Li Ye Shares her Three Most Important Leadership Lessons
AmCham China spoke to one of the female trailblazers speaking at the 2021 WES, Li Ye, Vice President and Head of Corporate Affairs and Government Relations at Merck China.
What leadership lessons have you learnt that are unique to being a female leader?
Li Ye: I have three lessons. First, you have to know yourself, specialize in something that you know you’re good at, and keep pushing the boundaries. As women, we have been trained to compete with others, but eventually there is only one meaningful competitor in your life, yourself. Understand what makes you special, and always keep working on self-improvement and differentiating yourself.
The second lesson is not to let emotion control you. Mistakes can be made when you let self-doubt show. Work to balance your personality and understand both your strengths and weaknesses in order to show yourself to your best advantage.
The final lesson is to be adventurous. No matter what point of your life you’re in, it’s never too late to be adventurous. You’ll notice that many high-level people tend to be risk-takers.
While the world has been affected by the global pandemic, there has been an unequal impact on women. How can we support women going forward?
Li Ye: Remote working arrangements have been a huge help for women. Saving time on a commute allows you to optimize work from home time. It has connected the world more than ever before and created new opportunities. Organizations shifting to pay for performance rather than hours, is another way to empower women.
In China, women are eligible to retire at 55. This group of early retirees are free to work by the hour, begin a second career, or study. I started my PhD degree later in life and I’m still not finished, education and higher learning is not limited to the young. We should encourage women to become lifelong learners, support them building on their education foundations and pursuing new areas of interest.
Could you highlight some of the efforts that Merck has implemented to empower women?
Li Ye: Merck implemented a family care annual leave allowance before the pandemic. This policy allocates two days of paid annual leave specifically for the purpose of family care.
Diversity is an important KPI at Merck. We do not hold public panels or meetings without at least one woman representing the company. I also lead a program called “Healthy Women, Healthy Economies”, which aims to support female empowerment by supporting women’s health issues, giving them access to diagnostics and medicines.
Which areas of this issue do you see as most developed or forward-thinking in typical Chinese workplaces, and what are some of the areas in which further progress needs to be made?
Li Ye: I don’t think Chinese companies have fully realized the importance of women’s empowerment just yet. Companies must realize that having women in leadership roles positions their organizations for long-term success.
There is a lack of education and resources for women facing discrimination, and we must establish stronger networks for women. However, this gap also provides an opportunity. For example, the pandemic has demonstrated the effectiveness of new ways of working. Women can seize on these changes and use them to their advantage.
This year’s Women’s Economy Summit celebrates trailblazing women. Who are the female leaders you look up to, or have most helped you in your career?
Li Ye: Our Merck CEO, Belén Garijo. It is the first time in 352 years that Merck’s board has nominated a female as CEO. She began as a doctor, and worked her way up the ladder within the pharmaceutical and chemical field to become a pioneering female leader, who demonstrates courage and self-belief. She empowers other women to seek out more opportunities to lead. I appreciated that she encouraged me personally to step up, speak up, and continue to work on self-development.