U of T has been perfect for learning and growth, as it has such a unique and complex HR system. I can’t quite express how grateful I am for the opportunity and support over the last few months.
Are there significant differences in approaches to HR in Nigeria versus Canada?
Yes there are! I think it’s a global idea that HR is seen as the ‘hiring and firing machine,’ but I find that organizations in Nigeria limit HR to an elevated administrative role. I was lucky enough to have input into management decisions while working with Simbabi [at CCN]. I found that HR was often sidelined to solely recruitment activities or non-existent in other organizations in Nigeria.
One clear difference that stood out for me is that HR is at the table in terms of business decisions here in Canada.
What did you take away from this internship?
That I trust my ideas more. I’ve had the opportunity to learn and grow and make mistakes, which has built my confidence. U of T’s workplace is unique and has given me a different view of how HR can be applied.
What advice do you have for future applicants to the Diversity Internship Program?
You need to want a career in HR and the opportunity to learn, to understand that as much as you want to make an impact once you have a degree or diploma, that you need to continue to learn.
That you need to be someone who is proactive and knows how to prioritize, that communication skills are good talking as well as listening and understanding what the client is saying (or not saying). That you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions and to take on responsibility. Be willing to contribute, even if your idea won’t work.
What are your future plans?
I try not to plan too far ahead…. For instance, five years ago, I didn’t see myself here! I would like to be a strong HR advisor or consultant in the next few years. I’d like to complete an MA. I am here at U of T with open eyes to find out more about what I would like to specialize in.