By Suzanne Bowness
Nazia Shahrin is not only leading change within her organization but also gaining recognition outside it. In 2020, this Master of Information grad (‘13) was named one Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network. She’s also a familiar name to current Faculty of Information students as a lecturer, where she’s taught a workshop on digital transformation as well as a course on data governance.
As Senior Director of Regulatory Strategy and Delivery for RBC, Shahrin helps the organization develop its digital capabilities in the interest of streamlining the business as well as improving elements like accuracy and transparency. For example, her team examines the manual data entry that goes into processing mortgages and identifies places where that workflow can be automated.
Another project involves considering ways to use artificial intelligence to incorporate complex banking regulations more quickly into RBC’s systems. “To do this, you need to understand the data, you need to understand the systems involved, and how that data flows,” Shahrin explains. Hired directly out of university with an undergraduate degree in computer science, Shahrin started as a developer and worked her way up through the enterprise architecture niche before moving into a business transformation role three years ago.
Shahrin credits her Master of Information degree with helping move beyond her technical background into strategic and leadership roles. “The Master’s was actually life-changing for me. It starts to teach you about how you transfer data to information to knowledge, which is actually at the heart of everything that the big financial institutions are doing,” she says. “Digital transformation is more than just the technical parts. A lot of financial institutions tackle this from a technical standpoint, but it’s actually not that—it’s all the disciplines that the Faculty of Information is teaching. It’s categorizing the data, understanding the meaning.”
For these reasons, Shahrin says her MI was a very practical program, which mapped exactly to her responsibilities at work. She was able to apply her coursework to what I was doing in the office. She was also happy to be able to do the program part time even if it was very hectic taking courses at night after a busy workday. Fortunately, she had an ally throughout—her husband Adnan Hoque, who now works at TD Bank, took the MI program too.
For Shahrin, her dedication to her studies also paid off with the boost it gave her professionally. “I started getting more senior roles after I finished my Master’s—I was a senior manager when I was doing my Master’s, and after that I got my directorship.” She now balances her busy work life with raising her daughter and a role on the non-profit board, Social Planning Toronto.
And she is also thrilled to return to the Faculty of Information as a lecturer, after having guest lectured in the courses of her mentor, Professor Eric Yu. “I love teaching. It’s one of those experiences where I’m learning and teaching at the same time,” says Shahrin, explaining that she filters insights from current students straight back to work. “They’re our future leaders, and to understand how they think and how they solve problems is very critical.”
As an example, she cites an assignment where students had to rethink the retail sector for the online space. They brought up the need to solve the environmental problems that came from excess packaging. “I thought that was such a different way of looking at the exact same thing we were all looking at. I find students nowadays think holistically.”
Shahrin is also proud to receive the Top 100 award, where she was chosen in the Emerging Leader category. “This award means a lot because it’s starting to tell the world it’s okay to be a strong woman, to have a good career and to be a good mom,” she says. “As I’m raising my daughter, I want her to know all of these things are available.”
This winter, Shahrin will be teaching Special Topics in Information: Data Governance in a World of Big Data, a new course she created and first taught last summer