Lean­ing-in in Shang­hai

Panel of fe­male pro­fes­sion­als dis­cuss lead­er­ship po­ten­tial

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - COMMUNITY - By Fang Shao­qing

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.”

Pho­tos: Fang Shao­qing/GT

Pro­fes­sional women share their thoughts on lead­er­ship in a re­cent panel dis­cus­sion in Shang­hai.

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