Increasing my Self-Awareness as a Woman in Business

One stereotype of Asians is that we are taciturn, comparatively introvert, humble, and inclined to harmony. In this case, I am a typical Asian. I have learned some American-style networking skills in educational sessions since orientation, and I have experienced some differences, such as casual small talk with “strangers” in professional contexts. However, a recent women’s leadership workshop made me realize some cross-cultural similarities among women, and improved my self-awareness in my transformative journey as an MBA student.

I attended the workshop organized by Deloitte at Pop’s in West Village, a nice restaurant in downtown Durham. It was delightful to spend some time with more than 30 female classmates, and it was even better to hear the personal experiences of 4 alumnae who work at Deloitte in roles from Senior Consultant to Partner.

The workshop was a learning experience and a retrospective journey for me. I thought women are more self-aware and less over-confident than men, but I realized some truths about gender differences that I should be aware of in professional environments:

Women tend to rate themselves lower in self-assessment. Several classmates shared their stories about annual performance reviews in previous jobs, which resonated with me. I thought my ability and job performance was average, but it turned out that my performance review results were better than my own estimation.

Women are affected by the Imposter Syndrome, secretly suspecting that they fooled others into thinking that they do better than they actually are. I am exactly a sufferer of this. In the past, when I received a competitive award or recognition, I could not believe it. I thought I had not done anything special. I tried to understand it: it was a great fortune. I was so lucky to be assigned to some great projects. I thought over every possibility, except that I deserved it. Funnily enough, an alumna had the exact same reaction when she got promoted to Partner. But, we learned “There is nothing accidental about your achievements.” This is the take-away I will carry with me in my future career.

The evaluations and feedback I received from my job gradually let me recognize my strengths and weaknesses, and the workshop helped me find the root causes behind my symptoms. Women like collective achievements, and try to avoid taking individual credit. An interesting gender difference in the workplace and also in personal life is that men use “I” in talking about all kinds of accomplishments, while women tend to use “we.” (Ouch, how many “we” do I use in this blog?) We love and value teamwork and collaboration, so we can hardly give up talking about “us.” As women in business, however, we should take credit for our accomplishments, and judiciously substitute “We” with “I”.

I was glad to see that alumnae from diversified backgrounds had faced similar issues, and understood the importance of overcoming these problems in the professional realm, especially when facing competition from more confident men.

The presentation ended with a picture of three red shoes, from flat, kitten heel to stiletto. It represents the growth from an innocent girl to a confident woman. I believe B-school is a perfect place to develop self-awareness, and the reflective night will be an integral part of my transformational journey to a mature, confident and professional woman.

Meiqing Fan

Daytime MBA, Class of 2014

I was born in Shanghai, worked in Beijing and came to the United States as one of the youngest members of my class at Fuqua. While here I’ve held several club cabinet positions, traveled as much as I could and still found time to play golf on the Duke course nearby.

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    Hi Meiqing

    Nice to read your blog again. Some of the words in the blog are vaguely familiar to me because of the conversation we had three days ago. You are a brilliant girl! It is my pleasure to talk with you.


    • Meiqing Fan

      Thanks for the sweet note. Good luck!

  • Siying Liu

    That was a truly insightful post! Thanks for sharing.

    I learned that oxytocin (a neuropeptide that was related to empathy) has higher level in female than male, the biological basis of why women are more apt at understanding others and building emotionally-connected teams. Your post provides me with valuable advice. I agree that as women (Chinese women, in particular) we need to balance our team spirit with self-approval.

    Meiqing, so glad that I come across your blog as I’m exploring Fuqua for my app. It was a pleasure reading your posts. If you don’t mind, can I get connected with you? I’m heading for Durham on Feb 1-2 to attend class visit and openhouse for MMS program, and it would be great if I can meet you to learn more about Fuqua.

    Thanks & Regards,

    • Meiqing Fan

      Hi Siying,

      Sounds interesting! Glad to know that you like it, and thanks for your sharing.

      I’m happy to meet you on campus. You chose the perfect time – lots of exciting things will go on then. Global Week, Fuqua Got Talent, Fuqua Friday sponsored by Asian Business Club (something related to Chinese New Year celebration), followed by a party! I believe you’ll also know more MMS students from the campus visit. Safe trip!