Leaning-in in Shanghai
Panel of female professionals discuss leadership potential
Five distinguished Asian and Western professional women recently held a panel discussion at the Living Room by Octave in Shanghai to exchange their ideas on ambition and leadership potential in the corporate world.
The panel, described as a “lean-in,” was inspired by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s self-help book Lean In and its associated movement, which aims to provide advice to working women on how they can pursue their professional goals while at the same time achieving personal fulfillment.
Among the many topics discussed at the Shanghai forum was the contentious issue of leftover women – ambitious, single Chinese women who choose to remain unmarried and childless so that they can develop their careers.
“They are not leftover. They choose to be alone,” said Gong Xiangwei, Global Business Unit Director of DSM Hydrocolloids and President of Andre Pectin, an affiliate of Royal DSM, noting that in China the true “leftovers” are the hundreds of millions of men who can’t find spouses.
Sandy Yang, Manager of Strategic Partnership of Hilton Worldwide, agrees, seeing leftover women more as a trending topic for social media and television than an actual societal crisis.
“It may be a problem but only because everyone is using a microscope to enlarge it,” said Yang. She added that single women should appreciate the chance to develop themselves and their careers rather than fitting themselves to the stereotype of a modern
entertainment topic. The panel also discussed the embarrassing phenomenon of women at work who judge each other rather than give each other support. “Chinese women tend to seek more approval from their peers or superiors than Western women do,” said Yang. “Knowing what you can do, what you are capable of and what you are passionate about are some steps younger starters may go through after they graduate from university,” she said.
Elle Suebjaklap from Thailand, managing director and co-founder of Malee Coco, suggested that women superiors should mentor or offer inspiring personal and professional advice to their peers. Yang followed up on this by suggest- ing thatth for those young womenwome who don’t yet knowkn what they are passionatep about or where they may end up, the role model should be someone they know.
“It could be your family, your boss, or someone from your network. So you will learn howho they become who they are.”
Asked about work-life balance, there was a consensus among the panel that there is actually no balance, but only choices. “You could define your role as bigger rocks in planning your life,” said Yang. “Find out the actions, events and activities you need to do to support the bigger rocks and make sure they are in your calendar.”
It’s also fine to say no to something. “It’s OK to change your rocks or priorities and you should put things you like into your time schedule,” Anna Van Acker, VP of Marketing and Strategy at MSD China, added.
An audience of some 60 females teamed up with the panelists for 20-minute breakout sessions follow- ing the discussion to receive specific advice on project development and support systems in industries that are less women-friendly.
Career ladders and “career jungle gyms” were also compared, with the latter being viewed as offering more creative exploration but often with more dead ends.
“The developmental move is not equal to the career move,” said Acker. “If you only think about career titles, you set yourself up for disappointment. Sometimes you need to acquire a different skill or a different capability.”
“Sometimes you have to move downward to achieve what you want. You must be prepared in the sense of doing what you like and practicing it. When the right thing comes, you have to seize it,” added Yang.
The event was organized by Lean In Shanghai in cooperation with Expatriate Professional Women’s Society (EPWS), a multicultural community of professional women with diverse backgrounds. Lean In Shanghai is a regional community of over 4,000 professional women in Shanghai.
“Most participants in the event are 25 to 35 years old. They want to seek mentorship from more experienced women in senior positions,” said Jessica Shi, co-founder of Lean In Shanghai, “Senior managers, in turn, want to know what younger females think.”
“I came here with some confusion but left feeling inspired by the panel’s opinions and achievements,” said Morning Qu, a financial service practitioner.
“We tend to protect ourselves at work, but here I’m surprisingly relaxed and feel like sharing experience with my new friends,” Connie Cai, who works in the FMCG industry, told the Global Times. “Men and women are equal as long as neither of them is held back from pursuing what they want.”
Professional women share their thoughts on leadership in a recent panel discussion in Shanghai.