Meet the interviewees:
- Gopi Chande, FCPA, FCA, senior VP of finance and treasurer of Telus
- Chris Yee, CPA, CA, owner, The Cocktail Box Co. and Brew Your Bucha
- Jocelyn Li, CPA, senior manager in ESG and sustainability, KPMG Canada
- Jonathan Wong, CPA, CA, co-owner Custom Car Posters
How do you feel the combination of your Asian heritage and experiences growing up in Canada’s diverse cultural mix complimented each other and has helped you grow professionally and personally?
Gopi: Growing up with parents newly immigrated to Canada from England, instilled in me the values of hard work and perseverance from an early age. Also rooted in me were the values of education and the importance of giving back to your community.
My parents had little material wealth when they arrived, but were deeply motivated to succeed in every sense of the word. Over time, they both grew their material wealth while always staying involved with our community. This mindset has always been something I’ve aspired to embody and I’ve also worked to instill in my kids as well.
Chris: I believe Canada, particularly Vancouver, has a very multicultural environment where differences can be appreciated. I feel comfortable expressing my own Asian heritage and enjoy learning about other cultures. This open mindset extends to everything else. While starting my career in the corporate world as an accountant and then later transitioning to becoming an entrepreneur, I’ve never felt out of place. I could look around my network and see others that were in similar circumstances, creating their own path. Canada's culture of celebrating differences and leaning into individualism gave me the freedom to explore different careers and also develop friendships in other communities.
Jocelyn: I’m very thankful to have grown up in really diverse neighbourhoods and schools, and worked in diverse teams. I also have to give credit to my parents who enrolled me in French Immersion and weekend Chinese school, both of which gave me early exposure and appreciation for diversity. It cultivated my curiosity and keenness to understand, learn, and hear from people who might look, sound, or live differently than me. It’s why I always have a million questions at the ready for whomever I meet. In any work or life situation, I think it helps to start from a place of deep respect, genuine curiosity, and appreciation for differences.
Jonathan: I’m extremely lucky to have grown up in Canada, and during a time of increasing diversity and inclusivity. Growing up with friends from diverse backgrounds really broadened my thinking and allowed me to realize just how differently two people can think about the same issue. In my professional life, I think this understanding has led me to be more open minded and realize there often times isn’t just one correct answer or way of doing things.
There’s been a huge focus on inclusion across Canadian society in recent years. In addition to inclusiveness for all, why do you feel it’s important for each of us to continue to celebrate our personal ethnic and cultural backgrounds?
Jocelyn: Feeling welcome, celebrated, and seen for who we are can open so many doors — we can share ideas, perspectives, stories, and challenges with more vulnerability and honesty. I also believe that when we feel safe to be our true and unique selves, we are more likely to champion others, call out where we are falling short, and actively participate in reconciliation.
Jonathan: Being raised with a strong sense of family and community has had an immeasurable impact on my life. I think it is important to celebrate our culture as a way of passing it on to future generations. I also believe that understanding where you come from, and the struggles faced by previous generations, make it clear where future generations need to go. There is a lot of wisdom that has been passed down within cultures and over generations, and being able to lean on and apply those lessons has immense value.
When you were growing up, did you have a strong Asian role model or mentor? If so, how did they inspire you and how are you hoping to pass this inspiration on?
Gopi: I can’t think of one specific mentor, but I did see a lot of success within my community. What stands out to me, is that this success didn’t come easy. For example, I saw people pursue entrepreneurship, and fail, then try again, and fail again, and so on. They never gave up, because they were so driven and wanted to provide for their children.
When I started my career at KPMG 25 years ago, our office did not have a female partner, and I don't recall a partner who was a person of colour. This has thankfully changed over the years. I really believe in the adage "If you see it, you can be it", and I hope future generations can see more people who look like them in roles they aspire to hold. I want them to know that anything is possible.
Jocelyn: My parents were and continue to be my inspiration. They immigrated from Hong Kong in the late 80’s and sacrificed in ways I’ll never understand. I remember when my dad worked a second job to take us on vacation, or when my mom took night class and stayed up until 3:00 am doing assignments in order to meet the prerequisites of the CMA program at the time. While they were tenacious, unrelenting and tough in these respects, their support and belief in me is nurturing and forgiving, and they remind me that there is so much joy to be had, even in the toughest circumstances.
Jonathan: Growing up, I was very fortunate to have my dad and both grandfathers as role models. They worked extremely hard to provide a better life for their children and they always put the needs of the family above their own. I definitely gained my strong work ethic from them, and I hope I can pass it on to my son. Like my dad and grandfathers, I’ve worked hard to provide a better life for my son, but I’ve also made sure to take the time to enjoy life with my family. I hope that one day, my son will be in a position to find the right balance in his life.
Your visibility as a strong, successful, innovative person of Asian heritage has likely inspired many younger people of colour. What is the impact and messaging you’re hoping is coming through to these young people?
Gopi: I hope they go for it and aim high. I hope they surpass what our generation has and will achieve in the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) space. I hope this conversation becomes less relevant, because it will become so commonplace to bring your whole self to work, and be recognized for all aspects and facets of your life. Sometimes it isn't easy being the first or the only, but when you think about who might be quietly watching, it’s worth it. Hopefully I can help inspire young people to take action and in the future there will no longer be a lot of “first or only” people of colour in leadership roles. Hopefully those who occupy those roles will truly reflect what Canada is.
Chris: I hope that I can continue inspiring others to create their own future and to give back to the community. It is a privilege to live in Canada and it's our responsibility to share our experiences, knowledge, and culture with each other and be role models for future generations.
Jocelyn: I hope people can see that being yourself is enough. I’ve often wrestled with what people expect of me as a person of Asian heritage, and all the stereotypes (good and bad) that come with it. Thankfully, I’m constantly reminded by my mentors, friends, and family that who I am, whether attributable to being Asian or not, is just fine! There’s no cookie cutter!
Jonathan: The messages that I hope come through is that anyone can be successful and there is no one secret recipe for success. I’ve taken a pretty unusual journey in my career going from an accountant to an artist and I hope others will try to forge their own paths. I believe that success ultimately boils down to your willingness to learn, work hard, and be creative. If you can do that with passion and drive, you’re bound to be successful regardless of your background.
Vince Kanasoot is a communications specialist for CPABC.