The path to positions of distinction

By: The WFE Focus Team Mar 2022

Diana Chan, Member of the WFE Women Leaders Award Selection Committee

It is heartening to see a very strong slate of candidates for this year’s WFE Women Leaders. All of the candidates have achieved a prominent position in their organisations. The WFE Women Leaders Award not only recognises the professional achievements of these remarkable individuals, it also spotlights them as role models to others who are still on their journey to the top. It is motivating for everyone in the financial infrastructure industry to see that capable women who excel in their fields are recognised and that so many have reached positions of distinction.

Many candidates cite their parents as their primary source of inspiration for their professional success. These parents are instrumental in forming the candidates’ work ethic and resilience. They conscientiously nurtured their daughters to be curious, to know how to ask questions, and fortified them with confidence.

Equally, many candidates have benefitted from having managers, mentors, sponsors and coaches who guided and advised them on their way to the top.

The candidates who had the good fortune to have encouraging parents and helpful mentors acknowledge these contributing factors to their success. It can be considered a blessing, or a privilege, to be born with intelligence and the necessary aptitude for success, to grow up in a supportive family, to live in a culture that invests in quality education, and to have the opportunity to meet people who are generous with their time, experience and wisdom.

Not everyone has the good fortune of having positive and enabling conditions in a similarly conducive environment, but everyone can make the effort to observe and find opportunities to learn. Many candidates cited capable and talented colleagues who inspired them. Others take inspiration from prominent people or follow role models from their own business sectors. Being in the right place at the right time – aka luck – also makes it easier to be successful. All positive conditions are additive; there is no silver bullet. Success is also the result of an individual’s continuous effort. There is truth to the saying: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” Although one’s efforts don’t necessarily pay off immediately, when the opportunity arrives, one is ready to grab it.

Although the existence of the WFE Women Leaders award indicates that women leaders are still a rarity to be celebrated, women who aspire to leadership positions must not become too conscious that there are cultural or organisational barriers to their ascent, or worse – rely on these factors to justify their situation. A “victim” mindset is probably one of the biggest barriers to progress.

The candidates put in much thought and effort to share their insights and offer advice to others who aspire to reach their illustrious positions. No one offered the advice that “you can be anything you want to be.” But many offered more realistic advice: Making the effort to improve will always enable you to become better at what you do; be brave, step forward to take on responsibility and do not wait to be asked.

The WFE Women Leaders award nomination process coincides this year with the Winter Olympics. During the games, we are reminded every day that the aspirations of many are thwarted by the rule that there are only three medals for every event. In real life, not everyone can succeed because there is the structural limitation that there are fewer places at the top. But we all owe it to ourselves to make the effort to fulfil our potential.

My favourite Olympic story of defying the odds and triumph over adversity is that of the Finnish runner Lasse Virén. In the middle of the 10,000 meter race at the 1972 Olympics, he and another runner became entangled and fell onto the track. A video of the race captured the moment when they fell: While the other runner appeared stunned, Lasse Virén got straight up and rejoined the race as the last runner trailing the pack. In the end, he not only won the race, but also set a world record that remained unbroken for the next 10 years.

My very best wishes, therefore, to future women leaders: to have the vision to see the possibilities, the energy to bounce back from falls, and the good luck for many fantastic opportunities to realise your potential.


The views, thoughts and opinions contained in this Focus article belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the WFE’s policy position on the issue, or the WFE’s views or opinions.