by Dr. Renée Ralph
Being A Female in Chinese Culture
Sandy is a quiet achiever. A tomboy at heart, running around in her childhood days climbing trees, she was told not to spend too much time in the sun as it would make her skin dark – making her look unattractive. In Chinese culture, a Chinese girl should be demure, seen but not heard, and her skin should be porcelain white to attract her future potential husband
Education is only meant for boys, a girl should not be educated or be too intelligent. The husband is the dominant partner and the breadwinner of the family.
Her Chinese name is 张依玲 (zhāngyīlíng) – with the family name associated with archers back in the ancient times and first names meaning dependable, adorable, and linked to the hometown of her father. Her namesake was given to her at birth, having been selected with care from her Chinese family tradition. The Chinese characters describe her character from birth and Sandy has taken ownership of those symbols and been her own steward in her life.
Education and Life-Long Learning
Culturally, Sandy has defied the Chinese way of what a woman should be. She worked hard to win scholarships and achieve her First-Class Honours in her first degree in Marketing, a Ph.D. in Information Systems, and was awarded six times on the Vice-Chancellor’s Top 1% List. She also earned alumni status from the prestigious Harvard Business School when she completed its Executive Education program in the United States. A feat that both genders will find hard to reach in their lifetime – as it takes focus, resilience, sacrifice and mettle to do so.
She prizes education and life-long learning as the way to elevate oneself to a higher thought process and reach one’s fullest potential. She shares that the Harvard Leadership Program was a gruelling and enlightening experience that provided a new perspective on leadership and life – her peers were majority male and there were less than 20% women in her cohort. However, it was a tough but worthwhile venture.
Academically, Sandy has blazed through brilliantly, and in the corporate world her acute business sense radiates to help her clients grow their business sustainably and profitably in Asia Pacific, Europe and the United States.
Sandy is currently the Principal of Verity Consulting, National Board Member of United Nations Association of Australia based in Canberra, State Director of Australian Harvard Women, and Ambassador for Valuing Children Initiatives, the GameChanger Award, and the Inspiring Rarebirds.
In addition to being appointed the Chair of the ASEAN Alliance Council, Sandy is the first Asian to be elected as the President of the United Nations Association in Western Australia, appointed the Independent Board Director of WAITOC, and the Advisory Board Member of the Graduate School of Business at Curtin University. In Singapore, she serves the business community as accredited Advisor for the Intellectual Property of Singapore and IE Singapore.
Chinese Culture and Her Own Voice
As we sip our sparkling mineral water, Sandy said that she wanted more out of life and reflected: “What do I want to be now? How can I lead better?” With that mindset, she realised that she wanted to give back to the community and planned her business around volunteer work to serve others.
Sandy sees the cycle of life within Chinese culture, where the experienced and older generations guide the young – learning how to collaborate, respect, cultivate patience, and valuing the meaning of relationships and connections – values which are dear to her. It is a stark contrast to the Western business world, where corporate philosophy takes over and does not marry well with the Chinese way of doing business. She has learnt how to speak up and speak out in the corporate world and in business networking events but it is not a trait that came easily.
Sandy said: ”I realised from past experiences that when attending business functions, I would listen more than talk in order to be polite. I would wait for the conversation to end before introducing myself or my work to others. However, most of the time, the conversation would gravitate towards those who are keen to talk about themselves and the opportunity to present my perspective was lost due to my politeness.” This situation happened several times and she realised that the change had to come from within.
“I learnt that I had to do something about it. How could I articulate my thoughts effectively and find my voice?” Sandy started to take a less reserved approach while still maintaining her down-to-earth demeanour. She engaged support from her assistant to build her personal brand and Sandy started to speak up.
I asked: “Why?”
She said: ”If one doesn’t speak up and just wait for things to happen, it will never occur. No one would know all the good work that one has done. I had to come out from my comfort zone and share my story and success. It was the only option.”
As her business thrives and stabilises, Sandy looks towards a successful future by surrounding herself with positive and smart people who have the same vision and focus as herself.
Her Father - Her Role Model
She is immensely grateful to have an amazing role model; her father who supported, nurtured and believed in her. Her father was a military man – discipline, teamwork and serving others were core values to him. These principles and standards were passed on to Sandy during her upbringing in Singapore.
She reminisces that she used to wake up every weekend at 5am with her brother, led by their father to a full day of sports and hobbies such as jogging, basketball, badminton, stamp collection, painting, and handicrafts. “It was really fun learning with our dad. He taught us a lot” says Sandy.
Serving is an essential part of leadership - it is also an esteemed characteristic within Asian culture that has lasted for centuries. Sandy embraces wholeheartedly recognises and reveres the elderly for their experience and wisdom. There is much beauty and value in being mentored and mentoring others. She shares her observations about Western culture where younger generations are usually left out on a limb to strive for their own independence and survival. There tend to be less guidance as compared to those from Eastern cultures.
For the past 10 years, Sandy has been leading, doing pro-bono work for more than 12 organisations – with the vision of helping the needy, the youth and children.
It is in the hope that with her giving back, she is making a difference in the world we live in.
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