Don’t accept things because they are the way they are – Pranapda Phornprapa
“When you look around, you wonder why all the secretaries are women, and all the top managers are men.”
The question which Pranapda Phornprapa has asked herself throughout her career as the Executive Vice-President of an automobile and manufacturing giant, Siam Motors Group, which has been operating in Thailand for 67 years.
Only female in the boardroom
Pranapda said she would normally be the only woman in the boardroom, but being in a top position in a male dominated industry is a big challenge.
As the Executive Vice-President, she started to realise what women are currently facing in the corporate world, especially when she had to work with Japanese colleagues, whose culture is heavily geared towards men.
One of the moments she recalled was when a Japanese man asked her to get him a glass of water during a boardroom meeting, assuming that she was the secretary to a male CEO or “someone subordinate”.
“These small things started building up and it was more of a wake-up call,” she said, and this urged her to fight harder and speak louder for women to be respected and treated more fairly in the workforce.
But the main problem Pranapda found is that women in general don’t speak up, as they have not been taught nor trained to do so, but rather to accept how things are.
“When I say speak up, I’m not saying you have to be demanding, but have a more open-outlook as to what’s fair and what’s not fair. With enough voices we’ll be heard.”
They’re just numbers
According to “Women in Business 2020 Report” by Grant Thornton, Thailand has a greater percentage of women in top positions than both the Asia-Pacific region and the global average. 24% of CEOs or Managing Directors in Thailand are women, compared to 20% worldwide and only 13% in Asia-Pacific.
Despite the impressive statistics, Pranapda thinks they’re just numbers, as she believes that there are barely any women sitting in the boardroom as “leaders”.
“My point is we can still do more, I think everybody should continue to do more, and have a voice, and not be scared to demand.”
Speaking up is considered aggressive?
Having spent much of her time in Canada, and graduating from Brown University in the United States, Pranapda’s exposure to the Western way of thinking plays a huge role in many parts of her life.
Not being afraid to speak her mind is one of her assets, which Pranapda admits gained her a reputation for being fierce and (somehow) aggressive.
“I just had a conversation with my husband this morning, and we were just talking. He was like, when I first started dating you, everybody called you fierce. At first I was like, that sucks, but then I thought over it, and I realised that it can be a positive word, you’re just focused on getting things done.”
She also noticed that men and women are described differently, although they carry the same characteristics, which she thinks is a problem of stereotyping.
“So let’s say you speak up as a guy, you’re considered opinionated, but if you speak up as a woman you’re considered aggressive.”
Are child & home care always the women’s responsibility?
Another problem she noticed, is that women “bear the brunt” of taking care of their children, cleaning the house and putting food on the table, on top of their work, which is a stereotype the world has imposed on them.
“It would be nice for everybody to be more sensitive of the fact that, it’s just harder for women because of this unpaid work they do. If the husband just helps to arrange two or three meals for dinner a week, it takes the load off women, so then we don’t end up sacrificing our time and our energy, and we focus more on work.”
Pranapda also thinks that it would be more helpful, not only for the responsibilities to be more equal, but for men to have more sensitivity and compassion towards women who have a large number of duties.
She also teaches her 12-year-old son about shared responsibilities between men and women in the household through examples.
“The funny thing about kids is that they’re way too smart for us to teach. They learn through observation, so he sees everything that I do, and he learns more than I have to teach him. He even corrects me sometimes on things that are fair or unfair.”
Fight towards gender equality
After recognizing gender inequality in the corporate world and in real life, she became the founder and CEO of Dragonfly, a regional platform for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
One of the most notable projects was the first “Wo=Men Summit” in 2019, where Pranapda said she felt most “empowered” as a woman when she spoke on stage to a large group of attendees who believe in the cause.
“It makes you feel like you can conquer the world. You can continue to break barriers, break the rules, and break the status quo for what women should be. I think, from other women and men who gave me feedback after the summit, that it’s an empowering tool to doing something that is meaningful and impactful forthe country and the region. That’s pretty empowering for me.”
If you could speak to every single woman at the same time, what would it be?
Keep re-inventing the rules, would be Pranapda’s advice to all women.
“Don’t accept things just because they are the way they are. Things can change and should change. I think women ourselves have the power within us to have a voice, to speak up and to demand those changes. I would say continue the fight.”
By Nad Bunnag, Thai PBS World