SABIC China's women leaders discuss diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in workplace
SABIC is a world-leading chemical company with its headquarters in Saudi Arabia. At its China operation, close to 40 percent of the management team are women.
Shanghai Daily recognized their efforts and honored SABIC China with the "Outstanding Women" Award this year.
These executives excelled in their roles at work and as mothers, wives, and other responsibilities.
We spoke with three female leaders at SABIC to learn how they manage their roles between professional and personal lives.
Diversity makes better life and work
Sierra Lin is considered a deserving "senior member" in SABIC. She has been a witness to the rapid growth and significant transformations of SABIC in China over the past two decades and has overseen the development of global financial standards and policies, as well as the group's financial reporting, while managing a multinational team.
After work, Lin sometimes likes to treat herself with a retail therapy as an effective stress reliever and mood booster.
"Image stereotyping based on a person's occupation is a form of societal bias. I believe that everyone is born with a diverse career path. We don't have to give up our personal interests because the job is merely one option among many.
"Managing finances and love for fashion are not mutually exclusive," she said. "At the end of a long day at work, indulging in fashion is a way for me to process my emotions and relieve tension."
Lin, an inquisitive Leo, has held a variety of jobs in finance, been transferred all over the world, and participated in numerous interdepartmental projects. The diverse work experience satisfied her curiosity and became a valuable asset in her pursuit of leadership.
As a key global leader of the SHE (SABIC Women’s Network) platform, which fosters growth and development for women at every level within the organization, Lin has focused on ways to empower women as leaders and assist them in achieving their career aspirations by building visibility, capability, and a sense of community.
She said that China offered an excellent work climate for women, where employers never discriminate on the basis of gender.
"Now, women's career advancement is advancing in tandem with society. When I graduated from college, if you were not promoted to the executive level by your mid 30s, there was little chance of becoming a leader. Now with maturity of the job market in China, more and more leaders recognize the value of diversity and different priorities at different stage of life, that makes age less relevant for women as it was in the past, we can organize our careers as we see fit. Openly communicate your needs, take a maternity leave, it will not affect your career."
There are female leaders in every profession. In SABIC China, female leaders are not just limited to traditional functional roles, like HR or finance, but also taking a leading role in manufacturing, commercial/business and R&D, etc. and they have all performed admirably.
"People with varied personalities and genders have distinct advantages. My extroversion and curiosity enable me to communicate with many departments more effectively.
"Women are empathic and good observers and we tend to be more active on feedback and reflections. Thus, female leaders are effective communicators and often more inspiring/motivating leaders especially in the challenging environment. But we women must be more courageous and be more strategic in our way of thinking, we should consider our future career plans and the vision of our department using a three to ten years’ horizon."
"Work is not your whole life. Be positive at work, and you will get more help. Be courageous, step out of your comfort zone, maintain your curiosity, and you will accelerate your growth."
Mastering time management skills
Jenny Li has worked in different departments since joining SABIC in 2001, including product, business, investment, and procurement management. She is now the head of China Procurement, where she collaborates with multiple departments to fulfill demanding tasks.
Being a leader, wife, and the mother of a high school student, Li is an expert at time management.
She believes that time management is very important for a business leader. "We certainly have a lot to do, but if you prioritize properly, you'll get more done."
Her motivation is always her family. Regardless of how busy her schedule is, every Saturday, Li goes to a park with her husband and son for a walk. As the family's most cherished time, they share their thoughts and the highlights of the week.
"Every day my husband and I set aside time for dinner together with our son, and then we return to work. As long as you schedule your time, you can enjoy a more balanced life."
Li said that SABIC conducted a training program for Chinese leaders in 2019 and she learned a great deal from it, including self-awareness as a leader.
"You should be aware of your strengths and weaknesses and consciously work on them. Learn from your partners, the experience of earlier projects, and your staff to determine if there is a better approach for cooperation," she said.
"At this role, my job is not just about doing my own work well, but also assuming more responsibilities."
There is a tradition at SABIC for employees to learn from one another, and the company provides forums for this. Li serves as a mentor for the mentorship initiative and is the Chairman of the Great China Empowerment Leadership Committee, which focuses on four important areas related to enhance employees' perception of empowerment: Engagement, Ownership, Collaboration, and Leadership development.
Li serves as a mentor to three female employees in the Mentor Project.
"A mentee said she wants to be a decisive person like me; she had ideas but lacked the courage to carry them out. So I shared my experience with her and advised her to be more prepared before making a decision."
Li said that they maintained contact for over four years. The projects are great platforms for learning and communicating across departments.
"Sometimes, women tend to be emotional, but this is not a disadvantage. It would result in improved resiliency, accountability, and coordination."
She offered guidance to female colleagues who wished to attain leadership positions.
"Before anything else, we may need to better plan our career and life milestones. Second, create an own control system to balance work and family obligations together with all your family members, and working partners. Finally, time management: properly manage your time. Grasp opportunities and make them happen."
The way to be a good mother and an excellent leader
With an eye on the company's explosive growth in China over the past decades, Amanda Guo has participated in the internationalization of SABIC. As head of Asia HR Operations, she has accomplished her career goal while also balancing motherhood.
"Being a mother makes me more efficient," Guo said. "You cannot accomplish everything at once, so you have to find a balance between time and efficiency.
After dropping off my son at school, I usually arrive early to work to plan for the day ahead. Organizing my tasks increases my productivity at work. After work, I usually check emails while helping my son with his schoolwork."
In order to maintain a balance between personal life and career, she advises avoiding comparisons with others and creating a long term plan to accomplish it in stages.
"Before my son entered the fourth grade, I was involved in a large SABIC project for three to four years. At that time, I spent about three weeks overseas every month, so I was not able to accompany him," she explained. "However, it was in my plan to spend more time with my family once the project was completed."
Because of a strong company culture and leadership, she believes that women can achieve their career goals while also enjoying family time.
The people at work are truly kind and caring. Whenever she was anxious, someone always offers assistance. "Can I help you in any way?"
Guo often discusses the challenges she faces at work with her son as a form of education, she says.
"Besides being a mother, I am also a competent leader. I hope to let him know that society has a lot of injustices, and that he must find a way to embrace equity as much as possible. Afterward, he will be able to understand why he should study and devise a plan for the future."
According to Guo, SABIC will give all employees a fair and equal opportunity right from the beginning of its recruitment process and this principle will continue throughout its workforce management.
"The time you spend as a mother will not hinder your chances in your career if you have a clear career strategy. Spending two years as a mother is a small segment of your professional life, and it will not hinder your career advancement.
"The key to being a successful mother and leader is to have a concise proposal. Always working overtime is not beneficial; relaxing and have a positive attitude will help you come up with better ideas."