I was elated to be able to attend this all day conference organized by the American Chamber of Commerce’s Women’s Executive Network. Even though it cost me a hefty 160 bucks, I knew it would be worth the price. Being able to hear some of China’s most influential and inspiring women leaders discussing what needs to happen for more women to be successful in China. I had to be there. No doubt about it.
It was a loooong day of talks. Panel after panel in the morning. Then, two workshops that were more intimate and hands-on in the afternoon. Upon arrival at the fancy schmancy Mandarin Oriental, Shanghai’s most expensive and famous hotel in Lujiazui, I was greeted by men opening my taxi door and welcoming me into a truly beautiful foyer.
I headed down to sign-in, pick up my name badge, and took a seat in the hall that was ready for more than 300 attendees. I scanned my table, and there was a little contraption to vote, niceee. Some water, pencils, paper and the WeForShe booklet that had the itinerary for the day and all the speakers’ info. I settled in after shooting some pics at the entry hall with a new friend I made, Janine. Then, we sat down together and chatted about our businesses.
PANEL I – Inclusive Leadership: Moving Beyond Unconscious bias
Moderator: Sarah Kochling, Managing Principal, Blossom Innovation
Vikram Cardozo, Senior HR Director Greater China, GE
Linda Kiester, HR Director Greater China, 3M
Janet Mi, Director of Consulting, Aperian Global
Alice Wong, HR Director Great China, EY
What is unconscious bias?
The panel started off with attendees using the voting clicker to vote for a few questions. The first was, Have you heard of unconscious bias? Over 70% of the attendees had.
The quick definition is a bias or prejudice for or against one person or a group.
The most common examples are gender, financial, and conforming to society. The focus of the panel was to try and spot biases that happen in the workplace that could hinder women progressing.
The panelists started off discussing healthy home life. Not an unusual topic to cover in China as it is still a family-centered country and women in the audience are so curious about how they can maintain success in the workplace and home.
Linda Kiester HR Director at 3M, an American mining and manufacturaing company valued at 30 billion dollars is currently married to a stay-at-home dad of more than two decades who says has been ridiculed, judged the entire time. Now, he's trying to get back in the workforce but has had has difficulty finding positions, all due to unconscious bias and traditional gender norms in China and abroad.
Alice, HR Director responded that hey, “we need practice.”
Linda went on to say that communication and family involvement was the key to their happy home and that her husband and her are still great despite the ridicule.
The panelists moved on to stats and statistics of women working for corporates in China.
Vikram Cardozo, the only male on the panel made a statement that had the audience clapping in glee,
“If your target demo is 50% women then why isn’t your company 50% women or your leaders?”
YES.YES.YES. Get us women in there, why is it going to take another another decade to get women in the leadership roles and in the C-Suite?
So back to business, and away from family, the senior corporate leaders discussed the need for more women at the head of Fortune 500 companies, and the main way to do this was with empathy and awareness. That more inclusion, diversity, and cultural trainings need to be happening often and if possible be fused into every meeting between senior leaders and their employees.
My favorite quote of the panel was from moderator, Sarah Kochling.
“Make sure everyone at the table is heard” While women can get into the board room, or close to, if their bosses don’t include them with an open ear, and curiosity, then what’s the point?
PANEL II – HeForShe: Benefit of Mentoring vs Sponsoring
Moderator: Michelle Yan, President, Crane China
Terry Endsor, Managing Director & Head of HR Asia Pacific, Citibank
Christine Lam, CEO, Citibank
Adele Bai, President, EF
Jacob Toren, CEO, Ef
This was a very interesting panel as both of the women on the panel were Presidents of their corporations while their CEOs were male. Both women had direct sponsorship from their CEOs which was part of the reason why they were elevated to their positions. More specifically Christine at Citibank said Terry was her informal mentor but it was a “natural evolution” for her. Terry responds to her comment by stating
“well, she wasn’t wishy-washy, she came up to me and said, I want to be on the senior leadership team.”
It was because of Christine’s directness and honesty that Terry was able to introduce her to the right people, send her to the right development workshops and conferences to attend and was her champion when he saw her drive and potential.
The biggest takeaway from this panel besides some proof that directness is important in the corporate world was what Adele said towards the end of the panel
“A mentor speaks with you, A sponsor speaks for you”
Panel III – Together We Can: Supporting Female Inclusion and Advancement at Every Stage
Moderator: Jean Liu, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, EF
Lesli Ligorner, Partner, Morgan Lewis
Christie Mao, VP HR Greater China, Nike
Heather Smith, General Manager, Shanghai United Family Hospital
Grace Xiao, Senior Director of External Engagement, APC, UCB
This panel was very much how I had hoped and imagine senior-level women leaders to discuss what needs to be done for younger women’s advancement. Here is a quick list of the main takeaways.
1. No bad mouthing other women
2. Learn, demonstrate, and lead by example. Focus on emotional intelligence.
3. Take younger women colleague at the company to shadow you at meetings, in the board room, at conferences.
4. Brainstorm with younger women – we all have something to learn
5. Make sure younger women take ownership of their progress
The perfect list to follow for all the boss ladies out there to help the next generation of women leaders!
Workshop I – So You Want to Give a TED Talk with Mary Rezek
An amazing workshop that had a very hands-on approach from popular executive coach Mary Rezek. We practiced our elevator pitches in pairs, we conceptualized a story and reason for wanting to give a TED talk but be actually able to prove why the hell anyone would care to listen. We developed those same stories by thinking how our story could answer a problem in society.
We thought about what were our weaknesses and vulnerabilities and how powerful those are to realize our own superpower. It was an enlightening session that made us all think and reflect. Mary’s directness was inspiring and SCARY. She does not mess around at all. At one point, a woman said she wants to impart her knowledge of strategic marketing on the world and Mary responded with “No one cares, Why?”
Workshop II – Building Trust to Support Superior Collaboration with Preston Kuo
A huge topic in China is trust. Business is built upon it. Empires have fallen because of it. Preston is a trust building expert having helping Alibaba develop its leaders and management team as well as building FitFam, a Shanghai fitness community that holds daily workouts for FREE that has over 3,000 members and is growing fast.
He starts his workshop by telling a story about a man who climbed Mt. Everest and made it to the top only to be blinded by the wind. With no friends, and nowhere to turn, he begged a Sherpa to help him down the mountain, putting his trust in the Sherpa to save his life.
It resonated. Trust is hard to build, especially at the top because you know everyone is trying to get there and you don’t know who is authentic. Preston said in China it is fact that if you want to succeed, you need to know what you can give before you ask for something in return. Why should anyone help you? Why should anyone be your Sherpa when you have yet to prove your worth, drive, know-how? It was tough to swallow but true in many ways.
After a very long day at WeForShe, I left inspired and wanted to write write write about my experience. To help me remember and reflect but also to share with you that there are serious issues globally regards to the gender gap, corporate equality, and unconscious bias that we need to tackle. Being a woman in today’s world is still a constant struggle and only through pushing forward are things going to change so educate yourself, get involved, and find out the issues so you can know how you can help too.