There was a time when Sonali Kohli tried to hide who she is.
She muted her beliefs and culture as a South Asian woman, all of it “to emulate what was ‘mainstream.’”
These days, Sonali, Niagara Health’s Vice-President, Diagnostics and Chief Information Officer, is proud of all that makes her Sonali Kohli.
We caught up with Sonali, who tells us what diversity means to her as Niagara Health celebrates Diversity Month.
“It took a long time for me to get comfortable with who I am,” Sonali says. “I want to ensure everyone feels comfortable being who they are and I try to be very conscious about that.”
Her reasons go beyond her own experiences trying to fit in, which were brought about by others’ efforts to exclude her.
Sonali, who speaks Hindi and English, spent most of her youth in Kuwait. It was an experience she says helped shape her views about the importance of diversity in general and, today, at Niagara Health.
“Through growing up in Kuwait, I’ve been exposed to many different cultures and have learned to be open-minded to diverse ideas, opinions and beliefs,” Sonali says. “I have learned to ask questions respectfully and learn. I have also seen the other side of things where people have not been as open and how that impacts equity-deserving individuals.
“Diversity is critical as it brings to the table new ways of thinking,” she adds. “That leads to innovation and efficiencies. Countries like Singapore, which have been very deliberate about diversity and inclusion, are on the forefront in these areas. We have a lot to learn from that.”
To further diversity, equity and inclusion, Niagara Health is participating in the federal government’s 50 – 30 Challenge to increase diversity in leadership positions across our organization.
The 50 – 30 Challenge encourages organizations to achieve two goals: gender parity (50 per cent) on boards and senior management; and significant representation (30 per cent) on boards and in senior management of other underrepresented groups, including Indigenous and racialized persons, people living with disabilities, including invisible and episodic disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community.
Niagara Health is one of 12 Canadian healthcare organizations to commit to the 50 – 30 Challenge.
“I am happy to help promote diversity in every way I can,” Sonali says. “I believe it is critical not only because it makes us better as an organization, but also because it will enhance how we treat patients.”
As such, she is contributing to the philosophy that drew her to work at Niagara Health in the first place. Meanwhile, her role here gives Sonali, who has her Masters of Science in Virology and Molecular Biology and a Masters in Business Administration, the opportunity to truly stand out.
“What brought me to Niagara Health was the ‘Be Kind’ culture. I had heard a lot about how nice staff are at Niagara Health,” she says. “With the need for a new Hospital Information System (HIS) and with the Niagara Ontario Health Team - Equipe Santé Niagara Ontario (NOHT-ESNO) being relatively new, it was a ground ripe with opportunity. I wanted to contribute to make that digital difference while working with nice people.
“Overseeing Diagnostics was also a carrot for me as I wanted that clinical exposure as well,” Sonali adds. “What a great way to get back to my educational roots while bringing my experience in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to the table.”