Building Legacies, Breaking Biases

Categories: Workplace

When we reflect on our biases and change our behaviors, we can enact real change in the world and leave a legacy behind.

Yann Cameli, CFO of Diageo Southeast Asia

As part of International Women’s Day, one of our contributors, Yann Cameli, reflects on how women have inspired and influenced his life. 

A little bit about Yann: He is a French national who is currently based in Singapore. He has lived in 6 countries, and considers his home to be wherever his wife and two children are. He is the CFO of Diageo in Southeast Asia, and firmly believes in creating a legacy through the small actions in daily life. 

Having worked for and been surrounded by amazing women, he hopes to share his stories of being empowered and influenced by them through this reflection piece.

The Women Who Shaped Me

My Great-Grandmother
Yann’s great-grandmother.

I grew up spending much of my childhood with my lovely great-grandmother, who was considered unorthodox in her time. 

She was born in 1910 just before WW1 into an Italian family with traditional values, especially when it came to gender roles. As a young woman, there was already a clear path set for my great-grandmother; meet a man, marry and have a family. 

My great-grandmother, being the daring and independent woman that she was, always knew that she wanted to chart her own path in life. She travelled all over Europe on her own, which was at the time quite rare for a woman. She also ran her own restaurant in an era when it was mostly men who owned businesses and provided for their families. 

Her biggest ally was my great-grandfather, who shared her values and approach to life. He was her strong supporter and was very happy for her to chase her dreams. 

Taking a path in life that was different as compared to the one that was laid out for her, must have been challenging for my great-grandmother. Yet, her unwavering courage, resilience and self-confidence always pushed her to move forward.

When I was a child, she gave me a lot of freedom to explore different ideas, taught me about history and how to have the courage to stand firm in my beliefs and principles. My dear great-grandmother lived till the age of 100. Her determination to live a life that she chose and not one that was chosen for her still inspires me today. 

My Wife
Yann and his wife.

I’ve been with my beautiful wife for almost 20 years now and we have two boys. We met when we were working in the same company years ago. When we started moving to different countries for my career, she made the huge decision to pause her career for a while to support me in mine. 

It took a lot of trust and courage for her to be able to support the family and me in a different way. As we moved around from one country to another, she found a passion for helping others and expressed it by leading a charity in the Philippines. Her work involved creating a proper schooling and feeding programme for children who lived in dumpsites.

Yann with the Filipino children who joined the casual soccer team he formed.

We would go to the dumpsites every week to support the feeding programme. I loved doing this with her, and I also took the chance to create a football team for the kids. Though it was a charity, my wife created it as a sustainable project so that the good work could be done even if we moved to a different country.

Now, we are in Singapore, and she is an established English teacher who has set up her own tuition company. This idea was born after many inspired conversations, as well as some pushing to take risks and have fun — we don’t always have the opportunity to set up our own business in an area we are passionate about. 

I am so proud of the personal growth and the journey she has taken from being a HR manager to becoming a businesswoman and an English teacher. Her strength, courage, kindness and her ability to give her all in everything that she does inspires me to do the same. 

My Bosses
Yann (bottom right) with his colleagues during an office Christmas party (taken pre-COVID-19).

Most of my direct bosses were women. I try to support them and help them in their growth as they have done for me. I’ve worked with two female CEOs and they were great mentors and business partners, who had different personalities and working styles. We don’t think the same way all the time and that’s the fantastic thing about it. Working with them reinforced the importance of having more women in the workplace, especially in male-dominated industries. 

When recruiting for a finance role in my team, many years ago, I was presented with a list of all-male candidates. I asked if I could have a list that had an equal number of male and female candidates. And I was able to receive one. This showed me that it’s not always that there is a shortage of adept and competent women, sometimes we subconsciously hold biases.

It’s crucial that everyone has an equal starting ground. If a candidate has to work twice as hard to just get her foot into the door just because she is a woman, that’s inequality in action. Whether or not a candidate gets the job, is secondary and should be based on his or her own merit. It’s our duty to ensure that we choose to be fair and provide equal opportunities for all in our daily actions and decisions, which allow us to create the change that we want to see in the world. 

Rethinking Equality and its Greater Societal Impact

Let’s do a simple exercise to check our bias. Think about a personal assistant. What image first popped into your mind? Was it a female personal assistant as stereotyped or was it a male personal assistant? 

If you thought about a female personal assistant, you’re not alone. It is what has been deeply embedded into the fabric of society so subtly that we don’t notice it. Here’s a real-life example of going against gender stereotypes: My best friend in London is a personal assistant and is extremely good at his job. Did I forget to mention that he is an ex-marine? We think only females or a certain type of person would be good at being a personal assistant. That is not true.

Checking our biases starts with awareness. Being more self-aware, questioning the intention behind reactions and responses to a situation, can give us insight into our own biases. Once we are conscious of our own biases, we can start to take better actions and make better decisions.

Leaving a Positive Legacy in The World

Changing society’s view on female empowerment and gender equality may at first glance seem like an enormous task, but it doesn’t have to be. 

I have always believed that we can create our legacy on a daily basis by talking to people, and influencing their lives by simply being present. In every aspect of life, be it with family, friends, work or business, we just need to constantly ask how we can leave a positive print behind. 

Advocacy for women’s empowerment is not tied to only one day. It is tied to every action we take, every interaction we have and most of all – checking our own biases so that we can be the change we wish to see in the world.

This article was published in partnership with Diageo Southeast Asia to celebrate International Women’s Day.

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