Our series, Telling Our Stories, promotes open and transparent dialogue with one another in line with our focus on diversity and inclusion. Recent encouragement of this by several of our leaders has, for a number of employees, led to a desire and readiness to share their stories. So, in continuing this series, we’re sharing the stories of several of our Black employees and their achievements. Please read on.
Stella Aneto, senior analyst, Talent Acquisition for Base Metals, has always wanted to work with people and it’s something she gets to do every day as she helps build Vale’s talent pool, whether it’s deciding how best to engage students and build Vale’s employer brand; ensuring the company’s presence at events and on job boards; engaging internal employees and focusing on internal recruitment.
“I’ve been with Vale for just over a year,” Stella said who normally works out of our Toronto office. “Sometimes it feels like I’ve been here forever, and sometimes it feels like I’ve been here for just a week because there’s always so much to learn and so many people to meet. It’s exciting, proactive work as we think daily of creative ways to attract and recruit talent while integrating new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence into our talent acquisition solutions. I definitely do not have the luxury of feeling bored.”
Born in the eastern part of Nigeria and raised in the oil-rich coastal city of Port Harcourt in the southern part of Nigeria, Stella had always dreamed of working in the financial sector. Growing up observing bankers looking very serious and important with their crisp white shirts and power suits left a huge aspiration in her heart. After graduating with a degree in sociology, she landed her dream job with one of the largest banks in Nigeria but gradually realized it was not what she wanted.
“I didn’t get a chance to interact with people the way I’d hoped,” she said. “the job was very transactional and after about three years working in various units and branches within the organization, I realized I wasn’t developing the skills I needed to build the career I wanted.”
More education, better work
Stella decided to pursue a master’s degree in Human Resources at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom and spent a gap year afterwards living in the United States. She was subsequently hired into the management trainee program at British American Tobacco, which meant moving back to Nigeria.
I truly hope that recent world events lead to traction and real change around the world.
“It is a great company. I loved the culture, the people and the opportunity to work in different capacities. I moved from the trainee program to a HR business partner supporting different clients, then became a talent management specialist and lived in different countries and cities… I definitely had an amazing time.” Her scope initially covered just Nigeria, but soon expanded to cover first West Africa, then East and Central Africa before she moved to the global headquarters in London to support Talent Acquisition on a global level.
“It was a very difficult decision to leave all that behind and migrate to Canada, but I’d always had an eye on settling down here. It took two attempts over six years to get my residency here. People ask me, “Why Canada?’ To be honest, I just want to be able to continue building my career and doing the sort of work I am passionate about in a safe environment with a high quality of life.”
Learning about racism the hard way
Growing up in Nigeria, Stella never encountered racism but that changed when she first moved to the U.K. for school. “In Nigeria, we’re all the same race,” she explained “so when I experienced racism for the first time, I didn’t recognize it as such. I had never been treated differently or been deprived of anything because of the colour of my skin.”
So, it was a bit of a shock when some of her classmates in England asked her if she grew up in a hut or wondered why she spoke such good English or wanted to know if they had electricity and mobile phones back in Nigeria. Other classmates just simply ignored the international students from Africa like they didn’t exist. Initially, Stella thought the people asking these questions or behaving that way just weren’t very nice. “I never interpreted it as racism,” Stella said. What she did know, however, was how uncomfortable those queries and actions made her feel. So in addition to developing a thick skin, she made a conscious decision to embrace these moments as opportunities to enlighten.
“I recognized the ignorance in these statements and made an effort to let them know about the positives,” she remembered. “When questions came from a place of genuine curiosity, I tried to create teachable moments. As a Nigerian and African, people assume so much about you because of the way the continent is portrayed in written history and in western media. I can help dispel these ideas by making sure to be diligent, trustworthy and honest with everyone I interact with.”
Real change for all
Since moving to Toronto, Stella can’t recall experiencing anything that she would call overt racism. “That’s not to say there is no racism in Canada,” she clarified, “I’ve either just been fortunate so far or I just don’t notice it anymore.”
Like so many of us, she contemplates the systemic racism highlighted by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the United States. She readily admits that she cannot relate to the experience of growing up Black in North America though: “Being denied things because of your race must shape how you grow up and it’s a very different experience from mine. People who have not lived that experience cannot fully understand what it’s like.”
Stella hopes the protests taking place around the world lead to real change for the Black community, for immigrants and for women. “Thinking of this issue as it relates to me, my concerns come not only from being Black, but being a black female immigrant – each component comes with its individual challenges, and could be a triple strike when combined,” Stella said. “I truly hope that recent world events lead to traction and real change around the world.”
She knows it’s cliché to say, but Stella’s experience with Canadians over the last year has confirmed everything she heard about them. “Canadians are genuinely friendly and nice,” she said. “You feel like you belong here. I remember my very first visit to Canada as a landed immigrant in Alberta. We deplaned, entered the airport terminal and were met by a handful of officials who smiled and said to every single passenger, “Welcome to Canada.”
I had never had such a welcoming experience at any of the airports I’ve travelled through in my life. I truly felt like royalty and a bit like Annie (from the stage play and film, Annie) as she arrived at Mr. Warbucks’s mansion. “Like Annie, I also smiled and said to myself, “I think I’m going to like it here.”19