Interested in being featured as a Boss Lady? In our #WCW Interview Series, we ask our community about their career paths, how they found their passions and for any advice they would give to aspiring boss ladies. This interview features Gazal Dhillon who is a UBC centennial scholarship recipient, Sauder Campus Ambassador Program Coordinator and proud Exchange Student Club Trip Organizer. Gazal found her passion for making social change through Marketing. She is currently a market research assistant in the Department of Medicine at UBC.
Can you start off by sharing your story with us? Please explain a bit about what got you to where you are today.
I was pushed by my family to pursue the kind of traditional, what they would call “good degrees” which were become a doctor, an engineer or maybe a lawyer and I never really felt any passion towards any of those in high school. So I ended up taking a marketing class, which, looking back on it, was to spite my parents. I ended up falling in love with the class so much that I really seriously started looking into business as an option. The more I looked into it, the more I realized that this is what I enjoy. Especially in marketing, every day is new and you get to use your creative side but also in a more structured way and you still have the stability of using numbers because I like math. Well I guess it just felt right and then I entered business school. Even if I didn't love every single subject I still enjoyed the content of what we were learning and how to apply it.
As far as exchange goes, I actually wanted to branch and see what the rest of UBC has to offer because I was quite involved with business student clubs at UBC. I joined a club called the UBC Exchange Student Club where you put on socials and trips for students who come to UBC on exchange. I really got involved in that and saw the way that coming to a new country can change your perspective. As cliche as it sounds, it's like that life-changing event that happens in your university career and for me it was definitely an inspiration to go on exchange myself. And so I went on exchange for four months to London, and have not stopped talking about it since.
"When we go and choose something that maybe won't have the most stability in the future, it comes with an added risk of disappointing your immigrant parents and worrying them even more, but it's a risk that I'm willing to take when it's with what I enjoy."
How did you land your current role and where do you want to be in your next 3, 5, 10 years?
I'm currently working in a market research role for the UBC Department of Medicine. And it's really, I think the subset of marketing that I enjoy the most because of the people facing aspect of it. You get to do surveys, interviews and interact with people. And then there's the more analytical component that you do afterwards which I really enjoy. I landed the role, through the Sauder Co-op Program. And I really enjoy it so far. It can get a little tedious sometimes but it's still fun.
In the future, I definitely see myself working in a nonprofit. My first co-op role was for Spinal Cord Injury BC which is a provincial non-profit. That was a job where I felt like I did not go to work, I went there and enjoyed what I did so much every day, that there was no way I could label it as a job. It was just a great time and you helped out so many people. I got to be creative and plan events but then also have the more technical components of managing a budget. And so I definitely see myself going back to a nonprofit role, long term.
When you initially started your path in marketing, what barriers did you face and how did you overcome them?
I guess this isn't an external barrier so much as an internal one but I always found marketing to be looked down upon within business. At least, it felt like everyone just assumed I was taking the easy way out. Like, I know somebody said this to me in my second year. And it's always stuck with me because it's not the first time I've heard it and it's not the last, but the conversation went something like this, I said “Oh, I'm going to go into marketing.” The other person said, “Oh, yeah, that's okay. Not everyone can get into accounting or finance.” And I think that kind of sums up the mentality that you often face in business school as you go into marketing, which is that you can't get into or can't handle finance. When you know like that's so far from the truth.
There's so much to offer in the (marketing) field and it's not just someone sitting around drawing every day. You know there's lots of really cool aspects to marketing, and that could be more traditional marketing that comes to mind when you think of like advertising or social media management, but there's also data analysis and market research. The narrative that women just go into marketing because it’s easy was the biggest internal barrier I felt I had to overcome. It's what I enjoy and that makes it okay to pursue this.
"The narrative that women just go into marketing because it’s easy was the biggest internal barrier I felt I had to overcome. It's what I enjoy and that makes it okay to pursue this."
Who is your biggest inspiration?
My supervisor at my previous non-profit role is one of my biggest role models. She had a way of managing everything, while still being very true to herself. I find that when I see women in a lot of leadership roles they end up in one of two categories. Either they're very outspoken and they get labeled as this really aggressive, assertive role. Then the flip side is, if they're really nice and understanding, I find that women typically just get walked over the workplace quite often. And so, I hadn't really seen female leadership that didn't fall into one of those two categories.
My supervisor was really the first person I saw that made me realize you could break those stereotypes, and you didn't have to fall into one of those two categories. So you can be assertive, but still be nice, fun, and easy to talk to. But then when it came to like pushing a deadline or enforcing a certain rule, you could get stuff done. That's kind of what I strive to go after.
We know that you’re very busy balancing your multiple commitments. What habits have you developed that help you stay on track?
This is one I'm still working on but sticking to a calendar, and just writing everything down, I have the memory of a goldfish. And so if I don't write something down as soon as I learn it, I will forget it. And so every single thing goes into my calendar. And every single thing gets written down.
I love physical to-do lists and every time I get to cross something off with my pen on a piece of paper I feel like I've accomplished the task. Until I cross it off on that paper I don't feel like I'm done. And so, I'm learning that I need to have things written down and that's okay. I'm not just going to remember everything that I come across in a day. I’ve been making the most out of tools like Google Calendar, having notifications on my laptop and then on my phone.
"I love physical to-do lists and every time I get to cross something off with my pen on a piece of paper I feel like I've accomplished the task. Until I cross it off on that paper, I don't feel like I'm done."
Is there anything you would do differently during your degree?
I would get involved sooner. I didn't really get involved until my second year of university. I feel like my first year was kind of just spent like wandering the halls really cluelessly. So I guess I wish I had a mentor or somebody to kind of like show me around in my first year, rather than stumbling through it for all of first year and then kind of figuring it out on my own my second year.
What is the most staple piece in your wardrobe? Which BLC outfit could you see yourself wearing?
I feel like my staple is just a pair of really solid black pants. I can dress them up or dress them down, I can wear them with a plain white top and they're really classy or I can wear them with something a bit more funky and brighter and it kind of becomes more fun and personalized. And I saw a jumpsuit on your website that I really want to buy, I think it's called the Donna sleeveless. I feel like it's just like it's fun, but you know what if I put a blazer on top of it I could hundred percent show up to an interview or a conference with it.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
I guess, it went something like, if you love what you do it won't feel like work. If you love what you do, you won't have to work a day in your life. So, finding a way to turn your passion into your job will really take the stress off having that nine to five. So that's what I'm working towards. It comes with added pressures when you're supposed to choose a financially lucrative and stable job. When we go and choose something that maybe won't have the most stability in the future, it comes with an added risk of disappointing your immigrant parents and worrying them even more, but it's a risk that I'm willing to take when it's with what I enjoy.
"If you love what you do, you won't have to work a day in your life. So, finding a way to turn your passion into your job will really take the stress off having that nine to five. So that's what I'm working towards."
Connect with Gazal on LinkedIn!