Women in the process industry are still a minority – even though typically female abilities such as communicatin, reflection, or cooperation are more sought-after than ever. Alice Zhang regards herself as a role model and is keen to inspire future colleagues.
Spend just five minutes with Alice Zhang and it becomes clear that you are speaking with someone who is clever, insightful, and driven. Her motto – “It’s important to always conduct yourself in a manner that is professional” – forms her vision, her focus, and her dedication to her colleagues, clients, and the various projects she’s involved in.
Years ago, a small town girl decided to build a career in the sprawling city of Shanghai, a metropolis she calls home. What brought her to this cosmopolitan city and motivated her to pursue a career in consulting was a very personal journey inspired by the women in her life. “The first time I came to Shanghai was a definitive moment for me. I still remember how in awe I was of rows upon rows of skyscrapers. Concrete jungles, where professionals dressed smartly darted in and out of buildings,” she muses. She first laid eyes on Shanghai from the seat of an incoming train. It’s clear that when she speaks about her early memories of Shanghai that the feelings she felt nearly twenty years ago, have resurfaced in the course of this conversation.
Her admiration for China’s largest city was only matched by the respect that she holds for her cousin, who had worked hard to forge a life and a career in a city far away from the place where both women were raised. “I had just finished school and had really wanted to see my cousin. We both grew up in Fushun, a small city in Northwest China where people are likely to remain all of their lives,” she says of her hometown. Small is relative though as Fushun has just over two million people, but in a nation with a population of 1.3 billion you get her point. People from this region are known for possessing a straightforward, honest sense of humor, one which presents itself here and there when discussing her life and career.
Life in one of China’s major cities
“Moving to Shanghai was a huge step for my cousin, who was determined to pursue her goals. Her family told her that the challenges of living in a big city would be too stressful. She was the first person in our family to leave Fushun, taking a small suitcase and all of her dreams along with her. And she made it! She built herself up professionally and carved out a life in one of China’s major cities. She was such an inspiration for me.”
Women in her family tend to be independent and openminded. She credits her mother for going against the grain and raising her to follow her own voice. “The very first working woman I observed was my mum. She worked hard, she was dedicated, and she had a goal. You always remember your first role model and she is such a good one. I think who I am is partially because of her. She was committed to helping me figure out what I wanted out of life and I’m really thankful for that.”
What did she want out of life? At university, Alice majored in construction economics and management, minoring in accounting. She set her sights on a career in international business. After completing her education, she worked as a planning scheduler for various companies before joining an international chemical company. During the first year there, a huge opportunity arose. “The company decided to run a major plant upgrading project. I immediately thought, if I can get myself into this project, I can really learn a lot. So, I asked my manager if I could join the project and he agreed.”
It was through this position that she first came into contact with T.A. Cook who were supporting the project with training and coaching. “When the project was successfully completed, my contract ended and I was looking for a new opportunity. I enjoyed working with the team from T.A. Cook so when the offer came to work for them I was really excited.” Working as a consultant allows her to constantly learn and develop. She likes to be part of new projects and to get familiar with new situations and challenges. Talking about challenges, the gender topic comes up. While she loves her job, she can’t help noticing that there are not many women in this business. But she is confident that this will change soon.
“I think that having role models at work is essential for women in all professions. The ability to see ourselves reflected in job positions or careers that we find interesting can influence our individual career goals and objectives. But it’s also beneficial for companies to have diversity. When people from different backgrounds, genders, and races come together to solve problems, they bring with them different skills, opinions, and perspectives. This mix brings a grab bag of benefits to the table. That’s what I really enjoy about my current job at T.A. Cook, and I hope that I can inspire young women.”