Senela is an awarded international speaker, leadership & management trainer and a business and performance coach. She was the Country Manager for Sri Lanka & Head of Marketing – International (US, AUS, UAE, UK) for a reputed British firm headquartered in Hertfordshire, United Kingdom. Senela was also employed in a leading Fortune 500 company headquartered in San Ramon (Cali., USA) and was involved in Brand Development, Marketing Communications, Public Relations, Stakeholder Management & Corporate Social Responsibility.
Empowering individuals, coaching, mentoring and leadership grooming has always been a very core area in her work. She is the Founder and CEO of Women Empowered Global, which is a dedicated platform to help women and girls rise, lead and thrive by becoming more confident and influential as an individual, an entrepreneur or professional. Women Empowered Global (www.WomenEmpowered.global) offers working women, female start-ups, momprenuers, graduates and school leavers various mind set and skill set coaching, professional skill development scholarships, courses and growth opportunities to enable them to become more successful and ready for global impact.
She has been a lead corporate trainer and coach for Sri Lanka’s leading Training & Business Consultancy group McQuire Group of Companies www.mcquire.org since 2013, and was made Board Director in 2015. She was appointed as an International Committee Member for Marketing, PR & Communications (2014/16 biennium) at Zonta International (www.zonta.org); affiliated with the United Nations. She held the post of District Liaison for 7 Countries (AUS, SGP, PHL, THL, BNG, IND, SL). Made Board Director of the Zonta Club II of Colombo (District 25) for the 2014/16 biennium. Chairperson of the Jane M. Klausmen Women in Business scholarship and awards 2015/16. She is an AEC member at the Women Economic Forum 2017 and an honorary life member at the ALL Ladies League international women’s chamber.
1. Tell us about your life growing up in Sri Lanka and how it shaped the woman you are today.
I was born to a middle-class family of four kids; two girls and two boys and I was the third in the family. I remember having a very humble childhood where my mother too had to work to support my father’s income to support the household. My mother and father both being professionals, were also very determined to give us a good material life growing up which resulted in them working very hard till very late and I had seldom quality time and interaction with them during my childhood till around the time I became a young adult. As a result, the bulk of my growth and personal development was not the result of parents who consciously nurtured me, but rather, it was based on life experience itself and the hard knocks from trial and error. I would like to say that I am grateful to my mother who portrayed a strong symbol of someone who never allowed the patriarchal influence and glass ceiling weaken her determination or shatter her confidence as a South Asian woman pursuing a career and ambition. She always stayed strong and resilient.
Growing up, I was quite an introvert, I didn’t have many friends and neither was I involved in extracurricular activities at school. I remember at the age of 3 or 4 wanting to become a school teacher. Somewhere down the line, I then wanted to be a lawyer because my mother was a lawyer, but then I understood as a teenager that I needed to first find my path by defining who I really am, and the type of person I wanted to be. It took me a long time to shift gears from emulating my parents and their example, to finding and paying attention to my own voice and gaining clarity on my self-identity. Once I found this clarity, the question I was asking less was “who do I want to be?” Instead, the question I was asking myself became, “What is my calling and purpose in life?” which lead to “What type of impact do I want to make in my lifetime?
2.Discuss your career path and your present work as an entrepreneur
I started working straight out of school. I saved money from my first paying job to pay towards furthering my studies in Business Management, Marketing and subsequently my MBA. I was compelled to understand the concept of economics and personal budgeting very early on. My first salaried job was as a junior office admin assistant transferring phone calls that came to the front desk.
I later decided to cut away from the traditional mold of jobs promoted for Sri Lankan women at the time and applied for a role at a big advertising agency. My agency experience gave me tremendous perspective giving me a learning experience of a culture that embraced inclusiveness and diversity. The creative nature and necessity of the job amplified my journey to think outside tradition, to push limits and cross borders to pursue greater opportunities and creative expressions of the mind, intension and soul. After working for two very big advertising agencies where I received training and exposure in handling PR and Brand campaigns for local and large multinational companies, I was recruited into a Fortune 100 multinational headquartered in San Ramon (Cali., USA) where I was involved in marketing communications, CSR and stakeholder relations. My last appointment in the corporate sector before I ventured out to start my own global platform was when I worked in the capacity of Country Head for Sri Lanka and headed global marketing for a successful IT British firm headquartered in Hertfordshire, UK.
In early 2017, I founded Women Empowered Global (WEG), a platform designed for women to achieve their leadership goals more effectively and efficiently. To date, we work with 16 visionary global partners representing 8 countries. WEG offers leadership coaching and other growth accelerator programs for women in business, corporate, STEM and other professions. We work with experts from around the world to design knowledge tools as part of a localized strategy to make a sustainable and impactful transformation.
3.Your current work involves empowering women around the world. How does your platform do this and why is this important to you?
The idea of empowering women is complex and requires a strategy based on location, community and economy. There are various sociocultural influences that need to be factored in. At Women Empowered Global, we have made it mission critical to offer a platform that serves as a voice as well as an amplifier for women from around the world, to express, share knowledge, exchange, learn and thrive with a global community of entrepreneurs, thought-leaders, and specialists in various fields. Our platform offers growth accelerator programs to integrate people who require and desire the level of impact that is necessary to make the difference. There is no generic strategy to address women empowerment, strategies need to be localized which is why we have moderators from around the world at the locations we are present to ensure that our programs and planning are effective.
I am very passionate about helping women in entrepreneurship; women in private and public sectors, STEM and other professions to rise to leadership and positions of influence and decision-making, because I believe that it will be the most effective solution to ensure gender inclusiveness when the representation of gender at top levels are equal too. The benefits of having a gender balance at senior most positions across sectors and professions can produce a greater economic impact. Women currently comprise approx. 54% of the global population. Imagine the type of potential economies can yield by simply tapping into this prospective base. I am very committed to developing, supporting and grooming women for business or career success because I believe that when a woman excels, the benefits are not only for a business or company, but it also brings enhancement and enrichment to a family, a village and community too. And that, is the beauty of a woman at work.
4.What do you think is the biggest issue affecting women entrepreneurs today?
There are several issues that female entrepreneurs face. Cultural gender biases are very real and can affect the status-quo on how the business world engages with a woman. I see two key inhibitors I can narrow it down to. The first is the mental roadblocks we impose on our self as a woman. This is the self-doubt, self-sabotage and self-critical process we put our self through. Second, the external aspect such as the patriarchal influences in the way companies do business with women, especially in developing economies and South Asia. Some of the other issues affecting women entrepreneurs today includes limited access to funding as raising capital is even more difficult for women-owned firms. Also majority of fields being male-dominated; the lack of a support network such as advisers and mentors, and finally, the hardships of balancing business and family life as being a mother while running a business is very challenging.
Women Empowered Global is looking at designing programs for start-up incubation and business acceleration for women among other strategic educational workshops to educate women on pitching, financial accountability, VC handling and other critical components of running and sustaining a business.
5.What advice do you have for the next generation of women entrepreneurs?
Success and entrepreneurship is gender neutral. Being an entrepreneur is about doing things you never thought you could do and having great perseverance while doing it. You need to believe in yourself and focus on your strengths, not fixate on your weakness. Never let another person dictate what you can and can’t, should or should not do. You are limitless power, potential and promise. Follow your passion and you will find your purpose there also.
Have great confidence in your ideas and what you have set out to accomplish. Be prepared to work the system to make it work for you. The current system is not designed for you to be entrepreneur. And you may experience backlash when trying to redefine it. But stay true to your vision and calling, and remember that massive success comes with massive failure. Success may not happen overnight, but stick with it. Try not to be too self-critical and never stop being your biggest fan. At Women Empowered Global we are passionate about coaching and supporting millennials and future leaders. We run special programs tailor-made to inspire these young aspirational individuals. For more information subscribe to www.WomenEmpowered.global