The Kindness, Understanding and Collaborative Spirit of Female Leadership

Cecily Liu

A year at INSEAD allowed me to reflect deeply about female leadership. From discussions inside the INSEAD classroom to the incredible seminars hosted by the Women in Business Club, discussions on female leadership and gender equality are abundant.

Having heard from many great female professors, guest speakers, alumni and classmates, I feel truly inspired.

As the recipient of INSEAD Women's Scholarship for my cohort, I also reflected on what is the significance of being a female leader for me.

After thinking long and hard, I realised that female leadership is magical in a way that it welcomes diversity, so that every female leader could discover their true voice.

I finally realised, that for me, female leadership is often not about being the loudest, having titles like ‘team leader’ or ‘team captain’, or even being restricted to the mission of being a spokesperson for women’s increased participation in the workplace. Rather, it is about the wider mission of actively contributing towards fostering world peace through kindness, understanding and collaboration. These values, deeply embedded in me, have been passed down through the teachings of my grandmother, who is a powerful female role model in my life.  

My grandma was born in 1932, as the fourth child in a poor rural family of 13. She lived at a time when basic food and medicine were scarce, and education was a luxury for most rural girls. She fought hard for an opportunity to attend some basic classes at her village school, but it was only after she had taken care of all household responsibilities and put her younger siblings to bed every evening that she made time to review her class notes.

Cecily Liu (left) with grandma (second left) and wider family
Cecily Liu (left) with grandma (second left) and wider family

Although she received no formal education beyond primary school, she never allowed that to limit her career. She later became an accountant in a factory and gradually learned the skills of the trade from long evenings of self-study and from watching older workers. Just like how she took care of her younger siblings at home, in the professional space she took every opportunity to mentor younger colleagues, encouraging them to fulfil their dreams like she did.

By the time I was born, in 1990, access to education and career opportunities for girls in both China and globally have greatly improved.

After completing primary school in China, I moved with my parents to live in New Zealand, an experience that allowed me to develop an international perspective and awareness of different cultures.

I became fascinated by the power of language and communications, and after completing my BA in English Literature, I developed a meaningful career in the media and communications industry.

I feel extremely grateful for all the education and careers opportunities I received.

This sense of gratefulness, combined with the value of kindness I learnt from my grandmother, has prompted me to consistently work towards helping others less fortunate than I am. In recent years I have dedicated my summer holidays to organise lessons for children in some of China’s poorest regions. Watching these children become more confident in embracing their dreams has helped me to discover a new purpose and way of connecting with the world.

Volunteering in rural China - the value of kindness I learnt from my grandmother has prompted me to consistently work towards helping others less fortunate than I am
Volunteering in rural China - the value of kindness I learnt from my grandmother has prompted me to consistently work towards helping others less fortunate than I am

My upbringing, meaningful career, and life values have all led me to my decision to pursue an MBA at INSEAD.

Coming to INSEAD, I met many inspiring female leaders who have in their own way empowered their teams, mentored others, made meaningful impact in the world, and developed a leadership voice of their own.

Their actions, missions and values have all become a part of my INSEAD experience. Combined with the quieter version of female perseverance, kindness and collaborative spirit I learnt from my grandmother, I feel that I’m increasingly learning to embrace my true leadership voice.

I believe that growing female participation in the workplace is not just a statistical goal, but more importantly an opportunity to promote the nurturing values of kindness, compassion and understanding. I strive to become an ambassador of these values and mentor younger females to achieve the same, so that together we may make the world a more inclusive place for generations to come.