Since the beginning of the women’s rights movement in the 1960s, women throughout the world have continued to shatter glass ceilings while fighting for equal rights and opportunities. Anika Williamson, Director of JAT Holdings PLC. believes that a mindset of seeking out opportunities and facing challenges regardless of one’s gender is paramount to reaching a true level of equality. While she acknowledges that women may face additional boundaries and hurdles in the workplace, she believes that we have no option but to continue to fight for change in these situations, as it is the only way true progress can be made.

Q1. What is the biggest factor that has helped you be successful in your career, despite challenges that women may face in the workforce?

I am blessed to have an extremely supportive family who always told me that I could achieve whatever I set my mind to. Even from a young age, I was never expected to adhere to gender norms and I carried this belief with me into my corporate career. I also have an amazing husband who continues to stand by my side and encourages me to reach my full potential. 

For me, it comes down to a mindset that regardless of your gender you should never say no to opportunities or shy away from challenges. Yes, there will be situations that present additional boundaries or hurdles for women but if we stop trying, then our reality will never change.

Q2. What is a leadership lesson that you’ve learnt that is unique to being a female leader?

One lesson that I have learnt is the importance of supporting other women. Because if one of us rises, we all do. Throughout my career, I have worked with many women and have personally experienced the different management styles that affect others’ progression. My view is that we should work towards equality in the opportunities presented to all, and a person should be rewarded based on their individual merit.

Over the last 2 years working with JAT Holdings PLC as well as JAT Property Group, I have had to change my leadership style to strike a balance between being gentle yet firm. As a woman in a position of authority within the construction industry, which is predominantly male-dominated, I have experienced a particularly steep learning curve however, I am enjoying this process and continue to adapt and grow.

Q3: What does your organisation do to support female leaders?

I really think the numbers speak for themselves. At JAT Holdings PLC, we have 3 females that sit on our board of 9 Directors and have several female leaders within the hierarchy of the organisation from Directors to General Managers.

While no system can be perfect, we strive for a workplace that allows everyone to progress based on their capability. 

Q4: JAT Holdings recently went public, did you feel a significant shift in the culture of the organisation moving from a family business to a publicly listed company?

JAT Holdings was founded by my father, Aelian Gunawardene, 29 years ago. I grew up alongside the business and have witnessed first-hand the adaptation of the culture of the organisation as we expanded.

While we only listed on the stock exchange in August 2021, JAT has been run with the same standards and Corporate Governance as a publicly listed company for more than 10 years. This meant that a significant shift in culture was not required.

While we are now a conglomerate with an international reach, we still strive to make our employees feel a part of the JAT family. For example, we have continued traditions that were started from the inception of the company such as ensuring that every employee has a buffet lunch provided at no cost. Further, all our office employees sit on Herman Miller chairs which are known to be the best seating solutions in the world. This is something that we as the founding family of JAT are very proud of.

Q5. What is one of the best things about being part of the JAT family?

I still remember the first container of wood coatings that JAT received, I was just four years old, and we all came together to help unload the goods into the garage at our home. Few people could have imagined those humble beginnings leading to what is now JAT Holdings PLC, a publicly listed multinational conglomerate.

Some of our initial employees still work for the business and have grown in leaps and bounds. This has been one of my favourite things about being part of the JAT family.

Q6 What is your advice for the next generation of young women springing into leadership?

Understand that the tide is changing, women continue to shatter glass ceilings and with more of us rising up the ranks, you have so many inspiring role models to aspire to. Read about these women and use that as inspiration to fuel your career growth and provide yourself with the confidence you need to ask for what you deserve. If possible, find a female mentor who will take the time to guide you through your career and share learnings from her past.

Success starts with the belief that you are worthy of every opportunity that comes your way and the willingness to put in the hard work required to achieve whatever you set your mind to.

Finally, surround yourself with others that will support you in your ambition. I am a firm believer that you become the average of the five people that you spend the most amount of time with. So really think about who those people are for you and make sure that they are pushing you to constantly improve and grow.