As part of our Leading Women series, we want to highlight the professional challenges and career aspirations of the women we work with here in Asia.

In this story, Vanee Gosiengfiao, General Manager at Sanofi Consumer Healthcare, Philippines, shares what it means to pay it forward as a mentor, how she stayed strong through a family tragedy and the brand new life she is now building for her family.

Q: Why is empathy and educating executives about empathy so important these days?  

Empathy has been important for quite a while, but the pandemic has highlighted the need with urgency. I think all of us know that when we're undergoing times of crisis, or when we're undergoing times of change, we need leaders whom we can trust, leaders who we know are human, who can understand us, and who can be there to simply listen.   

For my team, the pandemic has become more real. It's getting closer to home. We've had some external representatives who tested positive, and we’ve had a few deaths among them as well.

I think empathy is the best way for that because we know that they understand and that we understand their needs as leaders. I would liken it to being a mother, and I think that's where we, women leaders, would be the best examples during this pandemic, of showing empathy.   

In a way, our role as leaders is easy. We are just there to listen. But it's also hard because it's about tapping into our emotions and actively listening and being empathetic to others. So I think it’s a chance for us women leaders to show that even if we’re not mothers, instinctively, we have it within us to be empathetic to others.

Related: A culture of employee recognition contributes to retention

Q: Why do you feel it's so important to mentor?   

I have been lucky throughout my career to have had a lot of mentors — and really good ones too. My mentors are the ones who have championed me along the way. Even if I wasn't asking for promotions or bigger roles, they were the ones who championed me.

I've been grateful that my career has been that way because of my mentors. So now it's my chance to pay it forward. I can never repay my mentors for what they did for my career and the only way I can repay them is by paying it forward.  

So I love to mentor others, it's one of my passions, and it's one of my purposes. It's not just about mentoring, it's also coaching because sometimes it can take some coaching conversations to help somebody — in a way, help them transform, help them change things and let them have a different perspective.

It’s fulfilling, and it's living my purpose of transforming businesses. And the way that I transform businesses is really through leaders.

Related: What mentorship and sponsorship can do for your company 

Q: How do your mentees differentiate themselves?  

I love exploring this with them. I had a hiatus between my two companies. So, during that sabbatical, I had myself certified with the International Coaching Federation, and Gallup’s StrengthsFinder. Now, I use these tools to help others find their strengths, own their strengths and find their purpose.  

I believe we need to find our unique purpose in the world and how we can help. And it's really through our strengths and our unique personality and the unique skills that we have. Only then can we feel fulfilled.

It’s a difficult thing. I must say that even for me, it's been a journey. Therefore I love doing that with my coaches and my mentees. Going through that journey with them and finding their unique strengths and their purpose in life.  

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Q: What were some sacrifices you’ve had to make for your career?

I wouldn't think of it as a sacrifice. It’s more about choices. I chose to leave the Philippines and go to Thailand. I also chose to leave Asia to live in the US. When we had kids, we chose to go back to Asia for family support, and to help me with my job while raising a family.

My biggest choice probably has been to go back to the Philippines. Coming from Bangkok, I was in a General Manager position then. Great country, great business, great team.

But I chose to go back to the Philippines when we found out my husband had liver cirrhosis. Because he was sick, we decided it was best [for me] to be here. He needed a transplant, and it was best to be done in our home country, with the family around for support, and to facilitate the transplant.

That was a choice we made, and I don't regret it because it's opened so many other opportunities for me.

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Q: What was your bravest moment in the course of your career?  

I had Cheska in 2009 during the worst snowstorm in decades in Philadelphia. I gave birth to Miguel in Bangkok in 2011 during the worst flood in decades. So crises are not alien to me. In most things, you have to plough through it and move on.

But I think the bravest thing that I’ve had to do was, a couple of months ago, I lost my husband. We were in the hospital for three months amidst the pandemic, from October to December 2020. It was probably the hardest thing for me, having to tell him that we did our best, but that was it, right? That was it.  

So I think it’s about being brave for my kids and creating a future for them now. Even for me, I would look at it now as something different. What I am excited about now is creating a new life for me and my kids. We’ve had to compromise on many things because he was sick.

But now we don’t have to compromise anymore, so that’s what’s exciting. That is probably adding to the bravery of discovering things to look forward to. Look at the positive side of things, and take a look at what you can learn from the experience.

Now it’s about recreating myself, what I do with the rest of my life and what I want to create for my children.

Related: The first step to a good employee attraction plan is a great employee retention strategy

Q: What is a key leadership lesson you learned along the way?  

One lesson that I value was from my mentor. We were having one of our monthly chats, and he told me: ‘You know, I really would welcome the day when you're just looking outside your window, thinking about the future, and you're not concerned about the present’.

And then he said: ‘Therefore, you need a team underneath you that’s better than you so that you can think about the future and not about operations’. That's one lesson that has been with me throughout my career.  

Q: With so much going on, how do you usually unwind?   

Pre-pandemic, I would take long walks outside. When there's a big task at hand or when there's something to think about, I would take a walk outdoors. Now I can’t take so many walks outside, so I take virtual walks. This pandemic has offered us a lot of time to do other things. For example, I have more time to read now because I don't need to spend time in traffic.  

Q: After the pandemic, where’s your first holiday destination?  

That’s a tough one because I've also been asking that myself. So my son, Miguel, is autistic. We couldn't travel for a very long time until he was five years old. He had problems with big spaces, being in public or aeroplanes. But now that he's learnt to, he's made so many plans for us.

He wants to go to New York City because he's been watching Home Alone. He wants to go to Africa because he's been reading up on animals and watching them on YouTube. And then he wants to go to Bangkok because he wants to return to where he was born. He wants to see it. He hasn't been back ever since. So many travel plans and we haven't decided yet. 

This is one of the many stories in our Leading Women series. For more inspiring stories of women breaking conventions and taking the lead in the Asia Pacific, visit the official Page Executive blog below: 

Read more:
8 must-have qualities of an effective leader
How HR needs to evolve to support the future of work
How to boost employee engagement in the office or at home

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