Meet Dinah Vaioaga-Ioasa

Girl bosses who brunch is a series which seeks to celebrate the achievements of incredible Pacific women. All of my chats with the various girl bosses take place in a café and we discuss anything and everything ranging from their journey to success to how many people they pashed on the weekend (jokes, kind of). It is my hope that in sharing stories about successful women, this will inspire others to do better and be better.

Girl boss – Absolutely, yes.
Brunch – No.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to set up a brunch date with Dinah because Dinah is casually working in Canada as a Process Engineer. I know right?! We had a virtual date instead! Dinah’s interview will be the first of TSW’s many overseas Girl Boss interviews.

So, who is this mega babe, you ask? She’s a leader, an Engineer, an athlete, a filmmaker, a dancer and an incredibly beautiful human being. Although our conversation did not involve pancakes, waffles or poached eggs, I am so grateful that Dinah was kind enough to lend her time and energy, to share her story with TSW. 

Talofa Dinah! My first overseas Girl Bosses Who Brunch interview and I’m so glad its with you! Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do? And most importantly, what are you doing half way across the world?! 

I’m a New Zealand born Samoan, raised in Central Auckland originally from Northcote we then moved to Sandringham where we’ve lived for the last 20years. In Samoa our Villages are Alafua, Toamua, Leone and Puipa’a.

I come from a family of 2 with one older brother Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa. I attended Auckland Girls Grammar School and was Head Girl in 2007. While at high school I got my first job as a Cinema attendant at the same place where my brother was working -Events Cinemas, Newmarket (which is quite funny now that we have released our first feature film and we had the media screening at that very cinema).

I really enjoyed studying Science and Maths at school which then led to my interest in Engineering. I initially wanted to be a Paediatrician but with further research into a career in Engineering I ended up deciding on following this path with the variety in job opportunities after university.

I graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering specializing in Chemical and Materials Engineering (Honours) in 2012 and started my career with a limestone processing Company called McDonalds Lime in Otorohanga (2hours south of Auckland), which is now owned by a Canadian based Company called Graymont Ltd. On a side note, I also love pacific island dancing and danced with MBrace Pacific Dance Company based in Auckland for about 4-5years performing at various functions and festivals like Pasifika. I also love shoes and have a new found love for handbags. I have an extensive collection of soft toys which at my age may seem a bit weird but it doesn’t bother me. I love to challenge myself and have thrown myself into things that scare me only to push myself to step out of my boundaries and face my fears .e.g. Fought in a Charity Boxing Match (Battle of the towns, Te Kuiti), did the Oxfam 100km Trail walker, skydived, travelled parts of Europe on my own.

My Family are everything to me. Making them happy, seeing them smile and providing them the life they deserve are a few of my life goals.

Wow. You are amazing! Tell me more about what you’re doing overseas! 

I’m over in Canada on an 18 month secondment with the company I worked for in NZ, Graymont Ltd. doing a similar job I did back home- working as a Process Engineer, but now based at one of our Eastern Canada sites. This involves things such as, Data collection and evaluation, producing tailored sharing of technical knowledge to teams and individuals, facilitation and creation of training sessions with operators and establishing and developing key performance indicators to improve process performance.

My role here also includes supervising a team of Kiln Operators which is allowing me the opportunity to gain experience in managing people as my longer term goal is to move into more management roles.

I’m very lucky and grateful to be able to get this opportunity. It all started with me mentioning to my manager that I was interested in getting some overseas experience (seeing more of the world) and I was considering moving to London (because I have a cousin there). But at the same time our company was announced to be sold and so with his advice I stayed on to see if there might be an opportunity to move overseas with the company and here I am today. But of course there was a lot of hard work I had to do to develop my skills and prove I was good at what I did so that I could be given the opportunity.

That’s incredible. Congratulations and well done to you! Now, I know that you come from a very educated family. Your brother is a qualified Lawyer and you are an Engineer. What encouraged you to pursue a career in Engineering?

It was my love of Science back at High School where my journey to becoming an Engineer began. I always knew I’d go to University after High School and when I learnt about Engineering I decided that was more for me because of its application in society, the salary didn’t look too bad and graduate Engineers were highly sought after making the likelihood of getting a job after university quite good.

As I continued to find out more about the different industries you could enter into as an Engineer I became more confident in this career choice.

The look on some people’s faces when I say I’m an Engineer is priceless. A mixture of amazement and uncertainty- like is she telling the truth? Probably doesn’t help that my blonde comments,  encourage people to question my Engineering ability. When I studied I could count the number of Pacific female engineers in my year on my hands. There’s definitely not many of us and I’d love to see this career path grow for Pacific women. A common misconception is that Engineering is more of a male’s career and is related to fixing cars but there’s much more to it and Engineers are needed in all areas of society.

Now with more experience I’d love to be able to use my skills in some way to help back home in Samoa.

Not going to lie, I only walked past the Engineering block at Uni to look at all the guys. But you’re completely right, it’s such a broad field that encompasses so many different things. And I would love to see more Pacific women stalking – I mean, studying, to become Engineers. As an educated Pacific woman, what is a significant struggle that you have faced and overcome on your pathway to success?

One would have to be moving away from my family to take on my first Engineering job.
When I finished my degree I was offered a job in Otorohanga (which I didn’t know existed until I received the email for an interview, I also didn’t even know I had applied for a job in a place called Otorohanga). Although it’s only 2hours away from Auckland it was a hard step moving away from home and from the comfort of familiarity.

But it then became a great learning curve for me, I became more independent, I understood the importance of saving, budgeting, and time management. All of which I realised were things my Mum had taught me since I was a child. From little things like cleaning, using the salu – brush brush brush shake shake shake, cooking and saving it wasn’t until I was out on my own that I finally clicked everything my mum was instilling in me were skills I’d need when I went out into the world.

It wasn’t easy missing out on some family events too but I knew that it was where I needed to be to help provide for my family. Even though I was living on my own I have to admit there were a lot of times I still called my Mum to let her know where I was going or what I was up to and even ask for her advice on what I should do or how I would do this and that (even from here in Canada) – Some things just never change no matter where in the world you are.

Agreed! Is there a woman that inspires you? Who is she and why?

Vaeani Vaiaoga. My mum. She is such a strong woman. Supportive in everything my brother and I decide to do. As I’ve grown up it’s become clearer the sacrifices she’s made to provide the life my brother and I have today and she’s my motivation to work harder and to take on opportunities- no matter how hard, so that I can provide her with the life she deserves.

I remember when I was at Primary school I always wanted a Roll Up for lunch the one that would make my tongue all blue. But I didn’t always get it and I’d get annoyed at my mum when she wouldn’t get it for me. Little did I know how tight money was for us. I was oblivious at times as to how little money we had but what she made sure my brother and I understood was the importance of family over everything. Spending time together was more important than material things – like Roll Ups.

On the day I left New Zealand I truly questioned whether moving to Canada was the right move – there were tears, uncertainty, a million things going through my mind. But it was her words of encouragement that helped me take that step and her reminder of the bigger picture and the blessing this was for both me and our family.

I’m proud to have achieved what I have thus far in my life but nothing is more satisfying than seeing her happy, I live for those moments when she’s smiling.

She’s simply amazing to my family. She engineers solutions to our problems and is the Director/Producer working hard behind the scenes of our lives.
She’s a boss.

‘She engineers solutions to our problems and is the Director/Producer working hard behind the scenes of our lives’. I freakin love that. Your mum sounds amazing, I want to be her friend. I can definitely see where you get your drive and talent from. Speaking of, I know you have a lot of different talents such as dancing and also film, could you tell me a bit more about your hobbies and how they fit into your life as an Engineer?

Engineers are essentially problem solvers, and being a process engineer I have a certain way to approach problems and to make processes more efficient. This has definitely filtered into my everyday life and it applies to all areas of my life e.g. If I’m filming with my brother I’d always suggest different ways to make things more efficient like how we would unpack the gear or set up for another scene. I’m continuously analysing situations that could be improved in my mind without even knowing it.

My family are all dancers. My parents danced back in the day doing floorshows and my brother even danced with a group for a while. So perhaps dancing is a family talent passed on through the years.

But Dancing for me is my go to, to relieve myself from stress or negativity. When I perform Pacific Island dances I feel free and confident. When I had University exams and I felt stressed I’d turn on any Pacific music and start dancing and it just makes me smile. Being lost in the music and dance allows me to just ‘be’. I don’t dance with a dance group now since I moved away from Auckland, so now I just dance in my room or in the car.

Filming is my brothers’ passion. And in short I’m just his helper, like his shadow running around in the background helping out. He’s taught me bits and pieces over the years like setting up a jib, how to set up light stands, different angles that work, etc. But I’ve involved myself with film even more so because I love seeing my brother at work – at times we butt heads with the most efficient way to do things, that’s when the Engineer comes out in me.

Some of the projects he gets to work on are so interesting and its a refreshing difference to my day job, like Polyfest, Game of Bros, Mr Lavalava. Knowing how much work went into these pieces from being in the background and then seeing his ideas come to life on t.v./at the movies is uplifting.

It’s also not easy lugging a lot of gear around, packing and unpacking gear, so I enjoy being able to help lessen the load. And most of all I love spending time with my brother and when I left Auckland it became harder to spend time together. So if he was filming on the weekend and I could help him that’s what I’d be doing so we could ‘hang out’. A lot of people tell me how awesome he is and of course being his sister, I roll my eyes lol but truth be told I already know how amazing he is and I’m so grateful he’s my older brother/mentor/role model/ best friend.

You two are like the most superb pair of siblings I swear. I’ve changed my mind, I don’t want your mum to be my friend. I want her to adopt me. And can I just say, how amazing was ‘The Three Wise Cousins’ film?! I was laughing and crying the entire time. I saw your name in the credits as a Producer! What inspired you and the team to make this movie?

Yes I’m one of the associate producers for Three Wise Cousins and it’s been such a surreal feeling having it in the cinemas! My brother has always wanted to make a feature film it was just a question of when. For those who have seen the film then you would understand why we made it.With the trailer you can clearly see we wanted to make something that would make people laugh – because laughter is the best medicine.

But when you watch the film you’ll understand there’s more, we were really trying to make something worthwhile for the community, something that would stay with them and they could take home and talk with their families about. Some of the reviews we’ve seen are truly humbling and heart-warming. I’m so happy everyone is enjoying it, some have even seen it as many as 4-6times! I get excited at some of the small things like seeing our movie on the Hoyts and Events pages and posters up at the cinemas our family would always go to. Thank you to everyone that has been a part of this journey and making my brothers dream come true.

Tell me about filming in Samoa. What was it like? 

Filming in Samoa was an interesting experience to say the least. I took some time off work to fly over and help out for 4-5days but the team were there for about 3 weeks filming. Along with my Mum and Step-Dad who prepared all the food, ran errands and were our art department. The ninja scene, in the movie, you’ll see some cool woven pieces. I asked my Step Dad that night we filmed it if he could make something like what I had drawn out and in no time he made them all without breaking a sweat (I tried to weave them myself but yeah we’ll leave it at the fact that I did indeed try).

It was fun exploring different places in Samoa but I won’t lie it was definitely hard to film in Samoa because of the heat and with the size of the crew we had, it just added to the difficulty.
We had to make sure the crew were drinking enough water and that Adam (Neil) was in the shade so that he wouldn’t get darker – then we’d have some continuation problems. Sometimes the guys would be sweating so we’d have to dry out their tops part way through filming. And of course with our skeleton crew it just takes it to another level of difficulty. We had to move the gear into the plantation and then get home and unload all the gear. It became more difficult trying to keep the energy up each day.

There were some other interesting challenges too with trying to film with roosters crowing for what felt like all day, trying to keep food cool in our Chilly Bin and Mum and I brainstorming options for lunch and dinner so our team wouldn’t get bored of the food. Despite all these difficulties though there were a lot of laughs, a lot of memories and I have to say the crew we had were simply amazing, the best attitudes, perseverance and kindness, making do with what we had to make this film a reality.

Awesome! What message would you like viewers to take home after watching the film?

To always remember that family comes first. Sometimes we get caught up with technology, with boyfriends/girlfriends, day to day work, but take a moment and appreciate your family and what your parents have done to give you the life you have today. Be proud of where you come from.

Couldn’t agree more! Do you have any words of advice for young women that want to follow in your footsteps? 

You’re not alone, reach out to people around you family, friends, Reina, anyone you think could help with what you want to achieve. If I didn’t mention that I was interested in working overseas to my manager I may have had to do it on my own but they supported me and the opportunity came up and here I am.

Acknowledge and make time for the people who will always be there for you. Tell them you love them and let them know what they mean to you. Don’t be afraid to step into the unknown. When you can do what you fear then you can do anything. Live with no Regrets.

What’s next for you? Will you be coming back to New Zealand any time soon? Are we going to see more movies? I hope so!

I may be back in NZ after my contract finishes here in 15months or on another adventure in Europe but I am considering returning to compete in the Miss Samoa pageant this year. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years and if I’m not too old now, I’ve definitely got my sight set on that. And of course possibly more movies with my brother, who knows my family may start a Production company together – Watch this efficient space.

Thank you Dinah for taking time out of your super busy schedule to share your story with us. We are so thankful and we wish you all the best in your future endeavours. Cannot wait to see all the incredible things that you are going to achieve!

TSW xx


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