As we adapt to the cooler months and new ways of working and living, I chat with ANU Alumna Jean Sum (BComm '04, BActS '04) about her time at ANU and subsequent journey.
Jean is a proud Asian-Australian Woman with a keen interest in solving "wicked" societal challenges. She is a mentor to Asian-Australian women, writer, speaker and a cross-sector partnerships broker with nuanced understandings of the private, community and university sectors. Her passion for life and career is fuelled by two themes: the importance of celebrating diversity; and including Asian-Australian Women to the conversation of gender equality.
An ANU Alumna and ex-staff member, Jean says, "I am proud of the reputation that the University holds and for what I have learned from the University. ANU attracts incredible individuals who have great capacity to create solutions that support our world and empathy towards each other and students. While it is important to recognise the achievements of our students and alumni, it is equally important to celebrate others who may not have achieved world-renowned accolades but are exceptional humans and contribute to our community in different ways. They might be a local artist providing support to their community during COVID-19 or a parent juggling home-learning for their child with intellectual disability and their full-time job".
Jean initially chose ANU as it offered Actuarial Studies as a separate degree, it had a great reputation and she could live at home as an 18 year-old. She says that the best thing about studying Actuarial Studies was that it gave her good analytical training, which she still uses in her career. Combining that with Commerce gave her the flexibility to explore different subjects. Jean says that she truly enjoyed studying management - one particular lecturer encouraged her bigger picture visioning and gave her the opportunity to develop her communications skills. She notes that "I was definitely a pass student in Actuarial Studies, and I knew by the end of my first year that I wasn't going to be an Actuary, but my tenacity and stubbornness got me through the degree!"
In the 17 years since graduating, Jean has created a fascinating and unconventional career. She is a cross-sector partnerships professional, building effective and sustainable relationships with a specialisation in corporate partnerships and experience working across the banking, IT, International Development, University (ANU) and now, family violence sectors. Jean started her career as a Technical Writer in Taiwan ROC through AIESEC, then worked in Business and Corporate Banking in ANZ and CBA in Australia.
Jean says, "life threw me a curve ball when my brother died of suicide. His death made me realise that life is too short to be doing something where I wasn't completely happy. I decided to pursue my university dream of working in international development. For the first time in my career, I was seen and appreciated for my identity - as a woman and an Asian-Australian. It was the very essence of my being - as an Asian-Australian Woman, I understood the impact of gender inequality and communities in Asia that supported my transition into the community sector". Jean has worked as the Partnerships Manager and Executive Officer (A/g) to the then-Dean of the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, and is currently the Growth and Partnerships Manager at No to Violence - building sustainable and effective partnerships with workplaces to work together to end men's use of family violence. She loves creating opportunities for collaboration and bringing unique resources to solve wicked societal issues.
How has Jean combined her career with her interests in mentorship, advocacy and empowerment of women? Jean says, "as an Asian-Australian Woman, I have faced a number of challenges from self-acceptance of my identity; facing both glass and bamboo ceilings; embracing my feminine energy and bringing my voice into the world. I work in the community sector where there is little representation of Asian-Australians, let alone in senior leadership. Furthermore, there are very few Asian-Australian Directors/Heads of Partnerships across any industry. It is for this reason that I want to break into senior leadership and model what is possible for young Asian-Australian Women. Visibility is so important for Asian-Australian Women".
In 2019, Jean attended the inaugural Asian-Australian Leadership Summit - an initiative between ANU, PwC and Asialink. This was the first time in her life where she felt she belonged because of her identity and not purely of her networks and achievements. Jean has since launched her "love project", Sum of Jean (sumofjean.com), and shortly after proudly MC'd the ANU Melbourne Alumni Gala in Melbourne, where she presented a 6 minute speech expressing her gratitude for the work of the then-outgoing Chancellor Professor the Hon Gareth Evans AC QC had done; the challenges faced by Asian-Australians; and the importance of representation in senior leadership positions.
Jean created Sum of Jean to offer support to other Asian-Australian Women to align their life and career paths with their values, strengths and desires. As a woman who started a career in a traditional, masculine industry (banking), she hid a large part of herself in order to be seen as exceptional in her career, and did not embrace her feminine qualities such as intuition, expression and empathy which are the traits needed as leaders in the 21st century. Jean's vision for Asian-Australian Women is to truly see and believe in themselves, to walk boldly in the world and for their voices to be heard. To know that they are worthy. You can read about her learnings and stories through www.SumofJean.com.
As we reflect on Jean's journey since graduating from ANU, we think of other women close to graduation. As an Asian-Australian Woman, Jean highlights that Asian-Australian women often face two or more ceilings; the glass and the bamboo. The bamboo ceiling represents the barriers that exclude ethnic Asians from executive positions on the basis of subjective factors such as 'lack of leadership potential' and 'lack of communication skills'. Jean says, "approximately 13% of Australians are of Asian ethnicity, but only 1.6% are in senior leadership positions". These challenges can have significant psychological and emotional impact, as well as career advancement opportunities.
Jean's practical guidance that might help to unravel these challenges is to recognise what the external and internal barriers are.
a) "What can I and can't I change? Are there skills I need to improve on? Are there any self-limiting beliefs that I am placing on myself? Doing some internal work helps to shift our thinking"; and
b) "What are the external barriers? Are there opportunities available? To whom are they available? Who can I talk to about this? Is there someone who believes in me and can be a champion for me?"
When asked what advice she would share with women starting out on their career, Jean says, "My advice to women, and especially Asian-Australian Women starting out in their career is to acknowledge and accept your qualities as a) a woman, and b) as an Asian-Australian. This unique combination allows us to see situations from a different perspective and provides richness in creating innovative solutions that benefit themselves and our society. Having the innate and nuanced understanding of different cultures, behaviours, thinking and language allows them to flow seamlessly between cultures, and one that should most certainly be recognised and celebrated within themselves and in workplaces. Qualities such as respect, humility, thinking-before-speaking and empathy are equally important for the workplace and for them to become successful 21st century leaders".
We end our chat with Jean imparting some wisdom on the topic of gender equality, "the discussion of gender equality needs to include women from diverse backgrounds, including ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and gender identity. Currently the debate lacks diversity which results in the absence of a full-bodied discussion. We need to include other voices to ensure they are seen, heard and felt. Visibility is crucial for progress, as well as psychological and emotional wellbeing".
To hear more from Jean, visit www.SumofJean.com.