Top Women in STEM Urge Boldness and Sponsorship

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AmCham China Women’s Professional Committee and VIVA Women’s Professional Network were thrilled to host the “Women in STEM Professions Panel Discussion” featuring Lily D'Angelo, Global R&D/QA Executive in Food/Beverage and Ingredient Industries; Elisabeth Martin, Vice President of Boeing Research & Technology-China; Ashley Liu, Co-Founder of Mindwalk Studios, an animation and computer graphics company; and Ji Gu, Dean and CEO of Zhen Academy. The accomplished women leaders shared stories, challenges, and insights on working in male-dominated fields and provided tips on navigating a career in STEM industries.

The conversation opened with a question on work-life balance. Ji Gu described her view on the topic not as a question of balance, but one of shifting focuses. As a perfect balance is nearly impossible, there is more value in having flexible priorities that can change rapidly, even on a weekly basis. In these fields, she said, there is no absolute freedom but a relative freedom once you identify your goals and remove any distractions.  

Elisabeth Martin touched on some of the driving factors that have historically limited women from entering STEM fields. According to past surveys, while men on average apply to jobs where they feel they meet 60% of the required qualifications, women often wait until they feel completely qualified. Martin, however, urges young women to stay in a circle of discomfort, entering jobs in which they can learn and grow.

The panel then discussed the importance of mentorship and sponsorship for women in STEM. Ashley Liu’s experience as an entrepreneur meant that she had few sponsors throughout her career. However, she still believes leaders have a duty to support young people within organizations. Lily D’Angelo, on the other hand, had a few mentors including the Chief Strategic Officer of Coca-Cola while she was at the company. She explained that sometimes you have to be brave enough to ask for what you want, like she did to meet the CSO.

Liu suggests imaging “org charts” upside down – leadership’s role and position is one in which they are responsible for the success of all members of the organization through guidance and nurturing that trickles upward.

In terms of career potential, Gu asserted the expansive opportunities offered for STEM majors. She credits her prolific career path, from finance to the Studio Head and Business Director at a simulation game company, to the COO of an AI assistant service and finally to CEO of Zhen Academy, to the skills she learned as a STEM major. What you truly learn in university, she explained, is a perspective on how the world works and an ability to transition between careers – drawing  skillsets from one job and applying them to the next is essential.

In closing remarks, the speakers addressed the realities of office life as part of a minority group. D’Angelo explained that while she was always a minority in the past, STEM offices are hiring more and more women. Continuing the discussion, Gu stated that all entrepreneurs regardless of gender often feel lonely and must adjust their mindsets. Liu, remarking on her dislike for traditional top down organizational hierarchy charts, explained that their implications are damaging not only for those at the top, but indeed for every member of the organization. Instead, Liu suggests imaging “org charts” upside down – leadership’s role and position is one in which they are responsible for the success of all members of the organization through guidance and nurturing that trickles upward. Overall, the panelists agreed that being assertive and developing individual connections will bring far more comfort in a workplace than focusing on its inherent gender diversity or makeup.

AmCham China Women’s Professional Committee and VIVA Women’s Professional Network was proud to hold this insightful networking event and panel discussion, and would like to thank Lily D’Angelo, Ji Gu, Elisabeth Martin, and Ashley Liu for sharing their thoughts and advice for women entering STEM professions.