Interviews Conducted by: Sydney Ko, Shayla Joshi, and Niroshini Mather
Meet LMF’s Leaders
Sonya is the founder of LMF Network, and is also a TEDxSpeaker, Podcast Host, Independent Diversity Consultant and soon-to-be published author. In 2020, she was named the winner of the Most Influential Women in Tech UK.
Beenish is the founder of LMF Toronto chapter. She is an award-winning speaker, lawyer and technology evangelist. As the founder of LMF in Toronto, Saeed works with leading global organizations to up-skill marginalized communities in technology, business, diversity and personal branding.
Shanzeh is a 4th year chemistry major here at Queen’s who is also completing her certificate in business. In search for a positive community of people to connect with, Shanzeh found LMF. From this point onward, Shanzeh worked to create a branch of LMF at Queen’s, hoping that other women on campus would also find comfort in this community.
Introducing… Like Minded Females
What is LMF?
Sonya: Fundamentally, LMF is a diverse community that supports showing up as your best self. We do this through helping our network build confidence and achieve career goals through our various programs, including the social mobility, mentoring and diversity inclusion programs.
Beenish: We are a nonprofit organization and we up-skill individuals from marginalized communities in technology, business, personal branding and inclusion.
Shanzeh: LMF is a community wherein women can discuss social issues pertaining to the workplace and academic experiences in a safe space. This community cultivates a comfortable place for students to ask any and all questions related to career upskilling and networking.
What are LMF’s goals?
Sonya: We have 3 main goals: to educate, enable and empower. Fundamentally, our main goal is to be a stopover between not knowing and finding your greatest passion.
Shanzeh: LMF Queens’ goal is to provide resources for females to empower themselves professionally.
How does LMF achieve these goals?
Sonya: The average person spends about 3 hours on social media per day, so I think it is really important that we follow healthy accounts which make us feel good about ourselves. I have a very toxic relationship with Instagram, and I haven’t been able to hack it. I want LMF content to provide our followers with ongoing positivity and resources, in contrast to other social media accounts which only make you feel good temporarily. Currently, at the UK branch, we conduct about 3 workshops a month; our interns compile social-mobility and diversity research reports; we provide job support for ambitious talent to meet diverse companies; and our team and contributors upload positive content and empowering blog posts. Apart from that, we work with companies through consultancy and actual diversity training, because it is not enough to bridge the gap for professionals, it is also important that companies actually change their policies.
Shanzeh: This goal is achieved through various campaigns, such as our mentorship program, as well as by providing women on campus with many resources to cultivate a network and become their best professional selves. We also create a community through our social media platforms. Additionally, events are currently in the works for the Queen’s campus.
How is LMF different from other collectives?
Sonya: The organization is a real community founded by real people and it values inclusivity, authenticity and accessibility. We invite people onto our team and advisory board who can actually reflect and represent people within our community. The biggest difference is that we have never spent a single penny on additional advertising, including sponsored posts. Everything we have done to-date is 100% word of mouth. In January of 2020, our Instagram got hacked and we had to start again from scratch. That’s another reason why we are different; we have genuinely messed up enough to know what we need to do right. It is something we are very proud of as a collective. Our following is organic, and our people are real.
Beenish: What sets us apart from other collectives is that we’re not just a pretty face. We have qualified individuals who lead our workshops with a strong growth mindset culture at LMF to help us continuously learn, improve, and excel. When we take upon the job of training somebody in whatever initiative they’re involved in, either related to business, technology, up-skill or even inclusion, we always do it with a tailored approach.
Shanzeh: LMF Queen’s is different from other clubs on campus because we provide direct access to knowledge and resources that are useful both in the long run and currently. LMF Queen’s has access to many initiatives forwarded by LMF Toronto and LMF UK. Not only does LMF Queen’s provide this avenue, but we provide a diversity inclusion factor in that we welcome everyone in our community.
LMF UK- the Foundation
Responses by Sonya Barlow.
What inspired you to start LMF?
I graduated in 2015 and I started working in the tech industry. By 2018, I had no social media, and my really good friends were all located internationally. I felt really lonely and isolated, and I felt imposter syndrome. My manager was not the best, and I was faced with a lot of work competition. I didn’t know who to direct that energy to or who to create conversation with. As a recent graduate, and a South Asian girl who helps with her family, I found that a lot of opportunities were super expensive in the area of London where I was living, so I found it really difficult to find the extra income just to meet people. I went to a networking club and it cost 2000 pounds to join, which didn’t even include the event tickets. Why would I pay more than 2 grand to meet people when there are 7 billion people in the world? That was the ‘spark’; I was lonely, I didn’t have an identity, I felt like an imposter at work, I didn’t know who to talk to and I just got tired of not knowing what to do and being pushed around. I think a lot of us experience this but not many do something about it. However, I was at such a low point that even if I did something and it didn’t work out, I would do it again. Ironically, the first 3 events no one showed up to and it was just me by myself.
Did you come across any obstacles as a woman, particularly a woman of colour, when creating LMF?
LMF was never meant to be a business. It was nothing more than a brunch club. Its purest form was, “I just need to go to brunch with the girls and talk about work”. What’s happened now is pure organic evolution. To answer your question, yes; when I talked to my family and friends about starting this network, they said “you’re stupid, you’re crazy, you’re silly”. There was a lot of laughter and questioning of who would talk to girls about career, confidence and work.
1) No one had faith in my vision, and equally, I didn’t know what my vision was. It was just a brunch club, that was the only intent.
2) As a South Asian woman, you already have a lot more obstacles to face. You need to prove why people should come, you have to change their perception and you have to remind them why you are the best person to lead a network.
3) I didn’t have social media, so I didn’t have a personal brand. Why would someone pick me? Why would someone come to something that I had done when they didn’t know who I was? I walked into it really naive.
This business evolution just happened, and no one is more surprised than I am. It was a seed that kept growing.
LMF Toronto- the First Branch
Responses by Beenish Saeed.
How did you come about this position?
I founded LMF in Toronto in October of 2019. We officially launched it last year in January 2020, and it’s been going fantastically so far.
The reason why I started our LMF chapter was because A: I really loved the concept, and B: I really loved having an opportunity to start something. Sometimes you see lots of initiatives, and find yourself thinking, ‘Where do I start? How do I start? Whom should I contact?’ That freedom and that independence is excellent! So when I learned of LMF, I could really envision something good coming out of this initiative in my community.
Where does Toronto need the most work?
One thing that really needs to change is the perception that workplaces in Toronto are perfect as they currently are. I think these notions arise since most people think that Canadian politics are not as controversial as they are in the US, and yet, controversial things are actually happening to us all the time in the workplace. Specifically, throughout Canada, we have ethics scandals and racial discrimination going on, both in politics and in general workplace environments.
The strict rule that Canada seems to have is that you need Canadian work experience. Hence, people with this experience are sometimes preferred over extremely qualified people with equal, but foreign, work experience. Yet unfortunately, Canada is still painted as almost perfect among the international community.
Response by Shanzeh Chaudhry.
Why was LMF Queen’s founded?
LMF Queen’s was founded as a response to Shanzeh’s experience as a female in STEM. This field is competitive and at times there is a lot of negativity, which can be draining. As a result, Shanzeh wanted to provide a safe space to empower women in the workplace at Queen’s, which she has done through LMF. Now, students at Queen’s not only have access to many resources, but also to a community of like-minded individuals who are willing to help one another.
I myself struggled with my self-confidence when sending emails or simply reaching out to people for help. I know how challenging it can be to put yourself out there and doubt every step you take to network and reach out. My first and second year of university brought my self-esteem down tremendously and I realized I had to rebuild my trust in myself to advance my future career and reach my goals. I hope LMF can provide a sense of comfort and instill confidence in students facing the same struggles I faced in my initial years of university.
In addition to being a woman in the workplace, I’m also Muslim, Pakistani, and a first generation immigrant. These identities have definitely impacted my work life. At my previous job, I was not invited to parties, including one with my own manager, just because I did not drink alcohol. Experiencing this discrimination definitely impacted my mental health. I started thinking that my opportunities were limited because I was not on good terms with my manager. I want others to realize that people can have various reasons for not wanting to partake in something, and to single them out on the basis of that is not cool.
I was also sexually harassed at work. It’s a very strange and uncomfortable situation to be in and you don’t know how to act, you don’t know what to do, especially as a young woman in the workplace, you just don’t know who you should approach or if you should even share it with HR. These are just some of the experiences that come to mind when I think about what inspired me to raise my voice and try to help people in similar situations.
I didn’t fit in culturally. I wasn’t white enough to be white or brown enough to be brown. Second, I devalued myself because I didn’t know my self-worth. Unfortunately, when you go from university to work, no one tells you about professional skills, office banter, or office politics. I walked into my job with a lot of ambition and confidence, but one day my manager took me aside and said “That’s cool, but your passion isn’t for here. Leave your moods at home”. I thought that was strange, but that’s just what I did.
A third scenario was that I worked in a senior role for 4 months and I eventually asked for a pay raise. I was meant to get a 10% raise, but they only gave me a 2% raise. I decided to make a business case for more income and my manager told me, paraphrasing, “If you ask for more money, I am going to hinder your career progression”.
Advice for WOC in the Workplace
Growth is uncomfortable because you’ve never been here before. When trying new things or reaching out to new people, it can feel uncomfortable and sometimes painful because it’s new. Discomfort indicates that you’re moving towards growth and in the right direction. It’s important to keep going in these instances as it leads to the most effective realizations and changes. In my last year of university, I’ve felt uncomfortable due to the number of new people I had to present my ideas to and the types of skilled professionals I have had to integrate myself with. Despite the learning curves and nerve-racking moments, I learned to develop a stronger sense of self-confidence. My network and community of female leaders allowed me to push myself. In times of discomfort, surround yourself with ambitious females.
I’d say, choose to discern. Choose to determine how much you want to invest in addressing microaggressions, and don’t feel pressured or responsible to respond to every single incident. You will feel more empowered and more in control when you decide that you should be the driver of your own life. And always be prepared. Even if you want to address something, don’t just shoot or blast an email straight away aggressively or angrily; absolutely feel these emotions, but also calculate everything and take control.
Don’t be afraid to try. Many people have a fear of failure, but I am a big advocate for failing. As I mentioned in my TED talk, I am where I am today because I failed so much. Don’t be afraid to try new things as those are what you will learn from.
Secondly, don’t listen to people when they call out your weaknesses. Instead, focus on your strengths, on elevating your skills and on identifying your purpose. If you are going to work for the next 10 years of your life, what do you want to achieve? What do you want to do? What are your values and how are you aligning them? In my first few jobs, I chased money. I am now privileged enough to know that money is not my driver, and I am happier now. When I applied for graduate work, I got to the final round of four massive jobs and each declined offering me a position. I failed my first years’ probation, and I wasn’t able to sustain work. In hindsight, maybe some of it was my fault, but I also realized that I hadn’t aligned my roles with my values, my strengths and my skill set. You need to fit your version of you, not that of someone else.
In the Works for LMF
Sonya: I am writing a book called “Unprepared to Entrepreneur”, about my own business story, which is coming out in October and is currently available to pre-order!
Beenish: If you want to be a part of volunteer initiatives, or if you want experience in social impact through work, certificates or credits, you should definitely get in touch with me. If you would also like to work toward starting your own projects, or want to advertise your own initiative, you can contact me and I can get things going for you on our LMF platform.
Shanzeh: LMF Queen’s just hosted a panel about goal setting. Currently, they are hiring for the 2021-2022 school year. Check out the info here: https://linktr.ee/lmfqueens
How to get Involved with LMF
There are so many ways to get involved with LMF, from events at Queen’s to being a part of their larger mentorship program.
You can contact LMF Queen’s at the following addresses:
Check out LMF Toronto:
- Instagram: @lmftoronto
Check out LMF UK at the following addresses: