Today in celebration of International Women’s Day, British Chamber of Commerce in China, China-Britain Business Council, and the British Embassy Beijing held an event entitled “Women Who Launch” in support of the Be Yourself campaign heralded by the British Embassy in China.
The Be Yourself campaign strives, in the words of Clare Pearson, chair of the British Chamber of Commerce, “for women to follow who they desire to be, not who their bosses say to be, not who their parents say to be, not who their husbands say to be, but who they are.”
Three women sat the panel, Claire Dong, leading energy lawyer and global board member of DLA Piper, Jenny Lawton, the Regional Director for Asia Pacific for Ultra Electronics, and Daisy Shen, Chief Operating Officer of Global China Practice at KPMG Beijing, and moderated by Jennifer Leong, Co-founder and Vice President of China for BeGo Education, a subsidiary company of LC Venture.
Pearson proudly presented each of the women seating the panel and continued to explain the need for the Be Yourself campaign, that if she was a woman from Norway, she had a 40 percent chance to be apart of an executive team. If she were from the UK, 21 percent, Japan 2 percent, and China 8.5 percent.
She noted that women needed to be better at “hunting in packs” like men. She believed, that as a woman, one needs five friends to advance in a career. “We need a friend in media, in finance, in travel.” She laughed, “People like Trump don’t get to where they are because they’re not sociable.”
Jennifer Leong described each woman as brave, go-getters, and global thinkers. Leong herself faced a challenge to get to her position and found a personal connection with the campaign.
Her father said, “Jennifer, you are my investment,” when helping her through her years of education, including her time in boarding school in the UK. At a turning point in her life, her father said that she had two options, to continue to develop properly in Malaysia, or to climb the social ladder in pursuit of becoming a VP. “Do whatever you want, but these are your two choices,” he told her. If she didn’t do these things, all her credit cards were to be cut off and she would “be off the family payroll.”
She thought and replied, “I don’t want to be known as Tiger Leon’s daughter; I want you to be known as Jennifer Leon’s father.” She made her own way to eventually co-found BeGo Education Company a subsidiary of LC Venture. This company helps Chinese students and families make the jump from China to the UK for education. This is an endeavor she not only understands with her head in terms of the complexity of moves for students to go abroad, but she actually lived the process of cross-cultural difficulties and wading through the UK education system. Pearson said that not only had she noticed that students were moved by Leong’s work, but that parents were moved also.
Risking Mid-Career Change
Claire Dong was sponsored by Zhongshihua, a government owned oil company, and was on the track toward becoming a top official when they sponsored her to pursue education in the UK. Dong took a risk and totally changed her career, becoming an assistant at a law firm at the age of 36. Her English was not to the level it needed to be at that age, so she studied diligently.
Dong climbed the ranks in law and her quality of curiosity is what set her apart from her coworkers, eventually becoming a VP in six years of the job change. Her main point was to encourage women to have the confidence to switch around, not to feel stuck in the industry where they started. She had the confidence to change.
Jenny Lawton entered the engineering field, which is notoriously male dominated. She was sent by one of her companies to an area in the Middle East, which she found out later, had been passed over by her male counterparts because they believed there to be no profit to be made in the country. She took the disadvantage and made it into an advantage, pursuing business development in her posts until there was profit.
In a similar vein of disadvantages, Daisy Shen originally did not intend to take the gaokou or go to college, but when she was at a career school on the path to become an administrative assistant or hotel receptionist, her teachers saw her potential and encouraged her to take the gaokao. This drastically changed her path. At KPMG she was proud to mention that 50 percent of workers are female, and she believes this is because Chinese females have a strong drive.
When the panel was asked about how to navigate the work and family balance, Shen mentioned that strong family support is what has been the foundation of her success. Her parents and other family members help care for her daughter, and without this support, she wouldn’t be able to continue in her career. She mentioned personally that work and motherhood are both very busy and that there is a balance she seeks after.
Dong echoed this, that her success was also from family support, but that the support didn’t arrive out of thin air. She described herself as the “family ATM.” She offers her financial support to her younger sister, her younger brother, her brother’s wife, her sister’s children among others she didn’t name.
Pearson concluded stating that people wonder why she stays so long in China, and she pointed to women like Dong, Shen, and Lawton, who she has learned so much from. “People work so hard here. And for the women who succeed here, they will succeed anywhere. England will be a cakewalk.”
Our sincere thanks to Aeola Han of the British Chamber of Commerce, who helped beijingkids translate portions of the panel.
Photos: Sophia Tan, British Embassy, Beijing, and Kuma, British Chamber of Commerce