Empowerment and Entrepreneurship with Su Cheng Harris Simpson
In each issue, the AmCham China Quarterly highlights an outstanding member of our community by featuring one of our Board of Governors or Committee Co-chairs. This quarter, we spoke to Su Cheng Harris Simpson, who is not only a Board of Governors member, but also the founder of SCHSAsia and the Women Empowerment Council. In this exclusive interview, Simpson discusses her unique career path, from being a “closet entrepreneur” to becoming a social entrepreneur, as well as her involvement with the Chamber, and her goals for advancing women’s empowerment.
Let’s discuss your career trajectory. What has been the most meaningful and helpful advice to you in your career?
Su Cheng Harris Simpson: I have to say that one’s career trajectory is rarely completely linear or straightforward. Sometimes, to take a leap, you must first take a few steps backward. Reflecting on my own career, that is certainly true. I have come full circle, from being a “closet entrepreneur” to entering the corporate world, and now I have returned to my roots as a social entrepreneur. I originally got my start working for Boeing in the US. I went on to complete my MBA, which brought me to China for a year. From there, I worked for Capital Group and United Technologies Corporation in China. Finally, I made the leap to fully embrace that “closet entrepreneur” side of myself that working in China helped to nurture and bring out. I founded my consulting company SCHS Asia and then, in 2019, I launched the Women Empowerment Council (WEC).
As for advice, one thing that has always served as a kind of “north star” for me is the Serenity Prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” For me, this is really powerful advice, and something that applies in every area of my life, from personal to professional. Now, more than ever, it feels applicable to my position as a social entrepreneur working to create change in the world
How did you first get involved with AmCham China?
Su Cheng Harris Simpson: It’s a long story, so I’ll try to make it short! My involvement began almost immediately upon my arrival in Beijing on July 4, 1995. Beijing then was a completely different place, but what I loved about it was that there was already a sense of community in the city, and that was AmCham China. At that point, I wasn’t intending to stay in China. I was taking a sabbatical from my job at Boeing to complete my Masters, and I thought that a year of study in China would be great to gain some international experience. Little did I know that it would change the course of my career and life. As part of my MBA, I was studying and conducting interviews about how the Chinese culture deals with conflict. One of the people I initially connected with happened to be James McGregor. Of course, Jim served on the AmCham China Board of Governors for over a decade, and he was actually elected Chairman in 1996. So, he really introduced me to AmCham China and brought me into the community. At that point, I was also working for Hill & Knowlton, who is also an AmCham China member company, so I was able to get more involved and be a member, something I have carried on to this day.
Can you share any stories about how AmCham China has been helpful to you in your own company and career?
Su Cheng Harris Simpson: AmCham China has been a constant anchor throughout my life in China. It has become an essential community for my professional career and personal life. I have met so many people through the Chamber who have become great friends and partners. I’m proud to be a part of the history during an incredible time of growth here in China. The Chamber helped me to realize and foster my entrepreneurial nature. In 2003, I helped to establish and execute the very first AmCham China Charity Ball with Diana Watkins, and that went on to grow to become a signature event. The concept for the event began with recognizing the huge potential American companies had to do good in China because, back in those days, American businesses were not really doing much CSR work to support local communities and the Chinese people. This was the beginning of me working with the Chamber as both a freelancer and entrepreneur, and I think this is where my natural social entrepreneurial instincts kicked in. From there, I went on to help found AmCham’s Women Professional Committee (WPC) and establish the Women Economy Summit. One of the main goals of the WPC was to encourage more diversity and representation in every area of the Chamber, from the Committees to the Board of Governors.
As a current Board of Governors member, what are your top priorities for 2023? What would you like to see the Chamber do more of in 2023?
Su Cheng Harris Simpson: My top priority this year is to get more women involved in every aspect. I want to step up our game in promoting inclusion and DEI even more, and especially explore ways we can do this in the aftermath of COVID-19. I am proud to say that our current board has five of the 14 Governors who are women, and our two Vice-chairs are both women. It is encouraging to see strong female representation on the Board, but there is still work to be done.
In 2019 you founded the Women Empowerment Council. Can you introduce the WEC’s mission and some of the programming they offer?
Su Cheng Harris Simpson: The Women Empowerment Council is an engaged network of leaders and decision-makers that aims to advance gender equality in businesses in China and beyond. After my work with AmCham China’s Women Professional Committee and SCHSAsia, this was the natural next step in my social entrepreneurship journey. WEC was established to be more inclusive and reach diverse organizations, beyond US companies, that recognize the inextricable link between gender equality, sustainable development, and business success. We feel it is essential to work with senior and C-suite leaders who are passionate and committed champions of women empowerment. WEC’s member companies “walk the talk” and leverage their influence to move the needle for women in their organizations and the broader business community. We are action-oriented and, together, strive to make a positive impact and be at the forefront of driving change.
Can you talk about the link between gender equality, sustainable development, and business success? Are you seeing your members and clients putting a larger focus on DEI?
Su Cheng Harris Simpson: Women’s empowerment is good for business in every single aspect. The evidence speaks for itself. On a macro-level, research by McKinsey shows that achieving gender equality in workforce participation is a $12 trillion opportunity, equivalent to 11% of global GDP. Within APAC the opportunity is even greater, at $4.5 trillion or 12% of the regional GDP. From a business standpoint, companies in the top quartile of gender diversity are 25% more likely to outperform financially in terms of total-returns-to-shareholders. Beyond gender, organizations with more diverse teams, equitable systems, and inclusive cultures see multiple gains — from higher employee engagement, client retention, productivity, and innovation to enhanced decision-making, problem-solving, risk-management, and performance.
The companies we work with are leading the way to empower women in the workplace and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Last year, WEC pioneered an initiative to capture our member companies’ best practices and strategic insights in our 2022 DEI Report. I strongly encourage business leaders in China to read the report. It serves as a practical guide for organizations at any stage of the DEI journey. For WEC, it embodies our commitment to sharing, learning, and influencing, and it also provides us with a clear picture of our current reality, both in terms of successes and pain points. Taking a data-driven approach, we can continue to drive progress through strategic actions year on year. This speaks to the strong culture of trust and partnership that has been established through WEC.
What advice would you give to multinational companies looking to increase and empower their female workforce? What steps can companies take to ensure there are more female leaders in the future?
Su Cheng Harris Simpson: Join the WEC! But, in all seriousness, I would say that there is no one company or one size fits all solution. This is why our WEC pillars are sharing, learning, and influencing. DEI is truly a journey that requires consistency and sustainability, it’s no short-term commitment. Companies should try to allocate resources on a consistent basis with a high level of intentionality to really make gains in women’s empowerment. I would also say to not go it alone. We can make the most impact if we work to move the needle together – join a network of likeminded peers to learn, share, and grow as we work to address this struggle. Remember that DEI is not a zero-sum game; I do not lose by telling you how to grab a win for yourself. Women empowerment doesn’t me one-person wins’ it means we win together. Let’s work to replace competition with collaboration.