Speak up; share your aspirational goals; and pursue your ambitions, advises PwC Thailand’s Vilaiporn Taweelappontong.
“In our culture, many young women still shy away from sharing their dreams, as they do not want to be seen as aggressive. But my message is that it’s ok to speak up. It’s your career, and you are the one responsible for it,” she says.
She notes that in Asian cultures, employees are taught to look to supervisors for approval before proceeding with any tasks or making big decisions and that if you work hard enough and do a really good job, you will be noticed and considered for promotion. But while in the United States office, she realized she was missing opportunities by not speaking up, and soon decided that being more vocal and visible and sharing career aspirations and then aggressively pursuing them would lead to success. That, combined with a strong network and supportive mentors, have propelled her career.
From Consulting to Leading
Taweelappontong has spent more than 20 years in IT consulting, with the past five as a country leader. She started her career in Thailand with a different global consulting firm, with the intent to just stay for a few years before moving to the corporate environment. But after a few projects, she fell in love with the speed of the consulting business and the opportunity to meet people and learn from the best, along with working with different technologies. She had the opportunity to work in many countries, including three years in the United States, where she learned a great deal about leadership, practice building and people management.
One of the professional achievements she’s most proud of is building the Thailand practice, achieving more than 75 percent growth in the past five years and growing the team substantially.
Earlier in her career, she preferred working with technology, rather than dealing with people. “Technologies are much easier to handle, since you don’t need to address emotional people or tough characters,” says Taweelappontong.
So when offered opportunities to step up and lead, she was hesitant at first, but having good coaches and mentors supported her confidence by allowing her to make mistakes and share her worst fears in order to learn and grow. Although she has conquered that reticence and has proven to be an effective leader, technology remains her area of most interest. She is currently working on several projects where the team is assessing how emerging technologies can help improve clients’ back office operations by automating tasks that are currently done by humans and using analytics to help inform better decisions. The goal is not necessarily to reduce costs but to improve efficiency, reduce human error and redeploy employees to more interesting and strategic roles, such as customer service and analytics.
“As a business technologist, I’m always passionate about learning the new technologies, like how robotics can perform a surgery, how AI can help with screening candidates and how analytics can help predict customers’ and employees’ behavior and needs,” Taweelappontong says.
Helping Create Balance
IT consulting is a demanding job and that can lead many women to resign once they reach the manager level in order to gain more time for their families. Taweelappontong says that as exit interviews continued to show the parallel path of promotions coinciding with family, they worked with HR to introduce flexible work arrangements.
For example, one single mom who needed to come in later in the morning after school drop-off or leave early some days to help with homework, received a 60 percent work arrangement that allowed her to coordinate with colleagues to meet those needs. Another manager whose husband asked her to resign for more family time was given a three-day-a-week schedule. “These flexible work arrangement programs help retain many of our talents in the workplace, and when we expanded the program to all genders, many men also applied.”
Taweelappontong helps maintain her own balance as a serious yoga practitioner, finding that the mind-body practice releases stress and relaxes her mind. She has blocked three hours every Saturday morning to go to the studio and practice yoga, and over the years has developed a network with a group of people who enjoy full-body stretching.
“Typically people who practice yoga also have an overall healthy life style — eating well and living well,” she notes, adding that she has picked up many health tips from the class.