Women in Leadership – “Defining the Next Generation”

Three hundred and forty people jammed into the grand ballroom of the Renaissance Bangkok Ratchaprasong Hotel on February 13th for CanCham’s Women in Leadership “Defining the Next Generation” event, and you had a feeling that it would have been double that if the ballroom had the capacity.

MBMG’s Caroline Kwan, CanCham vice-president, and the Chairperson for the conference did a fabulous job of organizing and spearheading the event. She opened the conference with introductory comments saying that Canada leads by example in gender equality and women’s empowerment.

After introducing all the dignitaries in attendance, Caroline invited H.E. Donica Pottie, Canada’s Ambassador to Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia to the stage to give her welcoming remarks. Ambassador Pottie reminded all those in attendance that although a lot of good work has been done regarding women’s empowerment “no county has achieved full equality for women.”

H.E. Diedrah Kelly, Canada’s Ambassador to ASEAN followed, reminding all that Thailand is the chair of the ASEAN 2019. She stressed how important it is to promote women to positions of leadership in areas of innovation, education, government, and business.

Unilever Thailand’s CEO Canadian Rob Candelino

Before handing off to Master of Ceremonies Yvonne Chin, Caroline shared a remark from one of her colleagues noting that, “being a woman in business these days is not easy: you must think like a man, work like a horse, act like a lady, and look like a young girl,”

By way of introduction, Yvonne is the Canadian Commercial Corporation’s Asia Regional Director and a co-founder of WIL. She is currently posted in Bangkok where she works closely with Canadian Embassies and High Commissions in the region. The concept of WIL first came about during a 2016 Canada Day celebration. One year later, Ms. Chin became a co-founder in bringing this idea into reality which resulted in a sold-out inaugural event. WIL attendance grew exponentially in 2018 and has become a cornerstone CanCham event ever since.

Yvonne introduced the first speaker Unilever Thailand’s CEO Canadian Rob Candelino, the only male speaker of the event. Rob said he was honoured to represent men, his country and Unilever at WiL. He admitted to being a little nervous, “being the only dude on stage” but noted that that single biggest catalyst towards moving to a fair and just society is giving women an equal voice at the table and stressed that Unilever continually strives to make that happen, being gender-balanced at management level.

Cindy Sirinya Bishop inspired with her talk entitled, “Finding Your Own Value to Lead the Next Generation”. 

Cindy Sirinya Bishop was up next. An actress, supermodel (Miss Thailand World 1996), TV host and activist based in Bangkok. Recently, Cindy has added the role of women’s right activist to her resume as founder of the campaign and hashtag #donttellmehowtodress, which has been called Thailand’s answer to the #MeToo movement. #DontTellMeHowToDress is a catalyst to ending sexual misconduct, assault and violence against women, dedicated to inspiring, educating, engaging and working cooperatively with communities, businesses and governments, whilst empowering women, all for positive and lasting change. Cindy discussed empowering themes in her talk entitled: “Finding Your Own Value to Lead the Next Generation”.

Cindy struck a chord with the audience when she shared her feelings of self-doubt, not belonging and low self esteem noting that growing up in Pattaya (the child of an American father and mixed Thai/Eurasian mother) as a blue-eyed fair-haired girl she was continually ostracized and strove to fit in worried about what she should be, what she should say and how she should behave especially after being introduced into a world of unhealthy and unrealistic stereotypes of beauty and success, where what you looked like was far more important than who you were or what you had to say.

Cindy shared the following tips with the audience: a) don’t worry too much about what other people think; b) stop trying to be perfect; c) find your unique selling point; d) back up your authenticity with discipline; e) lead by example “walk the walk”.

Google Thailand’s April Srivikorn spoke about, “Resilience as a Leader and Learning to Swerve”.

Next up was April Srivikorn, the Head of Industry at Google Thailand. Prior to joining Google, April was the Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Vice President at Central Pattana Plc., where she oversaw the company’s overall growth strategy and was also leading international business development for the company. She spoke about, “Resilience as a Leader and Learning to Swerve”.

The last featured speaker was Inis Caldeira, the Managing Director of L’Oreal Thailand. Over the course of her career with L’Oreal, Inis has been responsible for three international assignments, played a development role at headquarters, and directed operations in Spain, one of the toughest and most challenging economies. The focus of her talk was “I’m Worth It”.

Inis Caldeira. the Managing Director of L’Oreal Thailand whose topic was “I’m Worth It”.

After the featured speakers, a few of the sponsors of the event took to the stage including CanCham board member Sunny Patel, the founder, and MD of Trends Digital. Sunny shared that growing up in Canada taught him that the appreciation and beauty of different cultures and traditions. “We all deserve the same respect, equal rights, and freedom as human beings. Diversity, gender equality and inclusiveness are the secret sauce, the DNA, which has helped my company grow. It’s very important that as business leaders, we make it clear that discrimination in the workplace and outside is not acceptable. A diverse and inclusive culture is essential for the growth and innovation that all our companies and society needs. Supporting inclusiveness makes good business sense, it’s good for society and it’s the right thing to do.”

Yuwanne Chulya, the Head of Finance at Bombardier Thailand, followed Sunny and she noted that inclusivity and diversity was paramount at Bombardier as 40 percent of their management team was female. Khun Yuwanne’s parting comment was “empower yourself, if you believe in yourself, you can do whatever you want.” Next up was Andrea Howton, the COO of Vitalife Scientific Wellness who gave valuable insight into maintaining your health while focusing on a busy work schedule, time management and multitasking.

Next was a panel discussion led by Yvonne Chin who fielded questions from the audience for the featured speakers. The conference wrapped up with two breakout sessions led by Cindy Sirinya Bishop and Inis Caldeira.

Huge credit must go to MBMG’s Caroline Kwan for organizing the conference.

Summarizing the event, Cindy Sirinya Bishop, said, “It was truly inspiring and empowering, especially as I was the only one of the four who didn’t come from the corporate world at all, but rather have had a long career as a freelance artist in the entertainment industry.

“I chose to speak about how important it is to own your authenticity, and how I finally came to be able to truly understand what that means only recently. The ‘leadership’ part comes after you are able to accept and own who you truly are and then use your voice and purpose to then empower the next generation to do the same. I feel as I am only starting out on this journey of empowering through example but so far it has been extremely inspirational and rewarding. It’s through events like these that we are all able to connect, learn from each other and become inspired to become the best version of ourselves.”

An important spin-off from WiL is WE-Can a peer-support group, organized by Joni Simpson that provides networking, coaching and a supportive environment to women entrepreneurs running a micro-or-small enterprises and who have been in business for at least a year. The initiative is a collaboration between CanCham and SPACES.