I'll be honest, March 8 was never a special day for me. As a man, International Women's Day always felt fairly distant. Other than the occasional greetings to the ladies around me, I didn't usually think too much about it.
This year however, has been different. In fact, in taking this assignment, I have found greater admiration and respect for women in business and finance.
I spoke with three recently to get a sense of their experiences in the industry and how they saw the road forward for gender equality.
Each woman I spoke with is successful in her own right.
There is Fehl Dungo from the Philippines, who is an acclaimed and popular investor with the eToro trading platform.
I also spoke with Proud Limpongpan from Thailand, who is currently the Chief Strategy Officer at Zipmex, having worked at Boston Consulting Group and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Flying the local women's flag is Emily Choo, CEO of GEM Comm, an independent global investor relations firm.
We spoke first on what International Women's Day means to each of them.
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY MORE THAN JUST CELEBRATING WOMEN
Fehl (FD): To me, International Women's Day isn't just a celebration of being a woman, it's also a day to celebrate how women conquer every challenge in our lives, how we empower each other to be the best that we can be, and how we spread love and empathy to the world.
Proud (PL): International Women's Day reminds me to appreciate all the women around me, from my role models to those that I work with every day.
Emily (EC): We rarely take the time to appreciate our own little accomplishments and reflect on how important our own struggles have been. So International Women's Day is a perfect day to celebrate women all over the world and how they've influenced our personal or shared history like our sisters, mothers and grandmothers.
ON BEING THE 'WEAKER GENDER' AND OVERCOMING BIAS
One of the themes for #IWD2020 is the active individual decision to challenge stereotypes and fight biasness. I asked the women whether they have ever encountered such biases and stereotypes and, more importantly, how they overcame them.
EC: Gender stereotypes in workplaces are common in my opinion and this has to change! Because such stereotypes kill women's self-confidence in pursuing prominent roles in professions they believe they won't excel in.
I have personally been labelled as intimidating, bossy and aggressive when I tried to pursue projects and speak up for salary and promotion. But that didn't stop me from walking into the CEO's office to fight for what I need.
PL: While I have not encountered such stereotypes and biases through my work experiences across multiple cities, I believe in just doing things to the best of my abilities as well as any woman or man is able to.
FD: I believe it is important to remember that someone else's opinion about you does not define who you are, and their expectations do not define your own capabilities. Do what's right, celebrate your strength, spread love and do what makes you happy. In the end, the truth and your success will always smile at them in the face.
Despite being already successful women, I asked each for their own role model in business and finance.
PL: There are so many I can't pick one! Margaret Thatcher, Marie Curie, Florence Nightingale, Jane Austen. They've all pushed the envelope in their fields and still manage to make a difference to this very day.
EC: For mental strength, Mary Barra, CEO, General Motors is my role model in business ethics and who pushes for more women leaders. She's the first woman to head a major car manufacturer and is at present a transformational figure, leading the change to put more women in the C-suite offices and in the boardroom.
FD: My mom, Priscila. Growing up, she taught me how to save effectively, how to handle my finances and how to grow my money. She helped me realise how to be financially independent and how to become successful doing what makes me happy.
Through her, I learned the concept of ikigai — doing what you love or what you're good at and sharing it to the world.
INSPIRING THE NEXT WAVE OF STRONG WOMEN
If they had a microphone, what would they say to women around them? I challenged the three to inspire the empowerment of female business leaders.
EC: I believe women need to take a step forward and claim their success. Do not be shy or apologise about it, if not for yourself, then for future generations of women who need to be able to picture a strong future.
PL: Coach, encourage and inspire women. It's possible for all of us to play a part in our private and work lives to shape the society we want to be in.
FD: You are beautiful. You matter. You are loved. You are invincible. Celebrate who you are!
EQUALITY IS NOT A WOMEN'S ISSUE, IT'S A BUSINESS ISSUE
Lastly, I believe that gender equality is important for the world economy in today's day and age. Indeed, it is one of the crucial enablers for thriving communities.
Like the ladies I spoke to, I look forward to the race for gender-equal boardrooms, gender-equal governments, gender-equal media coverage, and gender-equal workplaces. Together with women, I'm #EachforEqual.