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Via Forbes : How This Founder Removes Barriers To Global Women’s Empowerment

If there’s not enough room at the table, build one that’s bigger. That seems to be Virginia Tan’s pervasive mindset when it comes to creating paths to women’s professional and personal aspirations. Tan is the co-founder of Lean In China, a platform for more than 100K (and climbing) women across 25 cities and 50 universities in China. Tan’s experience as a successful finance lawyer for more than eight years gave her unique insight into the challenges women face in achieving their career goals—the need for solid mentorship, strong leadership and a community of support play just as crucial roles in women’s success as wage disparity and maternity policies. Lean In China along with Tan’s other endeavors–Her Startup, the first global tech entrepreneurial competition for women founders and Teja Ventures, an early stage venture capital fund investing in technologies and startups emerging out of the Her Startup competition—are systematically removing barriers to women’s advancement, serving as a powerful example of what’s possible when women are free to exceed their limits.

Carrie Hammer: Part of your on-going mission is to empower women to lead. What makes a strong, effective leader? Why do you think women hesitate to step into leadership roles and what role do you think culture plays in that hesitation?

Virginia Tan: I think a strong, effective leader is someone who can empower others to be their best selves, as well as also someone who can bring people together and build the bridges between them to pursue a common vision that he or she sets out, overcoming challenges along the way.

I also think that a great leader possesses conviction, compassion and humility–the ability to take on feedback (even when critical) and the ability to adapt to the constantly changing needs of your environment – while at the same time standing true to your values and vision. It’s a balance of holding on to your idealism as well as being pragmatic and effective.

I think there are a few key reasons why women hesitate to step into leadership roles. Every year Lean In China publishes a white paper on Women, Work and Happiness analyzing the challenges and needs of women in the workplace in China. Our 2017 white paper on the Impact of Women in the Workplace in a Digital Age (slated to be published on Women’s Day in 2018) shows a gap in leadership ambitions: 64.7% of men want to rise to the top leadership position compared to 42.2%. When asked why, the leading reason from both genders was “too much pressure.”

Our report shows a low prevalence of workplace gender discrimination in China: 58.6% of women compared to 23.9% of men feel that men have more opportunities in the workplace. Compensation gap, career disruption caused by maternity and social preference for senior male leaders are the three main reasons for this perceived gender bias. However, previous research conducted by Lean In China on the challenges women faced in the workplace found that the top three challenges were all linked to balancing the tensions within work and life. These obstacles did not arise out of discrimination in the workplace itself. Specifically, work-life balance becomes the top-ranked challenge once women ascend to mid and senior-level management. Unless society’s assumptions that women should bear the majority of responsibility for childbearing and household responsibilities change, it is easy to see why women hesitate to step into leadership roles.

Hammer: What energizes you about the work women are doing in the tech industry/fields? What are some of the most rewarding aspects of both Lean In China and She Loves Tech?

Tan: The reward to me is considerable–seeing people transform in front of your eyes. Over the years, I have been particularly inspired by the young women leaders that we continuously train at Lean In China under our Young Leaders program – the first and largest national program to train college women as community leaders in China. To me, empowerment comes in baby steps. It’s especially rewarding when they achieve new heights, whether big or small: getting accepted into their overseas university of choice, getting a scholarship, interning for the United Nations, traveling solo for the first time, building their first startup or launching their first non profit project. Or when I see women entrepreneurs whom we have helped raise new rounds of capital, get featured on TV or by media like Forbes. Or when we have communities, organizations and individuals reaching out to us from across the world (in places we never imagined) wanting to be involved in the She Loves Tech movement by organizing hackathons, socials, competition rounds and mentoring. It makes me feel like the hard work is worth it.

Hammer: Where does the courage and confidence come from to launch these incredibly complicated and rich ventures such as Lean In China, She Loves Tech and Teja Ventures? How do you overcome your fears when you’re embarking on a new opportunity?

Tan: People often talk about being “fearless,” and I actually think that’s a great misconception. I was terrified when I first quit my corporate job to build these organizations full time. The fear is always there. But in many ways, it’s about what you do in spite of it. I think for me, it’s about learning to live with that fear, that constant uncertainty and insecurity. I think the one big difference between now and when we first started out is that I am a lot more comfortable with the fear and insecurity and living on the brink of that and possible failure, while at the same time doing my best every single day. I made a deal with myself a few years ago: if one day, after all the work that we have done we didn’t survive, or we failed to achieve all of our objectives, I would still think that the years we put in were worthwhile. Simply because we tried our best to move the needle forward.

Courage comes from the belief, or the knowledge, that you are doing the right thing. Confidence isn’t a natural gift. It comes from learning by doing and seeing that it is possible to achieve what you put your mind to. I think the ability to build these ventures and see them flourish comes from having the right team around me. I am very proud of the team we have built, many of whom come from our community and are as dedicated and passionate about what we do as I am; they are more capable and resourceful and have better ideas and bigger ambitions of where we can take this to.

Hammer: Why is it important for you to be a role model and what’s a role model to you?

Tan: Actually, it is the opposite. I never wanted to be anyone’s role model. I still don’t. I was simply determined to build up Lean In China as an organization because I felt that having a powerful platform for the empowerment of women in China was important work that needed to be done. I want women to be their own role models. It shouldn’t be about mimicking someone else’s path or success, but about defining what success means to you and pushing hard to achieve that.

There are many leaders in history that I admire for the great milestones they achieved: Aung Sung Su Kyi (for years of patience and focus while under house arrest); Dr. David Livingstone (for his courage and conviction to abolish slavery and how he was willing to pay the ultimate price); Saladin (for his generosity and compassion especially to his opponents) and more recently, Elon Musk, for never giving up, for believing that “if something is important enough, you will find a way to do it.” However, I have realized that some of the best role models I have are my immediate peers – many of them women dealing with the challenges of abuse, illness and broken relationships, or new mothers trying to balance their rising careers while raising their young children. I admire the way they deal with these challenges with courage, stamina and stoicism on a daily basis–strong and vulnerable, never losing their hope or joy. I also admire their formidable abilities as professionals and leaders at work. They always make me think, “wow!” I am grateful to have people like this around me as my friends and mentors, reminding me of what life really means and keeping me grounded always.

Hammer: Why do you think competition is healthy for women? What are you doing to change the way women think about competition in relation to one another?

Tan: I think competition is healthy in general. But it’s the way that competition manifests which is key. Are you always comparing yourself to others or comparing yourself to the person you were yesterday? Does competition make you happier or actually make you more stressed?

I think one of the key things that Lean In China is trying to promote is a culture of mutual support and mentorship for women in China. I don’t think cultures come about on their own. You have to work to create a conducive culture where people see mutual support, mentorship and sponsorship as something which is rewarding, which can add to their lives and to create a virtuous cycle. This means creating structures and programs that incentivize people to behave in a certain way e.g. the benefit of mentoring. I think it is also important to help people see that life is not a zero sum game. The pie is not a fixed one: if they share part of their pie, their share does not automatically decrease; the pie is constantly growing, and you can help to expand that pie so everyone benefits.

Hammer: Describe one of your proudest moments to date.

Tan: When Didi, China’s ride-sharing giant, launched their internal women’s network in early 2017 – a first for a leading company in China. In their press release, they mentioned the work of Lean In China and a quote I had provided in a video I created for its launch on the importance of encouraging women to achieve in the workplace. To know that our work can have a magnified impact in society, that it can inspire and engage others, especially companies, to take action and create real change for their employees is something that I am incredibly proud of. I hope that Didi can be a role model for other Chinese companies to follow.

Hammer: You’re working to empower, inspire, and uplift women across many fronts. How do you see your efforts impacting young girls, the upcoming generations of “Virginia Tans?” What can we be doing better to create a stronger “girl culture” on a global level?

Tan: I sincerely hope that our efforts will enable more women to find the courage and confidence to pursue their hopes, dreams and ambitions. I do think that a first step is what I call the “revolution within.” This involves helping women become more conscious and confident of their potential and using structures (such as supportive networks) and practical incentives (such as increased opportunities for funding, incubation, education and employment) that become institutionalized. Societal change will take longer. It is important for women to be inspired, and to know (from practical perspective), from role models, media, mentors and peers of what is possible for them. I strongly believe economic empowerment is key to the “revolution within.” It is hard to try pursuing your dreams and ambition if you are struggling to meet basic needs.

I don’t think it’s about creating a stronger “girl culture” per se. I think the question is what kind of culture are we creating for future generations of human beings – both men and women? What kind of society and future do we want to have for our children? Is it one which enables all of us to be our best selves? Is it one that allows men and women to both be powerful and vulnerable, to make life choices based on love and passion and not on obligation and to be able to support each other without succumbing to societal pressure of what we think we must conform to.

As we delve deeper into our work, I think it is actually harmful to focus all advocacy and research into women. I think the game changer is how we engage men and the rest of society to work with us to empower women together. Our 2017 White Paper on Women, Work and Happiness shows us that men feel like their needs for work-life balance have not been addressed and is one of their top professional challenges. Addressing the evolving needs of both genders could help to close the gender gap – both in our minds and in the workplace. It is important that change happens on an institutional level and that also means engaging decision makers who have the power to do that. Many of these decision makers are men, and I think it is key to gain their support as allies. This can be a slow process – often a one on one process – but absolutely key. I have all the patience in the world.

Hammer: What do you know now that you wished you had known as a young woman starting her career in finance?

Tan: I wish I had known that things gradually work out, that life somehow helps us find our way as long as we keep going. I wish I had known to be less terrified, stressed and worried about the future all the time. I think that still applies now!

Via Forbes : 4 Hidden Ways To Take Risks — And Propel Your Career Forward

“Have big dreams. You will grow into them.” — Unknown

If you’re looking for a way to interrupt a linear career trajectory and take a bold leap forward, risk-taking is it. Yes, it requires placing a bet on yourself. But when you commit to pursuing a worthy but uncertain outcome, take action, and persist beyond the point of comfort it changes you. And when others see you acting decisively with imperfect information and no guarantee of success, it registers as leadership.

So why do people avoid risk-taking? Pamela Stewart, Group Vice President – National Retail Sales at The Coca-Cola Company, says one reason we fail to take risks is that we fear being the target of scapegoating if something goes wrong. We’re afraid that someone will ask, “Who failed?” and then point to us. “The most important thing you can do for yourself and others is to take risks,” says Stewart, adding that it’s a common opportunity for growth she’s spotted in the emerging leaders she counsels.

Her own experience with risk-taking and audacious goal-setting pre-dates her professional career. When Stewart was entering high school, her Mom had just gotten a divorce, and the family’s finances were tight.

At that time, no one in Stewart’s family had ever attended college, and there were few African American female leaders as role models in her life. “I didn’t have a prototype or a mentor whom I could call up, so I defined and envisioned who I wanted to be,” recalls Stewart. “When everyone else wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer, I decided I wanted to be one of two things: U.S. Secretary of State or a United Nations ambassador.” As Stewart mapped out her plan, she realized it would require a full-ride scholarship.

The next four years required a lot of hard work, including applying herself academically, participating in extra-curricular activities and doing well in sports. But it paid off. Stewart entered college on a full-scholarship, becoming a first-generation scholar.

Sometimes opportunities to take risks are hiding in plain sight, so it helps to become adept at spotting them. As I reflected on Stewart’s personal story and her other talking points from a webinar about leading boldly, I realized she was naming four scenarios that are ripe for risk-taking.

1. When You Lack Mentors And Role Models

Sometimes, taking risks involves not seeing a prototype or role model before you,” says Stewart. In high school, Stewart didn’t see a whole lot of African American women in the roles she wanted. The same is true of being a female in a high-level role. “But, I knew that I would not let myself fail nor would I let myself down,” she says. “It takes understanding yourself and taking a risk. If you can see your vision and stay focused, you certainly can achieve it.”

2. When You’re Setting Goals

“I would also encourage you not to define your boldest dreams by the evidence or history. Dream bigger,” says Stewart, who presses mentees to expand their vision of who they can become. “If you feel 50% or more confident that you can achieve the dream, you’re not dreaming big enough.” The trick, she says, is to envision the possibilities while developing the innate belief you can achieve them. “Ma­ke sure that it is truly bold and aspirational, then apply your unique capabilities to the hard work that will close that gap.”

3. When The Going’s Good

Once you can do your job in your sleep, it’s time to take new risks, Stewart says. “You start getting enamored by the credibility and respect that you have in that role and it just becomes second nature,” she adds. “If you wake up every day, and know what to expect, and you’ve learned all that there is to learn in your role then that’s the moment where you have to step out of that complacency and go build impact elsewhere.”

4. When You Can’t Change Jobs

Taking a risk doesn’t necessarily require getting a new job, says Stewart. “There will be life circumstances where it’s not the right time,” she explains. Perhaps you’re newly married, supporting a family or caring for aging parents. In those situations, take a fresh look at the work you do. “Are you pushing hard enough?” she asks. “Is there another way to look at this role? Is there non-productive work that you’re doing or your team is doing? Is there another way to unlock the growth and impact in this role? Look for ways to take a new approach by turning the role on its head.”

It’s rare to come across a proven short-cut for advancing your career. Now that you have a starting point, what’s the next big career risk you’ll take?

Via Silicon Republic : How taking a risk can be the best career decision of your life

Whether you know what you want to do in life or not, taking risks and grabbing seemingly random opportunities could be the key to your success.

Opportunity often comes knocking in the strangest of forms. When you’re thinking about your dream job and the arduous journey that will take you there, you’re rarely expecting said job to fall into your lap.

In theory, we all know we have to be brave, work hard, put ourselves out there, and chase opportunities and experiences that create stepping stones towards that perfect career.

As we said, in theory, we all know this. But putting it into practice can be a very different challenge. Which risks are the right risks? What will help you progress? How do you know which career decision is the right one for you?

The truth is, you often don’t. But being brave and taking those risks is half the battle to finding out. Darrin Brege is the vice-president and creative director at HelloWorld, a marketing platform for some of the world’s top brands.

“I’ve been here for about 14 years and it’s a wonderful place,” he said. It would be easy to assume Brege was always interested in marketing and worked his way up the career ladder. However, you’d be wrong.

Taking the scenic route

“It’s a pretty crazy story,” said Brege, who started in college in pre-med before jumping into economics and management. However, that wasn’t where his passion lay. “As soon as I graduated college, I went off to California because I always wanted to be an animator.”

Brege went to Hollywood to attend animation school. After enduring the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which devastated lives, Brege decided it was time to go. “By chance, there was a company back in Michigan that was doing Disney animated storybooks.”

He moved back to Michigan for a job with the company but, as it wouldn’t start for months, he bounced around different jobs to keep his head above water, one of which was working at a bar.

“I’d get on the microphone and do voices, saying we’re going to close the place and when we’d close, I’d just mess around doing different celebrity impressions,” he said. “There was a person there that worked at one of Detroit’s biggest comedy clubs and he said there was an improv troop that’s going to have auditions; ‘You should audition.’

“That decision changed my life,” he said. “It was from there that I ended up meeting my wife.” With a marriage that spans more than 20 years and 11 children’s books, which Brege and his wife released together, it’s safe to say joining that improv troop was the best risk he ever took.

So, comedy brought him to his now wife, how did it bring him to HelloWorld? Again, chance opportunity came knocking.

Comedy is an open door

The comedy club led Brege to a radio gig and this is where someone who worked at HelloWorld, known at the time as ePrize, heard of him. “He said: ‘Hey, you’re an artist, we’re looking for artists to come and do some promotions and animations, maybe you can bring your skills to where I work?’”

Brege said one of the great things about HelloWorld was that it was a place where creativity was encouraged. “There was no limits. If you had an idea, we talked about it.”

With technology moving at a phenomenal pace and animation becoming more and more ambitious, I asked Brege how hard it was from a creative point of view to work with the technology side of things.

He said understanding where the software developers are coming from is key. Knowing when to let creative ideas be at the mercy of the technology in front of them is important, too.

“We have to be on the same page together,” he said. “We could come up with the craziest idea but will it make the experience less because we’re waiting for things that haven’t happened?”

Brege said throughout his career, his biggest challenge was overcoming his own fear of incorporating his background in animation and comedy into his job. “It’s risk-taking. Do I have something to offer that’s not the norm? I didn’t come from a design background.”

He said he was very fortunate in following the risks that brought him to a place where he could do what he loves. “When you’re doing what you love, it doesn’t even feel like you’re at work.”

Asking someone what they like to do is at the heart of any career advice he gives to people. “Give it a shot, take a risk, try it out, talk to people.

“Whatever drives you, take a chance and put it out there because you don’t know what doors will open.”

Brege also advises leaders to stay out of their teams’ way in order to get the most out of them. “Let them do their thing,” he said. “Stay out of their way and let them work when they want to work.”

via Work Place InsightMillennials’ Career Choices Give Them The Best Chance Of Adapting To Automation

As alarm grows in some circles over the impact of technology on future job prospects, a new survey suggests that Millennial’s jobs are likely to be at lower risk of automation. Research into how different generations choose jobs by jobs site Indeed compared the online search patterns of millions of UK jobseekers over the six months to March and found that younger people are substantially more likely to choose roles deemed to be at lower risk of automation. Nearly half of younger jobseekers were drawn to automation-resistant jobs, compared to fewer than four in 10 over-50s. These baby boomers are two thirds more likely than millennials to seek the manual jobs at highest risk of automation. While nearly half of millennials (48 percent) were searching for what economists term ‘non-routine’ roles, 61.1 percent of baby boomers were looking for ‘routine’ jobs. Routine jobs – which include sales, admin, transport and construction roles – are seen as being at higher risk of automation than non-routine work, which includes management, professional and service roles.

Risk of Automation

Economists regard routine jobs as the most prone to automation because they tend to involve high levels of repetition – which machines can master more easily than roles which focus on human interaction and behaviour.

The generational split is even more acute when you compare roles at the two ends of the automation risk spectrum. More than a third (34 percent) of searches by baby boomers were for routine manual jobs – the type facing the highest threat of automation – compared to barely a fifth of millennials, who were 67 percent less likely to be searching for such jobs.

By contrast, 30 percent of millennials were found to be searching for non-routine, cognitive work such as management and professional roles – the least likely to be automated – compared to just 22 percent of baby boomers.

Mariano Mamertino, EMEA economist at Indeed, comments: “Automation in the workplace is understandably a sensitive subject for many people. Technology continues to reshape not just the way we work but also the number and type of jobs that are available.

“Of course, no generation of jobseekers is completely doomed. Automation is a process, not a single event, and technological progress is going to impact different occupations at different times.

“Disappearing jobs can be a frightening concept and it’s impossible to know exactly which jobs are ‘safe’ — but everyone can prepare for the future by building up transferable, non-routine skills that can be applied across a wide array of occupations.”

via BDaily : Plan for promotion or risk career suicide

All ambitious professionals will have their eye on advancement, but being too hasty to walk into a promotion can cause serious harm to a career.

Securing a step up the corporate ladder without the risk of falling off is like any major business project. It requires asking the right questions, meticulous planning and clear communication to all stakeholders if it is going to succeed.

Dean Williams, an award-winning executive coach and member of the highly prestigious Forbes Coaches Council, has conducted nearly 2,000 coaching sessions with high-flying executives over the last decade. He has helped many professionals achieve that coveted senior-level promotion and is now helping them thrive in their new role.

In his new book, Thrive: How To Achieve And Sustain High-level Career Success, Dean outlines a tried-and-tested roadmap to sustainable promotion that features a formula and science (his patented ‘Career Annulus’) for achieving optimum performance at a senior level.

Here he introduces some core areas of his Career Annulus, shares his experience and insight of what makes a professional thrive in a new role and, equally, highlights the pitfalls to avoid when advancing your career.


Firstly, a little bit of honesty is required. If you’re ambitious, that’s great, but what makes you feel you are ready for a more senior role? It is likely that the new role will come with increased demands and expectations so you need to be already achieving excellence in your current role before thinking about going to the next level. You need to demonstrate consistent excellence in terms of nailing your objectives and smashing your key performance indicators.

If you are not, what makes you think you are ready for the step up right now? Ambition alone is not enough if you are to sustain and thrive in the more senior position. Being purely CV hungry and mistiming your next move could, in fact, be career suicide!

When you move into a more senior role you are being watched more than ever from day one. People are also listening to your every word. It’s like being in a goldfish bowl and having a megaphone amplify your voice. You’ve got to genuinely be ready to step up, both in capability and mindset.


Having assessed your readiness, it’s time to tell others about your aspiration.

Clearly, this is about communicating with senior stakeholders but be warned: communicating your ambition with a key stakeholder carries an explicit expectation from them that you will demonstrate competencies and behaviours above those of your current role.

You will likely be offered more senior-level exposure (perhaps a senior project); you will probably hear developmental feedback from seniors (which definitely carries an expectation you will change); your results will be scrutinised and objectives added to. Not reasons to dampen your ambition, but definitely reasons to be ready. Don’t make the mistake of falling at the first hurdle!


In the eyes of senior stakeholders, and those making decisions on your future, the final call can be largely about assessing the risk of your promotion. Are you an obvious choice? Can you enter into the role seamlessly and make a positive impact quickly? In terms of your leadership, will others follow you? And fundamentally, assuming you are delivering excellence in your current role, who replaces you? If you’re that good, some would say ‘why lose you from that role?’.

Your succession planning is KEY to managing the potential risk of your own career advancement. Start to identify the quality within your team and nurture it alongside their level of ambition. Don’t not have a solution for your replacement!

In summary, Setting and readying yourself for success is of critical importance if you are to enjoy and sustain a thriving career. There are no real short-cuts to sustainable advancement.