A journey without boundaries

Empowering women R1hbapm

When I was approached to share my stories for this year's International Women's Day, I hesitated, wondering if anyone would find my journey – from a snowy town in northeast China to the boardrooms of global business – interesting or inspiring. But as a mother, a business leader, and often the only Asian female in the boardroom, I realized the importance of sharing my experiences. If my story resonates with even a few, then sharing it is worth every effort.

From China to the global stage 

My journey began when I left my homeland in China for a semester abroad in the US. That experience opened my eyes to a world brimming with ideas and possibilities that I had never imagined. The curiosity and confidence I gained from studying abroad laid the foundation for my professional path.

Upon returning to China, I joined a global home appliance manufacturer Haier in its R&D department. That experience launched my career and life-long passion for brand building, product development, most importantly, working in cross-cultural environments. Having had the opportunity to work with brilliant minds around the world, I discovered first hand the unparalleled results and impact that arise from including diverse opinions in a project. 

My career then took an exciting turn as I moved to Munich and became an international sales manager with a focus on Chinese clients. The initial years were fraught with challenges; I grappled with self-doubts, desire to quickly integrate with local communities and carving out a space for myself in a new country.

One of the most valuable lessons I've learned is that life and success are far from linear. You can't predict what the future holds or what opportunities or challenges may arise. But say yes to new experiences, say yes to fear, say yes to the unknown, you will come out on the other side with perspectives, confidence and capabilities you wouldn’t have gained otherwise.

Embracing my background and perspective

When I first traveled abroad, I saw my background as a potential disadvantage – would I be able to integrate, to belong, in a culture so different from my own? However, I quickly learned to view my heritage as a strength. When I took on the role of Executive Director of China at Star, it became clear to me that my ability to grasp cultural nuances and bridge the gap between Chinese clients' expectations and the strategies of global teams was equally as crucial as my insights and business acumen. This unique perspective of mine proved invaluable not just in strategic planning but also in fostering connections with clients and colleagues from different parts of the world. 

I firmly believe that our traditions lay the groundwork for who we are, while the diversity we embrace strengthens us. I have learned a great deal, professionally and personally, by making space for different perspectives in my life and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them.

The power of mentorship and sponsorship

Mentors can help individuals develop skills, build confidence, and navigate their careers, while sponsors can create visibility, open doors, and provide access to advancement opportunities. Both are important in your professional journey. In my career, I had an important sponsor who brought me the opportunity to work in Germany. Without him, I won’t be able to be where I am in life and my career.

I encourage young people, both male and female, to seek out mentorship. Find people who you respect and admire and ask them to find time to share their experiences and insights with you. These are the real-life lessons that you can’t get from textbooks. It's been my experience that true leaders – those genuinely committed to lifting others – will always make the time to support and mentor. 

Bridging the east and west

Navigating the Chinese market requires an understanding of its core principles: mutual respect, trust, and a culture of reciprocity, where giving precedes receiving. Bridging the mindset gap between Chinese and Western business practices can be challenging In China, an effective business strategy often involves offering services or products without immediate expectation of return, or going above and beyond the client's requests.

On the other hand, western practices tend to emphasize clear definitions and regulations from the outset and my job is to bring the two worlds together, devising strategies and plans that honor both perspectives. The most important thing when working in a multicultural environment is empathy. As cliché as it may sound, the ability to listen and understand the other person’s point of view is vital.

Lessons for the next generation of female leaders 

To the next generation of female leaders, my advice is simple: embrace your unique story. Your background, experiences, and perspective are invaluable assets that will pave your unique path to achieving your career goals. Be adaptable, open to learning from different cultures, and always be willing to share your insights and experiences with others. Lastly, believe in yourself and your ability to make a difference which isn’t dependent on the seniority of your position but your intention and heart. Work hard and be kind to people.

As I reflect on my journey on International Women’s Day, I am reminded of the power of sharing our stories. It's not just about the challenges we've faced but about the lessons we've learned, the barriers we've broken, and the paths we've paved for those who follow.

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