It goes without saying that I meet high-achieving women constantly given my association with Women’s Agenda. Yet I am amazed at how often many of those women haven’t yet figured out the positive contribution that they make as powerful female role models to those around them, and could make as potential visible leaders to women everywhere.
Take Dr Alice Lee for example. Her LinkedIn profile lists her achievements as follows:
– gastroenterologist and hepatologist
– VMO (visiting medical officer) at The Canterbury Hospital
– Associate Professor at Macquarie University
– VMO at Macquarie University Hospital
– Director of Macquarie GI
– Private practice at Macquarie University Hospital and Ashfield
– President of Korean Medical Association
– Vice President of World Korean Medical Association
– Invited member of the Federation of the Australian Asian Medical Association
– Chair, Korean Health Committee
– Co-founder and director of Hepatitis B Free
– Medical volunteer in developing countries
– Member of Special Olympics Lions Club
I met Dr Lee when she approached me to share that I was an inspirational role model for her 18-year-old daughter. I had returned to my seat in the audience following a speech I gave at the launch of the Diverse Australasian Women’s Network for International Women’s Day last Friday. Dr Lee quietly got out of her seat and made her way to the front row next to me where there had been a vacant chair.
At that point I had no idea who she was and assumed she was a supportive mother accompanying her role model-hungry daughter to an event. It wasn’t until Dr Lee began confiding in me that she found the work-life balance of 12-hour days that begin and end at 7 challenging, that I realised the ego-less woman next to me was a juggling Wonder Woman.
We shared views on the definition of balance and I began to ask her a series of questions that led me to conclude I was sitting next to one of the medical industry’s female high-achievers. My mind snapped back to her first comment to me: “you are an inspirational role model for my daughter”. I informed Alice that it was in fact she who was such an incredible role model for her daughter, and she smiled self-consciously.
The room of women that I had been speaking to that night was full of successful women like Alice who not only had to deal with the natural inclination of their gender to fly below the radar, but that of their Asian culture too. All of the women who approached me at the end of the evening to tell me how “wonderful” I was, were infinitely more accomplished with Masters degrees and PhDs to spare. They were completely unaware of their power and were looking to other women for role models and leadership.
It’s easy to understand how women like this could be overlooked alongside men whose hands are up. They have been willing to take a backseat to their male counterparts for some time but the energy in the room told me they were now looking for a way to break out and up.
It’s the best problem to have: capable women who are ready to step up in their industries given the opportunity. Imagine what could be achieved if those women were benefited by quotas.