Melynnie Rizvi ('95 BCom)

Jenna Marynowski, BAA Communications Committee Volunteer - 15 February 2021

Melynnie Rizvi ('95 BCom) is a leader in the legal and philanthropic communities. She works as the Deputy General Counsel and Senior Director of Employment, Inclusion and Impact at SurveyMonkey, a role that includes oversight of the company's social impact initiative, SurveyMonkey for Good. Here Melynnie tells us about her fascinating journey post-graduation, remaining connected to the Alberta School of Business by serving as a University of Alberta alumni representative in the Bay Area, and about seizing opportunities as they arise.

Melynnie Rizvi ('95 BComm) is a leader in the legal and philanthropic communities.

BAA: Can you tell us about your journey since graduating from the University of Alberta?

Melynnie: I graduated from Business School in 1995 with a degree in Human Resources Management and Organizational Theory. I took a year off before going to Law School at the University of Alberta.  During that year, I worked in the Department of Sociology at the University of Alberta for an amazing professor, Dr. Bill Meloff (now deceased). I received my law degree from the U of A in 1999 and began working for a small boutique litigation firm in Edmonton, Hustwick Wetsch Moffat & McCrae. I was admitted to the Law Society of Alberta in 2000. 

In 1999, I married my husband, Ali Rizvi, just after graduating from Law School.  Ali has both a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta - although we did not meet at the U of A, we met one summer at Heritage Days! After Business School, Ali started working at Ernst & Young (EY) and received his Chartered Accounting designation. In October 2000, Ali was offered a transfer to Ernst & Young's Silicon Valley office, which is how we ended up moving to California.

After moving to California, I passed the California Bar and started out working at the law firm of Baker & McKenzie, doing international employment law. I then moved to the law firm of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, where I became partner. During my 5th year of partnership, I gave birth to my son, Elliott (now 10 years old), and decided that I needed a change of pace, so I accepted a job at Symantec, a global cyber-security software company, leading their global employment law team. 

After 3 years at Symantec, the company decided to spin-off their enterprise data storage business, Veritas, into its own independent company. My boss became the General Counsel of Veritas and offered me a job at Veritas. In addition to leading their global employment law team, they needed someone to build and lead Veritas' social impact and diversity, equity and inclusion program. As an employment lawyer, my role was focused on ensuring that employees are treated equitably, are not discriminated against and supporting the HR team in fostering a positive culture where all employees can grow and thrive, so it seemed like a natural progression in my career. I accepted this new role and built Veritas' social impact and diversity, equity and inclusion program for 3 years.  

In 2018, I was hired by SurveyMonkey to lead their global employment law function. During my first week at SurveyMonkey, I learned that the company was going public in 6 months and they needed someone to build and lead their social impact and diversity, equity, and inclusion program. So I eventually took on this expanded role again and built and launched SurveyMonkey for Good, our social impact and diversity, equity and inclusion program. Just recently, I have taken on a bit of an expanded role at SurveyMonkey, building and leading their advocacy and public policy initiative, which will allow me to have a greater impact in the racial and social justice space.

BAA: Your current role at SurveyMonkey spans employment law, as well as the social impact initiative SurveyMonkey for Good. What drew you to your current role and company, and how do these two areas of your work complement one another? 

Melynnie: There are two big things that I look for in a company– what does the company stand for and can I work with and learn from great people. SurveyMonkey had both of these things. One of our company values is Stand for Equality and as a company, we aspire to live that value. I also have the opportunity to work with great people all across the company.

Being both an employment attorney and a leader in diversity, equity and inclusion and social impact compliment each other very well. In both of these roles, the end goal is to cultivate a work environment that is inclusive, where everyone, no matter who they are or what they bring to the table, can grow and thrive, and be treated equitably and with respect and dignity. As an employment attorney, I do this by ensuring that employees are not discriminated against and that the company has policies, processes, and practices in place to ensure this. I also do this as a diversity leader.

BAA: You've frequently spoken on the topic of diversity and inclusion - what is one message you hope audiences have walked away with regarding how we can make our communities and organizations more equitable?

Melynnie: To be successful in this work, you have to be able to integrate diversity, equity and inclusion into how you do business everyday and be able to show positive business outcomes. It is not enough to be passionate about the work if you cannot translate that passion into positive business outcomes. Another quote that I really like is "inclusion is a mindset that has to be practiced everyday."

BAA: Can you tell us a bit about your board and community work, and what drives your involvement in these organizations?

Melynnie: Currently, I sit on two non-profit boards, Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY) and Watermark. FLY works with youth that are at risk of entering the criminal justice system or that are already in the criminal justice system and provides legal training, leadership and mentorship so that the youth can become more than their past mistakes and build the life for themselves that they want.  It is so inspiring and rewarding to see youth transform as they go through FLY's programs and how, with a little education, compassion, and guidance, these youth can overcome their pasts and do great things.

Watermark is an organization whose mission is to develop and empower women leaders. I am inspired to do this work because, even though it is 2021, women (and in particular, women of color) are still paid less than men on average, still hold very few executive leadership positions compared to their male counterparts in every industry, and still routinely encounter glass ceilings that prevent them from achieving their full potential.

BAA: You serve as a University of Alumni representative for the Bay Area. How do you stay connected to the alumni community, and what's been the impact of this involvement on your life and career? 

Melynnie: Being an Alumni representative has been a wonderful way to stay connected with the University and the alumni community. There are several hundred U of A alumni living in the Bay Area and it has been such a great experience to meet and get to know some of them. Personally, I have developed some great friendships through being an Alumni representative and, professionally, I have met individuals that I would not have otherwise had the chance to–one person that comes to mind is Dick Taylor, who was a Stanford Professor, U of A grad and Nobel Prize winner.

BAA: Do you have any advice for new graduates or established professionals, either generally or when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion? 

One of the lessons that I learned early on in my career is not to be afraid to ask for what you want. Don't be afraid to ask for a promotion, a raise, or a stretch assignment that you really want. Another lesson comes from a quote that really resonates with me by Richard Branson: "if you are offered a great opportunity but you are not sure if you can do it, say yes, and then figure out how to do it later." I think often we can be hesitant to take something on because we may not have done it before. This quote reminds me that you should have confidence in yourself and not pass up a great opportunity.

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