The Ascend Awards casts a spotlight on leadership in the corporate world

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Toronto, April 22 (CINEWS): Recently Ascend Canada, the only organization whose primary aim is to facilitate Asian and South Asian executives make that transition into leadership roles held its 3th annual Ascend Awards Gala at the ritzy Ritz-Carlton hotel in Toronto.

l-r) Frank Vettese- MD, CE, Deloitte, Pragashini Fox, VP HR, Tech & Operations, RBC, Constance Sugiyama, President, Conmark Stretegy INC, Deepak Chopra,CEO, Canada Post, Manisha Dias Rising Star Award of the year, Kelvin Tran, President, Ascend Canada, Alka Gautam, President/CEO, RGA Canada, Marc-Andre Blanchard, Canada’s UN Ambassador, Blaik Kirby, Bell Mobility President, Ruby Dhillon, Volunteer of the Year.

By all accounts it was an exclusive event where top Pan-Asian executives and CEOs networked over delectable appetizers and wine before heading into the ballroom for the award ceremony and dinner.
The show emceed by City TV’s Francis D’souza who along with every speaker who came up on the dias spoke about their climb up the ladder, the need for companies to encourage and in the process benefit richly by giving Pan-Asians opportunities to display their talent and leadership potential.
And here is where Ascend Canada comes into the picture- by pairing mentors with mentees, having programs and sessions designed to help take well-established executives into the next level-management.
Equally crucial is Ascend’s role in working closely with partnered companies to deal with unconscious biases, the organization recently launched the Chief Inclusive Officer (CIO)/ Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) forum. The idea is to collaborate with leaders who in turn will  facilitate the advancement of visible minorities in leadership.
Every speaker made the case for leveraging diversity to further business starting with Keynote Speaker Frank Vettese, MD & Chief Executive, Deloitte Canada. He was recently recognized by the UN for his commitment to the advancement of women.
Can-India caught up with the 2016 Ascend Leadership Awards winners as well as a couple of other leaders in their respective fields.


TD Executive Of The Year, Deepak Chopra

First off it’s a great honor to be nominated by peers in the profession. The best advice for immigrants I’d give is put yourself out of the comfort zone and build a portfolio of your life experiences that sets you up for the next opportunity. We Pan-Asians born elsewhere have different perspectives and cultural aspects so the approach to problems comes from a different point of view. Diverse life experience is the differentiator.
Secondly, we should balance the need to fit in and be individual. The more you try to fit in, you lose diversity.
For example in a meeting, a problem is being discussed, you have a crazy idea, but you hold back because someone may say it’s a goofy idea. If you have something thoughtful to say, don’t hesitate to speak up. How do you start to maintain individuality and yet be part of organisation’s culture is the challenge.

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What steps have you taken to make Canada Post more diverse?
Our track record with inclusion is good to start with. The key is figuring out how to encourage diversity in senior ranks, identify talent from the front line and give them the opportunities. For seniors management interviews, I insist that the slate of interviewees is diverse. That way you end up with the best person for the job. I instituted that when I joined Canada Post. Sometimes you have to ask for a change in culture or exposure to those candidates won’t be there.
In a practical sense, when you grew up in country you learn to make do with less resources. Sometimes you stumble upon ideas that can be exported to the Canadian context. Solution to all problems are not always about more money or resources. Creativity comes from life experiences and getting inventive. The real case for diversity is a return on investment. In the workplace we could do more take advantage of diversity and encourage crazy ideas to surface in meetings.


Pragashini Fox, VP Human Resources, Technology & Operations, RBC (Panel Moderator and Ascend Board Member)

Ascend gives members the opportunity to build their brands and expand their career journey.
If you are proactive with your brand you will attract opportunities, in both career and life choices. If you don’t, others are going to build it for you. Three steps you need to take- be authentic, make sure your values, skills and strengths are consistent with your personal brand- at work, meeting or representing yourself. People need to trust in your brand, if not your credibility suffers.
Investing time in building your brand, solicit and listen to feedback.
What gave me the inspiration to build my brand was watching my mentors and leaders who invested time in me. By asking what makes them come to work, I learnt. My brand should also be reflective of what others think of me.

How important is the role of a mentors?
A mentor adds value to a person’s career and helps direct one’s career choices. One mentor will have all the answers, you can have several, be choosy and take (from each) what’s best for you.
I had mentors and sponsors. Mentors counsel you on your job and provide advice when needed, then there are those who will advocate on your behalf when opportunities arise. I had mentors and sponsors who put their credibility on the line for me.

How does Ascend differ from other organizations?
It’s mission is enhancing the visibility of Pan- Asian leaders, our membership spans multi industries and some of Canada’s leading organizations. We develop the full potential of our members and bridge diverse groups through membership networks, through mentoring and leadership programs. I now mentor and volunteer and do the speed mentoring events which is a huge part of organization.

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Kelvin Tran, Ascend President

Although I’ve been President since inception, initially the focus was on getting sponsors, and executive support as well as finding volunteers. We are now at the phase two stage where we are developing leaders and working with organizations. We recently launched Chief Inclusiveness Officer Forum, which allows organizations to come together and share best practices. But changing the culture will take years.

How can a young professional build his or her brand?
1. Think of your strengths, what do you want to be known for.
2. Be authentic. Selling your brand is a lot like an ad on TV. Be sure to walk the talk.
3. Develop critical skills. One’s brands changes over time. Build skills.
4. Seek mentor advice.

What are the benefits of joining Ascend?
Employees have access to training programs and can build skills. We hold ten to 12 events in a year in Canada and the US. We teach soft skills. At speed mentoring sessions, senior leaders are matched with mentees, we give them access. We help them build and develop effective negotiation skills, pool our resources which helps us all grow faster.
Today many Corporates partner with our brand as it demonstrates to their customers a commitment to diversity , customers know how serious they are.
Where do you see Ascend in five years?
Our next phase is advocacy and lobbying. Once you see minorities on board, you will see others moving up the ladder.

Alka Gautum President and CEO of RGA (Re-insurance Group of Canada)

RGA has been building a diverse organization for a long time. The challenge is to keep the momentum going and maintaining the same inclusive policies. Overall, Ascend Canada has a role in converting those with older and more traditional perspectives, and educating them in understanding the value of diversity and what it means to the success, value and morale of the organization.

How did you get involved with Ascend?
A friend told me and I think it’s a fantastic organization. It offers a forum for Pan-Asians to seek opportunities, discuss challenges, get coached, mentored and learn from each other. Their mission is increasing the influence of Pan-Asians so they can contribute to leadership in Canada.

How can organizations benefit from diversity?
Leaders need to be educated about the value of a diverse workforce. For companies it benefits the bottom line, it helps organizations tackle decisions by having perspectives from different cultures, better ideas and innovation. There is a need to get leaders to change their hiring practice and hire a diverse workforces. This will happen, today 50 percent of university graduates come from ethnic backgrounds,
Changes in technology, demographics and the global workforce means your have ideas should span the world. If companies don’t react by building a workforce accordingly they won’t be successful.


Manisha Dias- Rising Star of the Year

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What advice would you give young professionals?
Be demanding, not in aggressive way, but proactively pursue and ask for what you want. No one hands you things.
In my last year in university, I had to go to Boston for Co-op term, Manulife interviewed in the Fall, I could wait, but after early interviews I was thinking five steps ahead, I requested an early interview as I’d be in Boston and I got my offer early. After I got hired in the Actuarial program, I sought out different managers, literally interviewed them to understand their management styles. I interviewed my boss.

What barriers do young Pan-Asian professionals face?
I guess it is pressure, don’t listen to what people expect of you. For Pan-Asians there is pressure to pursue fields like medicine, my parents wanted me to be a doctor. People often go against their passion and end up resenting it or get into university and change fields midway. It is important to be upfront if you have a different passion from what your parents expect.
I would tell young professionals starting out to find great mentors. I got amazing opportunities because my mentors knew my interests and would give me tips. Seek out mentors from other departments or companies or even from other fields.
Whenever I come across an interesting profile on Linkedin, I will reach out and arrange coffee chats. I like to attend conferences and seminars, within my field or others fields that way I get to meet employers and network.
Having multiple passions is important. I teach yoga and am involved in things not actuarial, that way I don’t limit my social and professional conversations to my chosen career.

Marc Andre Blanchard, Permanent Canadian representative to the UN and former CEO of McCarthy Tétrault

How important is diversity in the workplace and in leadership?
Very important. It has been demonstrated over and over again that when there are more diverse resources it provides better results for clients. Diversity in law firms is great as it finds solutions to get things done. Having diverse lawyers enhances the chances of making it right.
How can Ascend make a lasting difference?
When Mr Trudeau appointed me Canada’s Permanent Ambassador to the UN, he mentioned how important it was to communicate to world the importance of pluralism, of diversity and to communicate the Canadian experience

Why is Ascend important?
Ascend in a country like ours is proof of pluralism, a fact that diversity is shared amongst Canadians. This is the extraordinary thing which is reason the PM is so proud of diversity. Ascend is part of that story of pluralism. How it is implemented and lived in Toronto is the fourth most important financial centre of world. Role played by members of Ascend in financial community brings such a richness. This isn’t to say we don’t have challenges with aspects of inclusiveness, that we have to admit it.

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