Xia Chen (MSc Management 2015),Enterprise Architect at Inchcape Plc, has been an outstanding member of the Imperial Women’s Network since 2016. With an engaged community of over 900 Imperial alumni and friends, and hosting events from personal growth to financial understanding, unconscious bias and women’s health, the committee continues to grow.
We spoke to Xia about why she is so passionate about the Network and supporting women’s leadership in business.
What made you want to get involved in the Imperial Women’s Network?
The initial planning around the Imperial Women’s Network (IWN) began in 2014, when Hardeep Parmar, an Executive MBA alumnus and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemists, and Mona Habib, also an Executive MBA alumnus with a medical engineering background, first met and discussed their career progress. Though there are many initiatives at Imperial College Business School focused on connecting industry with current students, an idea sparked between them for an opportunity to close the gap between graduates and industry. They had a vision to set up a network to enable women who are approaching or have reached their career ceiling, to connect with others in the alumni community who have successfully made it through this phase.
In April 2016, with the full support of Imperial College Business School, they set up an initial launch event where they shared their vision of creating a professional network for alumni of all genders.
I was very impressed and motivated by the energy at the event and to my surprise, I was asked to be part of the team running the network. Of course, I said yes!
A committee was formed and the IWN was born. Using the ideas and comments from the attendees at the launch event, we created our Strategy and Proposition.
Initially we began with a series of professional events to build the brand and member base and over the following two years, with the active support of the Alumni Relations team at Imperial, we had grown to over 400 members.
This experience has developed my leadership, event management, networking skills, given me insights into latest trends in various industries, and allowed me to learn from leading professionals who have successfully managed challenging situations in the workplace.
Our network gained momentum, delivering quality events with good feedback and we were delighted to be honoured with the Dean’s Community Award for Alumni 2018.
We now have over 900 members in our LinkedIn group. Over the period of great uncertainty brought by COVID19, we will look to recruit new talents to our committee, tailor new events suitable for an online audience, so that we can continue delivering quality events to support our alumni. We are currently open to recruiting new members.
What benefits have you found from being part of the Network both personal and professional?
It’s been a very rewarding experience. We have been continuously amazed by the positive vibe we get at each event from our alumni. It is a privilege to meet and connect with alumni who are proactive and passionate in their lifelong continuous learning, people who are driven in their career progressions and willing to share their experiences to help others in the same process. We became supportive forces in each other’s life and career, and for this I am always grateful.
Professionally, being a key contributor of the Network, I had the privilege of shaping the direction of travel for IWN to grow from designing the vision, delivering maintaining the strong reputation of our quality events, to future planning. This experience has developed my leadership, event management, networking skills, given me insights into latest trends in various industries, and allowed me to learn from leading professionals who have successfully managed challenging situations in the workplace.
Receiving the positive energy from the speakers and audience at the end of each event gives me happiness and satisfaction.
The committee is currently looking to attract more committee members. Why would you encourage others to get involved?
There is a common saying amongst women’s networks, “Seeing is believing”. In my opinion, the female networking groups are essential in:
- Encouraging and providing a platform for successful business / opinion leaders to share their views, advice, and knowledge
- Bridging the network and sharing personal, organisational, and innovation successes across different industries
- Providing leadership training and coaching outside one’s organisational networks
- Influence organisational leaders to take actions for diversity and inclusion
The IWN aims to target:
- Women who are ambitious and actively looking to challenge the glass celling
- Women who are ambitious but are not actively looking for support, they don’t see any role model to make them believe they themselves can achieve their goals
- Women who are not ambitious, troubled with unconscious bias challenges they are facing in the workplace, and are not looking for support
- Men at leadership position who are open-minded and supportive to diversity and inclusion
- Men at all grades who are unaware but could be influenced to support diversity and inclusion.
Culture and perceptions will take time to evolve. We believe it will be easier to promote diversity at work if we include all genders in our conversations. The ability to have open and honest discussions is one of the key initial steps to understanding and dealing with diversity-related differences together. This is why we make it clear that the IWN welcomes male advocates for diversity to join us, to see past gender differences and value an individual based on their merits, not their gender.
What’s your top tip to achieve gender parity?
Do more and regularly reflect on past experiences. This helps you to build a wealth of experiences to know yourself better, your capacity, skills and working styles, and with sufficient experiences accumulated, you can identify generic patterns of situations and be able to formulate better solutions.
An immediate action we can take is to always work on causes that we believe are purposeful, because this motivates us to give our best. As we become good at what we do, we will have more confidence, and become respected by a wider range of diverse people. When we are in influential positions, encourage the culture to reinforce and celebrate diversity. We will notice ourselves become real agents of change for a fairer society.
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