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Leadership Speaker Event

During our leadership speaker event, Dr. Sharon Feng spoke about leadership and the prominence, or lack thereof, of Asian leaders within the professional area. Dr. Sharon Feng is the Global Director of Science and Technology at PPG Industries, one of the world’s largest coating companies. In her current role, she leads the global flagship R&D center in Pittsburgh with more than 300 scientists as well as analytical science laboratories across the globe. Since 2009, she has been a member of the board of directors for Koppers, a carbon material company, and serves as the chair of the Sustainability Committee on the board.

Before joining PPG, Dr. Feng was the Senior Associate Dean of the School of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago. Before that, she had more than 20 years of leadership experience in material and biotech industries with roles in R&D, marketing, business development and various corporate functions. She received her Ph.D. in chemistry from MIT.

Throughout her speech, Dr. Feng delineated that leadership is not about improving oneself, but making others better. This distinction separates them from bosses, who manage and delegate rather than inspire. Instead of simply handing out tasks and deadlines, a leader also communicates to their underlings the purpose of their work. Through this process, people become motivated and work more passionately. Because of this, leaders don’t necessarily need people to report to them. Additionally, leaders don’t emphasize the hierarchical structure that managers abide by. In fact, leadership itself isn’t a position, but an action.

Dr. Feng also addressed the “bamboo ceiling”, which refers to the barriers that prevent Asians and Asian Americans from reading executive positions. Currently, only 2% of Fortune 500 companies’ CEOs are Asian. Some potential barriers those of Asian descent may face include a lack of self advocacy, a reserved nature, or inability to adapt. But at the same time, that same Asian heritage enables passion, self discipline, perseverance, humbleness, and resilience. These qualities are what are needed to surpass the bamboo ceiling and reach those higher-up positions.

By knowing yourselves and playing to your strengths, anyone can become a leader. To become a leader, you need to learn with imperfection. An 80% success rate is good enough, so there’s no need to chase perfection. Leadership opportunities are everywhere, so it is up to us to seek out and find these opportunities. This begins with networking and building connections, so that opportunities naturally find you.

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