Think Big, Move Fast: Advice to Professional Women in China
After graduating and as a Foreign Trade major in China, 抄送 Yvonne Chow took a job in sales. She soon found her way to Polymer Group Inc (PGI) initially as the Coordinator & Interpreter of Joint Venture Negotiation. She has now been with PGI for 15 years (a rarity in China, as many of Yvonne’s peers have held five jobs in the time she has been in one). She attributes much of her success to her openness to take on many different roles within the company to build experience and expertise. Today, she is Senior Director, Asia CS & PS.
We were honored to interview Yvonne and learn more about what it is like to be a working woman in China, her professional path, and her views on the keys to success.
How did you prepare for your professional path?
YC: I don’t think I had a very specific plan at the very beginning. That’s why I’ve been open to different roles.
One thing I am quite sure of is that I never wasted the experiences I’ve had. When I accept an assignment, I always try to have some takeaways and use those takeaways in my next assignment.
My import and export company experience allowed me to understand the whole supply chain of Chinese export business and policy. Being a coordinator and interpreter helped my communication skills. I have also learned a lot of real case of negotiation and how to build a trustworthy relationship. Being in procurement and in planning helped me understand production and supply chain management. Sales experience helped me to understand our market and our customers. Focusing for over six years on Customer Service, challenged and developed my leadership skills to manage different resources to achieve customer satisfaction goals.
We are in B2B business so understanding production and supply chain management are key in my job. Although I am on a commercial team, I am involved in all key cross-functional activities and I try to speak their language. I am a certified Green Belt, I led Lean Six Sigma supply chain projects and CI projects; I was the first certified Development Dimensions International (DDI) facilitator in Asia to support HR’s leadership program.
What, if any, have the difficulties been on your professional journey. How have you overcome them?
YC: Crying or complaining, but this does not help, I believe we always can work out some kind of solution with team. Trust your team and ask for help.
A recent very critical difficulty for me was making the decision to be the Senior Sales Director then giving up the sales part only after several months. Accepting the fact that I am not capable enough is not that tough, but making decision to give it up is tough. But, I understand that facing failure is also part of our life. The longer I struggle, the less chance we have for our commercial team to win.
I love all the people working together with me for so many years (most of them have worked more than 10 years with me). When you figure out the most important key that you must prioritize, decision making is easier.
How would you describe life as working woman in China?
YC: In China, women working full time is the usual situation in most of families. There is a fair chance to be successful, but it is still difficult to get into higher management. Generally speaking, women are in HR or in supporting leader functions – very seldom will she become the core person.
My family and my daughter impact my work decisions a lot. Family life is important for me so I do not have plans to go into the operations area (our production lines run 24 hours and it’s very difficult to avoid some midnight calls). I did reject some opportunities such as Senior Plant Director because of these demands.
Women in China also need to take care of their families, but a very big percentage of young families live together with their parents, or live very close to their parents. We can easily get help from our parents when our baby is small. This helps women better manage their time in work. Overall, women are still struggling to be economically independent.
What is the greatest professional obstacle women in your country face? What is your advice to help them work around it or overcome it?
YC: I think the greatest professional obstacle in China women are facing is the need to have an open mindset…open to accepting changes, to keep learning, to keep up with the pace, to step out of the comfort zone and be proactive.
China is such a dynamic country with a rapid pace, and women are at times not as physically strong enough to sustain the competition. China is such a country with long history of feudalism, telling us that men are the kings of the world outside.
Sometimes it looks like the society also does not expect to portray a strong professional women image. Or they mix the smart professional women with the iron women. So, being smart professional women might look like being a man, which is not welcome in both family or society. So, Chinese working women face the struggle that we have to work to make a living, but we had better not be “that smart” or to be “too successful” of a woman.
What are the keys to success for professional women in China?
- Don’t try to be a man. Women have better soft skills to help solve problems in their own “women way.”
- Do not expect that a management team will set a lower target for you because you are a woman; right attitude to our work is essential. Otherwise, it is not easy to earn respect.
Our CEO Ronee Hagen (she retired just last month at 67 years old) once said: “Think big, start small, move fast.” I really agree with this. Especially think big and move fast… for women in China this is very important. Chinese women, generally speaking, are not good at structured thinking – at least I am 🙂
Any thing else you wish to share with women globally?
YC: Be happy and enjoy your “now.” Be a healthy woman to support sustainable performance.
Be open to learn. Make good use of the takeaway. Build trust in relationships. Understand yourself and be honest when you are not capable.