Josie Zhao and her family moved to Shanghai two years ago from Hong Kong after being appointed as the chief operating officer with a high-profile bank. Her daughters (Sophia, 8 and Alice, 6) and husband have always been a huge support system for her, especially during their move to Shanghai. Although it took the family a while to settle into their new home, they are now getting the chance to enjoy their lives in a new city. Here, Zhao tell us about being a working mom in Shanghai.
Give us your career story.
I am currently the chief operating officer for China at a multinational bank. I travel quite a bit between Shanghai and Beijing as our headquarters is based there and my team is split between the two locations. Initially I worked in San Francisco as a financial strategies consultant and went to business school in France. For the past 10 years, I have been moving from bank to bank, mostly working in strategy and now transitioning into execution in a single market.
How was the process of moving to Shanghai?
I think I underestimated the difficulty [of moving here] because I am Chinese and had been working in Hong Kong for 10 years, but it was still quite challenging to bring my family here. I wouldn’t call my husband a ‘trailing spouse,’ but he did have to make some career adjustments to accommodate our relocation. The first year was quite difficult for us when we were trying to get the children settled in. It all happened so fast and it took me two years to truly adjust, and now I am trying to get our family out more often into the city.
What is it like being a female executive in China?
I think the struggles are a little different than I’ve found in other parts of the world. In my personal experience, in any kind of Anglo-Saxon culture, you need to be firm, outspoken and confident. I tend to be more aggressive, but in China, I’ve had to tone it down a little bit and find a balance. Without overgeneralizing, I think my Asian male counterparts tend to not appreciate aggressiveness coming from women. Since I am Asian, I think the expectations are a little different of me.
What is the biggest difference between working in Hong Kong and Shanghai?
China is a huge market and you don’t fully understand it until you are actually here. In Hong Kong, the majority of expat professionals work in financial services, but in Shanghai I meet people from all kinds of industries. For me, it is an eye-opening experience for someone who has been in financial services for a long time.
What has been the highlight of your career?
I feel like I’m still waiting for the highlight, to be honest. For me, this job is clearly a recognition of my ability and contribution, and it has been a great learning experience… but I’m getting ready for the next thing, which I think will be the highlight of my career. The highlight of my life, however, is certainly being a mom. I had children relatively young, but I felt like that’s when I actually grew up. I have had a lot of difficult jobs, but being a mom has been the most difficult. I have learned so much from being a mom and I apply it at work all the time.