Should we really wait the predicted 170 years it will take to reach gender parity (estimated by the World Economic Forum)? The International Women’s Day (#IWD2017) is a forum and reminder to drive change. This year’s motto #beboldforchange drives us to think beyond raising awareness. Instead it urges us to become change catalysts and join forces – women, men and non-binary people. A motto that we at Aperian Global embrace, by helping our clients with learning solutions and consulting offers that move beyond awareness to skill-building and action.
Last year, we supported the #pledgeforparity campaign with our senior leadership team pledging their active involvement to reach gender parity. This year, we’ve reached out to the amazing diverse population of women within our organization to inspire you to #beboldforchange. From western, central and eastern United States, to Europe, Singapore and Shanghai, Aperian Global’s women share their bold moves that have changed their career or life course. We hope that by reading their stories and examples, you’ll be inspired to take action and join the forces to become a change agent for gender parity.
“For the first 30 years of my life, I felt resentful that I had to play the roles expected by society and give up my own dreams. In my mind, whether rightly or wrongly, I saw that society expected women to be “super mums”, filial daughters, ever supportive colleagues, 24/7 shoulders to friends in need, and “subservient” wives but equal partners in income, and homemakers after work as well. We were super women, dying by the minute as we did not live our lives but the roles we believed we had to fulfill. My self-limiting belief made it a binary choice when in reality, I could have had a win-win solution.
In 1994, a good friend (and mentor) and I co-created a workshop for women in Hong Kong. It was called “Winning Women.” The goal was to bring a group of women together to question our own self-limiting beliefs, discover one’s inner strengths, and be bold enough to be true to oneself rather than fulfill roles determined by society.
My mentor, who was far more experienced, created the main content for the session. I supported her with insights from my own learnings in my journey to challenge my self-limiting beliefs.
Approximately 20 women signed up for the course. It was not for profit and was affordable for anyone. I felt that the time we spent together discussing our fears, dreams, and self-limiting beliefs liberated and emboldened many women to believe they could become Winning Women in their own lives.
My own journey of growth helped me to bond with the audience in the room. I allowed myself to be vulnerable and honest and I believe my openness helped to strengthen other women in their journeys.”
ASHLEY COOMBS, Global Account
Houston, TX, USA
“In 2013, I packed two suitcases and life as I knew it to relocate from Boston to Houston. Texas was in many ways more foreign to me than any country I’d lived in or visited, and stepping solo into client meetings was daunting, to say the least. What started as anti-routine exhilaration turned quickly into me asking myself, “Am I just too foreign to succeed here?”
Consequently, the boldest move I took was not booking a one-way ticket home, but sinking my toes deeply into the ground once I arrived. To mediate working remotely, I got involved with professional development organizations. To learn about diverse parts of the community, I became an active volunteer. At the end of the assignment, Aperian Global and I agreed – I needed to stay, and in so doing each step forward revealed a new horizon. I grew into greater job responsibilities, assimilated into the local scene, and most importantly, learned that my spirit is resilient.”
“I’ve always been drawn to the stage. As a 4-year-old, I hit the headlines in a local newspaper when I ran onto the stage at a local music show. They had asked for volunteers from the audience to take part in a musical number. At the age of 6, I was reciting poems and singing songs in front of all 150 kids and adults at a summer camp.
But when it was time to choose my vocation, I didn’t dare to pursue a career in the performing arts. After the Soviet government fell in the late 90’s, there was complete chaos in my home country and people were struggling to make ends meet. So I went on to study foreign languages at the Linguistic University – believe it or not, the most prestigious and modern higher educational establishment in Minsk, Belarus, at that time, and the “window to the West.”
After graduating, I got a one-in-a-thousand position as a lector at university, teaching Swedish to future diplomats (at my young age!). However, I still was dreaming about being on stage and singing. So four years later, I grabbed the chance. My #boldmove was to leave it all behind and enter the University College of Opera in Stockholm. It was the most challenging time in my life. I left my country, my culture, my profession, and my family. I missed them all – a lot. Looking back, I see the many great things I did in opera: working with wonderful musicians, doing productions both in Sweden and abroad, taking part in competitions, and making recordings. I am so much richer and stronger now. And I am a completely different person now, too.
I am not in opera today. Instead, I work as a Director of Consulting at Aperian Global. My time in opera has made me unique in my industry. I still have an enormous love of being on stage and creating unique experiences for the audience. These days, however, I use that passion in my key note speeches.”
Raleigh, NC, USA
“I push myself to #beboldforchange and challenge assumptions every day, managing a global team of product marketing experts, serving as a consultant to my clients, and being a single mom!
Every day, I bring courage and assertiveness developed through my experiences as a Black woman, raising a child born with a limb difference, and learning through divorce how to be a single mom – all while pursuing excellence in my field. Personal experiences have certainly influenced my work style. By applying the lessons learned from making the tough decisions that have reshaped my personal life, I approach my work with more confidence. I influence the way my team operates and the way we engage with our client partners as we enable more inclusive work places.”
“Before I was married, I lived in Delhi with my parents, and we had a housekeeper to help with all of the household work. In India, most families have housekeepers who help with domestic tasks – they play a significant role in supporting the family. Our housekeeper’s daughter, who was five years younger than me, would often come with her mother to our home. Despite the fact that the family did not have enough money to put their daughter through university, she was incredibly sharp and her English was very good (even though she’d studied at a Hindi-speaking school).
One day, the young girl came over while I was in the middle of a job search, hard at work on my resume. She asked what I was doing, so I explained to her the importance of having a resume. She mentioned that although she had finished her schooling, she wasn’t able to continue her studies since their family couldn’t afford to send her to university. Plus, she had brothers, and she felt that her education wasn’t seen as important to others in her family.
I suggested that she look into getting a part-time job to finance her own education, but she didn’t seem to know the best approach to do that. So I helped her to put together her first resume, upload it on local job search sites, and prepare for her interviews. Due to our efforts, she went on the first interview of her life and she did a wonderful job! I was so proud of her. She was hired for the position and in her first year, her annual salary surpassed what her father had been making! She now works full time to support her family & her own personal interests.
The fact that my initial step to help her made a big difference in her financial situation and her life has always made me feel incredibly proud. Sometimes all we need is someone to help us with an initial step, and after that, we can see things through as they fall into place.”
KEIKO SAKURAI, Director of Consulting, Japan
“I was a CPA in a global accounting firm in Japan without much satisfaction in my career. Not sure what I wanted to do with my life, I decided to go to a business school in the United States to explore what else was out there. For a 30-year-old, single woman to leave a stable job and use up all her savings, without a specific career goal, was considered a “bold” or even “unwise” move by many Japanese. My parents tried to stop me by saying, “You need to get married and have children.” Nevertheless, I trusted my intuition and left Japan in 2003.
Two years at the Haas Business School changed my life completely.
I joined Aperian Global in 2005. Since then, I have been living in San Francisco and working as a cross-cultural consultant, serving clients all over the world.
I had my first child at the age of 40, got married (in that order), and had the second child at the age of 43. This was another “bold” move that I made!”
“I used to spend my after-work hours and weekends sitting and watching TV. I didn’t even go out for short walks. With the years passing, I was physically weak and vulnerable.
Then two years ago, I encouraged myself to pick up a popular activity in Shanghai – night jogging. My initial goal was to run routinely twice a week. I didn’t have much confidence at first, because running 800m was a nightmare for me back in school days. But when I really tried, it proved not to be very difficult. I felt inspired and refreshed after running at night.
Now, I go jogging at least every other night, in winter and summer, no matter the temperature. My neck and back pain have eased a lot, even after a long day of desk work. As a woman, a #boldforchange move for me means to get up more and keep being active.”
Boston, MA, USA
“When I was 22, I left my comfort zone and took a seven-month internship at Walt Disney World.
I applied to the internship program via school and went through the interview process. When I got the acceptance, I immediately decided to use the opportunity to have a true experience of U.S. American culture and lifestyle.
I was at the point of deciding whether I wanted to be in the U.S. or move back to Hong Kong after college. I realized that I could not make a decision unless I truly experienced the All-American culture. In addition, I wanted to challenge myself, since I had lived in my comfort zone for most of my life up to that point.
First of all, my English improved dramatically during the internship. I learned a lot of American slang and idioms through my friendships. I also made many friends from all different parts of the U.S. That was the first time I realized that the U.S. has such complex diversity within the country. Each region or state has its own values and perspectives, and although two people may both be “American,” they need to become aware of their differences because they could have completely different perspectives.
My advice to other women would be to be bold and be brave! If we don’t explore the world in front of us, we could be missing out on many opportunities in life.”
“At my previous company, I was among a number of women who joined at the start-up phase of this international company’s entry to China. We were committed to the same vision of making our company the best place to work in China. We put in many hours, many of which were at the expense of our personal lives, but we felt fulfilled.
However, as the years progressed, business grew and functions separated, and headquarters put more and more layers of management above our Chinese team. As the most senior Chinese team leader, I reported to three managers within one year as the company rotated different foreign leaders into China, while no China-based team member was promoted into an open position – including me, despite having spent five years on the job.
As the most tenured member of the China team and a stout advocate for staff development, I decided to take my career into my own hands and resign. I found a role here at Aperian Global that fulfilled all of my needs, which could not have been met at my previous company. When I shared my news with the team they were astonished and yet fully supportive of my decision to shape my own development. Since then, several team members have done the same and found more fulfilling roles. I am pleased and proud to have helped fellow women take a proactive role in planning their careers.”
“Looking back on my life and career, it’s difficult to pinpoint one bold action that was a pivotal turning point for me. Rather, it was a series of them: taking a gap year to travel the world, earning an MBA, relocating to a new country, becoming a mother, and leaning in to make a career change to my dream job after my children reached school age.
My motivation to make these bold changes came from an incredible “village” of supportive family, friends, colleagues, and mentors who encouraged me to believe in myself, take risks, and never give up. A supportive network, combined with an inner-drive and dedication to hard work that I learned from my parents, made it possible to be where I am today – living abroad with a beautiful family, working in a job that inspires me, while traveling the world.
Share your experiences with others who are in need of support, both your successes and the challenges you have overcome. Be a mentor, role-model, or part of the village to help others succeed, too. The impact can be life changing!”