Jill Tang: "New York may be the city that never sleeps but Shanghai doesn't even sit down" - Patricia Marx

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Ladies Who Tech was initiated by Charlene Liu and revitalised/relaunched with Jill Tang on International Women’s Day in 2017. Both women believe in challenging the status quo by encouraging more women to discover their potential in STEM. They aim to raise awareness of the lack of women in the STEM industries and help companies have more diversity.            

Jill is an alumnus of three Australian Universities – an experience and period of her life that she describes as “changing her cultural identity”. Advance spoke to Jill to learn some more about how her experience studying in Australia positively impacted not just her vocational pathway, but the trajectory of her life.

Interview by Molly O'Brien

What is the mission of Ladies Who Tech?

The mission of Ladies Who Tech is to encourage and inspire more Chinese women to study and work in STEM industries. We work with corporates to close the gender gap and promote a culture of diversity and inclusion.

What was the impetus for you to co-found this company?

I wanted to help Chinese returnees like myself to get a job in China after they finish their international studies – about 80% of women in our community are educated overseas. Combining my previous startup experience with the resources of the big corporates we partner with gave us an advantage and we were able to grow the platform very quickly. The timing definitely helps because the whole world is currently advocating for technology and innovation.

What is the biggest issue women in STEM industries face?

Firstly, not many women founders get investment. Only 7% of women-founded companies receive investment, and women in leadership positions globally are also fairly low. If you then assign tech hats to those women, the number is even less. China isn’t doing a bad job compared to some other countries, but still, based on the OECD report from 2017, at current rates, it will take 100 years to close the gender gap globally.  

Companies need to understand that if they lack diversity, they will be missing 50% of the world’s perspective. We aim to inspire women to take jobs in STEM fields, which are stereotypically pictured as masculine jobs.

How do you measure success with this initiative?

My co-founder Charlie and I have discussed the importance of measurable success – we don’t just want to host a forum whenever we have a good speaker. It’s very important is to have momentum and to make sure we are able to quantify our impact with statistics.  

What was your biggest challenge when you relaunched 18 months ago?

Firstly, having no name or resources. We were only two people and didn’t really know where to start. But both were very experienced in building communities. In the first six months, we only held two events. We implemented initiatives to test the market, began talking to people and of course doing market research to see what kind of women wanted what sort of services. We realised we needed to pick one focus and chose to partner with corporates to start off the initiative. It proved to be the right decision because big corporates had the resources to make it happen, and there are many of them with a focus on diversity and inclusion. Our advisor Celina Chew, President and CEO of Bayer China gave us a big push to kick it off. She is also an alumnus from Australia. As she said “ Women must participate in tech so that they can help to shape our future and also enjoy the benefits tech brings. The diversity women bring to tech will generate more innovation and better solutions.”

You studied at three universities in Australia - how do you maintain a connection with them?

I did my Bachelors at La Trobe, my Masters of Applied Finance at Monash and my MBA at Melbourne University. After I finished all my study, I realised there was no alumni chapter in China. I had a great experience studying and wanted to continue to have a connection with these schools so I volunteered to start an alumni chapter here.

How do you feel that your Australian education contributed to your careers success?

It contributed a lot. I am one of the biggest advocates for the Australian education system because I believe that education is not just about what you learn from school, it’s a whole culture and a lifestyle.

Those degrees really gave me a great foundation, not only for my career, but also by giving me a good global perspective. I think what really helped me is the whole culture and support from the community. I always stayed very close to the Australian community here.

When I first came back to China I had a very big reverse culture shock. Of course, I'm Chinese, but when I returned I didn’t feel a sense of belonging in my hometown. I realised that my time in Australia had changed my cultural identity. I often say to people not to define me by where I'm from, where I was born, or grew up, or how I look, but by the culture that I adapt to. So, in this sense, Australia has had a huge influence on me.

What do you find the best part about living in Shanghai, what’s the most challenging?

Once a humourist said “New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Shanghai doesn’t even sit down”- Patricia Marx

 Even though it's my hometown, when I first returned from spending time abroad, I had no connection because it had completely changed. And the pace was way too fast compared to my time in Australia. The advantage is the learning curve is very steep here, Shanghai is really full of opportunities.

People are very open-minded here, and it’s the international hub for many industries. There’s always a chance to have a first-hand information about what's happening in the world, regardless of whether it’s technology, business, or lifestyle. Whenever big things happen, this is always one of the important stops for companies.

Do you think there are any misconceptions that people particularly from the outside might have about Shanghai as a city?

That Shanghai has always been positioned as a financial center, but it’s so much more than that. It’s full of opportunities and it mixes a good balance of innovation, technology, and arts.