Real Gals is a series in collaboration with the nonprofit GlamourGals (GG), which encourages teens to volunteer in senior homes with the elderly.
This is the final post in the Real Gals series, and I'm so thrilled that I got to share eight posts on such amazing women of all ages (from 18 to 88!). They talked about their accomplishments, their struggles, and doled out some not-to-be-missed advice. You can see the entire Real Gals series in one place, here.
Part eight stars Carolyn Liou. She's in her mid-30s and she's lived in New York for the past seven years (she's currently on the Upper East Side). This past summer, she left the corporate finance world to take on a role at a friend's startup, PXA Corp, a finance data company. There she's the director of business strategy and operations. (Carolyn's also an advisory board member for GlamourGals.) Here, she talks about growing up in Taiwan, what it truly means to be confident, and how to speak out against sexism at work.
On her childhood in Taiwan, and later, in Maryland "I spent the first six years of my childhood in a small town just outside of Taiwan’s capital, Taipei. I was a shy kid and would spend most days following my older cousins around as we meandered through the markets and playgrounds. I think this explains why I enjoy movies like Slumdog Millionaire—I didn’t grow up in the slums, but it does remind me of my childhood. I grew up mostly in Gaithersburg, Maryland, though, just outside of D.C. It’s a diverse suburb with strong Chinese, Korean, and Hispanic communities. It reminds me of the diverse suburbs around L.A.—it's got a network of fantastic ethnic communities and food options, but you'll be sitting in traffic a lot of the time."
On her experiences with sexism in the corporate finance world "I’ve worked across three management and tech-consulting firms over the past eight years. Women account for about 50 percent of analysts, but maybe 10 to 15 percent of senior leadership. I’ve personally never been a victim of sexism, but I've observed and heard stories of mistreatment from female colleagues and friends. I think, like racism, sexist behaviors are mostly subtle—sometimes it’s just a trite remark that's meant to objectify. I’ve seen men do it as a way to overpower a female colleague, with the intention to undermine or dismiss her credibility."
On the power of speaking out against sexist behavior "My advice is not to let it undermine your self-respect, and actively call it out. This gives power to other women who may be experiencing the same thing. If that’s not an option, I suggest reporting it to HR or someone you trust. I believe women in general have to walk a fine line between respecting our own feminine and caring intuition and being hard-headed and bitchy enough to garner respect from men."
On what confidence means to her "I am a firm believer that real confidence isn’t just about being outspoken or self-assured. Self-confidence based on a strong sense of self-worth is very different from a display of confidence based on a need to compensate for insecurities. Inner confidence is a reflection of how we view ourselves and our abilities. Do we like ourselves and how we exist in this world? [I love] getting to know my mind through meditation or yoga."
On women and the startup culture "I have a few friends who made the transition from corporate to startup, and they warned me about the common pitfalls. Basically, before making the jump, take the time to think through your 'must-haves' and 'nice-to-haves' in the next role or opportunity and why a startup would be a better option. For women, balance and flexibility is a key driver that draws a lot of us to the startup world. Depending on the firm, the startup culture tends to be younger and many of them offer nontraditional perks, like uncapped vacation, in order to attract top talent."
On her trip to Nepal (pictured above) "I was at a Hindu cremation site called Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu. The men are called sadhus or holy men. They've renounced all of their worldly possessions and live apart from society to focus on their spiritual practice. I traveled there with my friend Lei. The hand symbol is called vitarka mudra, which indicates wisdom or dharma."
On traveling to far-flung corners of the world "My favorite place [that I've traveled to] is a Tibetan neighborhood called Boudha [Boudhanath] in Kathmandu, Nepal. The city is essentially made up of two main populations, Buddhists and Hindus, and you see the populations living side by side peacefully. When I travel for fun, it doesn't have much impact on my life. When I travel to reflect, I think about the life I want to lead and create. It's a great way for me to reset and reenergize. The exposure to different cultures has also helped me gain new perspectives and become more understanding of people from all backgrounds."
Thank you so much, Carolyn, for sharing your amazing advice and adventures from around the world!
Photographs provided by Carolyn Liou.