What I took from ASPIRE’s Asian American Women in Leadership Conference

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On Saturday, November 3rd, I attended the Asian American Women in Leadership hosted by the organization, ASPIRE (Asian Sisters Participating in Reaching Excellence) at Simmons College. This conference solely focused on the professional development of Asian American women and bringing together a diverse group of women of different occupations from architecture to the performing arts and college/high school students. This year’s conference theme is “take charge and unleash your leadership potential” and the workshops were divided into three sub tracks: leadership, career & education advancement, personal growth & wellness, and race, identity, culture & family track.

The keynote speaker was Sheila Lirio Marcelo, founder and CEO of Care.com. Her company focuses on providing high-quality caregivers to families such as child care and senior care. Sheila primarily talked about her journey from studying economics at Mt. Holyoke College to becoming a teaching fellow at Harvard Business School and finally founding Care.com in 2006. One piece of advice she gave was “mastering your fears” and never look for perfection. When taking on a new project or a new job, Sheila specifically talked about test, iterate, and evolve. She says if we make a mistake, we should look back and learn from that and change the next time. On being judged as a woman and as an Asian American, she said not to worry about social acceptances. Because society expects us not to succeed, we should be able to take risks and learn from mistakes. Moreover, Sheila emphasized the importance of believing in people, finding your passion, and being true to who you are.  The last piece of advice that actually stuck with me was how to be disagreeable with someone in turning down their point of view/idea. For example, one person on your team wants to do a PowerPoint presentation to a group of investors interested in investing into your product whereas you want to do a Prezi presentation because you think it would be more effective and persuasive. The way you show you disagree with the person is through power of logic such as why prezi is more effective, showing the facts and offering an effective argument and practicing a power of influence.

There were three workshop sessions during the conference. One of them, that I attended, was “Asian American Female in the Workplace – Help or Hindrance”, facilitated by Yee-Szeto Law and Hannah Kim. Yee-Szeto is a Global Benefits Manager at Wellington Management and Hannah is a Financial Analyst at TJX Companies. The workshop turned out to be unexpectedly interactive and very hands-on, a definite energy boost for a Saturday morning. In the “Asian American Female in the Workplace”, we touched upon how Asian American women have to keep their traditional family and cultural values while dealing with the demands of the workplace of moving up and developing their professional career in western world. Because of our background, AA women tend to respect authority and just do what’s being told without questioning it.  Moreover, we also carry the idea that hard work will get you rewarded/promoted. However, in a western world, that is not always the case. Aside from hardwork, it is important for employees to network/socialize with others and express confidence and take leadership. In contrast, Asian American women tend to be more subdued and quiet and not hang out with co-workers outside of work in order to make ourselves more visible. Unfortunately, these characteristics could prevent us from moving up. This workshop, thus, challenged us to explore key ideas to overcome those hindrances by focusing on the need to carry the strong values of work and family, work on certain values of both, and lessen importance on other values.

Overall, I thought it was a really useful session and provided some helpful tips for me on utilizing my identity as an Asian American woman and its qualities in the workplace in the future.  Particularly, it encouraged me to maintain traditional Asian values such as respect, success and communication and enhance workplace success factors such as teamwork, support, confidence and creativity in moving forward with my professional career.

In addition, Yee-Szeto strongly emphasized on asking for feedback and “don’t be afraid of asking questions”. She also talked about the need to be engaging with fellow workers and exercising leadership and “be the first to share” and being direct. Moreover, she said to find mentors who may have a different path/personality than you who will not only mentor you but also advocate for you. She further built on Sheila’s words of being resilient and not being afraid to fail and knowing who you are.

In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed the conference. I met some amazing women like Jacqueline Thong, co-founder and CEO of Ubiqi Health; Lily Huang, organizer for Jobs with Justice; and Lorraine See, Collecive Procurement Coordinator for Metropolitan Area Planning Council. This wonderful group of women made me realize I was not alone in dealing with my struggles with my career and developing my professional skills and further encouraged me that I have strengths and take on chances that will help me go far.

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