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By Pradip Rodrigues
The 2nd Annual Ascend Canada Leadership Awards Gala held at the elegant Shangri-La Hotel in downtown Toronto on Monday, April 27th was a lesson in meticulous planning and attention to detail. It was preceded by the cocktail hour where dozens of smartly dressed senior management professionals networked over cocktails and hors-d’oeuvres.
Around 6 pm, an organizer invited the assembled gathering to shuffle into the adjacent Queens Park ballroom and take their seats.
Ascend is an international organization that has chapters in numerous cities. It’s existence is dedicated to harnessing and developing Pan-Asian talent. As Canada gets more diverse, it is important to note that such diversity isn’t reflected in the corporate world. Just 4.2% of the members of major corporate boards/executive teams in the GTA belong to visible minorities, 80% of corporate boards have no visible minority representation
75% of executive teams have no visible minority representation. The numbers speak for itself.
Ascend been around in Canada for just two years and already 18 businesses have teamed up and its membership has surged to over 2000 professionals. The organization is growing all the time. According to Ascend Volunteer of the Year Award winner Shivani Thakur of TD Bank, Ascend is run by a highly motivated team of volunteers who put in hundreds of hours of their own time and effort into organizing periodic events through the year which culminates with the Awards Gala.
“We run it like a business,” she says. “There are teams like the Events Team, the Operations Team, the Business Relations Management Team who coordinate the efforts. I handled the Operations,” she added.
The Master of Ceremonies was the ebullient Francis D’souza, Senior Manager, Editorial and Anchor at CityNews. He set the mood for a stimulating evening of spirited conversations, discussions and inspirational speeches from the speakers who took to the podium.
Bill McFarland, CEO, Sr. Partner PwC the keynote speaker stressed the need for companies to have an ‘inclusive environment’. Having more diversity in corporate leadership in organizations starts at the top and he spoke about the Mini-Me syndrome where managers tend to promote people just like themselves.
Kelvin Tran, President of ASCEND Canada delved into the issue of cultural backgrounds that discouraged speaking up or speaking out. Oftentimes South Asians as well as Asians tend not make their voices heard which often ends up being detrimental to one’s career and aspirations to climb the corporate ladder.
Everyone listened in rapt attention, it was clear that everyone in that room nursing their wine had a lot more to chew on than just the bread rolls.
One of the highlights of the evening was the Fireside Chat with Ritu Bhasin, Founder of bhasin consulting inc and Laura Finfer, Principal, Leadership Excellence Consulting. Ritu Bhasin spoke about the fact that Pan-Asians tended not to speak or self-promote. While her point was that companies needed to do more to respect and understand employees belonging to other cultural backgrounds. Laura Finfer spoke about the need for people to be authentic but play the game in the corporate world which is filled with unwritten rules. Ritu countered with the fact that the game is not fair. She seemed to suggest that in the corporate world, a Pan-Asian should decide whether to conform or not. Laura Finfer wasn’t so sure that was a smart move. After the event, there was a lively discussion among the invitees who all believed that in the corporate world, Pan-Asians needed to conform in order to fit in rather than stick out. The common consensus was that flaunting one’s cultural roots and not playing by the rules could impact careers negatively.
It was a plated service dinner which was followed by the rest of the Awards. Larry Lau, Co-Founder of ATMOS Marketing won the RBC Rising Star of the Year Award. Baskaran Rajamani, partner at Deloitte won the Manulife Mentor of the Year Award and the TD Executive of the Year Award winner was Paviter (Pavi) S. Binning, President, George Weston Limited who gave a wonderfully inspiring speech.
By 9 pm everything came to an end. While some left immediately, others lingered in the foyer to have one for the road and talk about the evening. There was after all plenty to talk about!