Sujatha Sivarajah, P.Eng
Director, Process Engineering & Continuous Improvement Support – LifeLabs Medical Laboratory Services
Sujatha Sivarajah is the National Director of Process Engineering & Continuous Improvement Support at LifeLabs Medical Laboratory Services in Toronto, ON. Outside of work, she enjoys volunteering, traveling, and spending time with her husband and two children, aged 20 and 17.
Even though Sujatha was born in Sri Lanka, she spent most of her childhood in Nigeria. She credits these early years with providing her with a unique view of life and people. Her exposure to different cultures and mindsets have provided her with valuable perspectives that come in handy even today. As a teenager she dreamed of being an archeologist but decided to take the conventional route and earn a professional degree; “if I could have a second job, I’d be digging up artifacts somewhere in Egypt,” she remarks.
Upon graduation from the University of Toronto, Sujatha began working as a manufacturing engineer for Ford. Over her eight years with the company she was given numerous opportunities to learn valuable and transferrable skills. These skills encouraged her to make the industry leap to medical devices at Sciex.
Over her thirteen years with Sciex, Sujatha got a chance to work in different roles within product development, manufacturing and supply chain. She eventually led a team of process engineers. She then moved to LifeLabs where she currently leads a team of 25 across Canada. Their accountabilities include deploying lean and CI across the organization, ensuring equipment reliability, specifying and validating technological solutions across 11 labs and 350 patient service centers.
Conquering Work-Life Balance
When her children were young, Sujatha made the conscious decision to have a more balanced approach to her career and home. She did not aggressively pursue career opportunities that would have meant spending less time with her children.
She states: “I didn’t want to miss out on the moments that matter most to me – and I can truly say that I don’t regret it.”
As her children grew older, she sought out opportunities that enabled her to grow professionally. She credits her husband who has been very supportive of her continued professional growth.
Her view on “work-life balance” is that it is up to the individual to choose how they prioritize and manage both their home-life and their careers.
“It has to be entirely whatever feels right to the individual – they shouldn’t let societal pressures or guilt play any part in this.”
Navigating a Predominantly Male Industry as a Tamil Woman
For most of her career, Sujatha has worked in male dominated environments – she often gets asked how she navigates this world. She has not been negatively impacted; in fact, she cannot recall a specific instance when she was treated differently because she was a member of a visible minority or because she was a woman.
“If you don’t let the fact that you are the only woman in the room bother you and if you project confidence and demonstrate that you deserve to be at the table, being different – for the most part, doesn’t factor into the equation,”.
“I do hope to see more Tamil women dominate in the engineering space. I think it’s important because we shouldn’t limit ourselves into categories of what a female-centric career should look like. It’s exciting to see young Tamil women who have the courage to challenge conventionally male-dominated spaces.”
Sujatha’s Advice to Young Engineers
“Always keep your options open. I graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering and I never worked as an electrical engineer. My first engineering job was as a Manufacturing Engineer and I realized how much I loved it – it shaped the trajectory of my career. It’s impossible to know at 17 or 18 what your career path will be. Take every opportunity to learn new things, take the time to figure out what you like and what you don’t like, and make sure you change course when needed.”
A Parent Learning Along the Way
“As a parent, you must let your child make their career decisions based on what they feel is their passion. If they do something they have no interest in, inevitably they will change course anyway or be unfulfilled in their careers,”.
“As long as your child is resilient, follows their passion, and is willing to try and fail, they will be successful.”
The Role of Mentorship in Sivarajah’s Growth
“My first mentor was my father. He is a very practical and progressive man… and a remarkable teacher. I credit my love for Physics to his teaching. I was also lucky to work with some truly amazing bosses and colleagues along the way. They encouraged me and provided me with opportunities for growth and development. I’m here today because of a combination of all their influences. It’s also important to remember that you’ll also be a mentor to many – so look for opportunities to pay it forward.”
The Challenges of Leadership and Growing Into Your Own
“I used to work at a very tactical level but as I grew in my career, I learnt that I needed to be focused on strategy. My goal now is to be the best leader that I can be. I measure my success based on how well my team is doing. When people give me great feedback about my team, it is very gratifying. I try to find opportunities for them to develop in their individual careers.”
Sujatha was fortunate to participate in valuable leadership coaching opportunities; “Participate and engage in leadership programs. There is so much value to be derived from partnering with a good leadership coach.”
And finally, her guiding principles:
“Always seek and accept opportunities to diversify, learn new things, and grow in a different direction. Never be afraid to define your own course – as long as you demonstrate value and show impact, you will be successful,”.