As part of our Leading Women series, we want to highlight the professional challenges and career aspirations of the women we work with here in Asia. In this story, Paula Wang, Director of App Developer Sales (APAC) at Google, talks about the pain of rejection, the role of luck in her career and what it’s like to be a female leader in a billion-dollar company.
Q: As a female leader, what leadership lessons have you learnt over the course of your career?
When I was working in Washington a few years ago, most of the leaders in our industry were of a different gender. They would hang out after work or go boating at Lake Washington, and I, being one of only two women in that group, was not invited. That experience was not pleasant, but it taught me about inclusion, either when you are leading an organisation or just collaborating with your peers. It was a valuable lesson learnt for any leader, not just a woman leader.
Q: What do you think are the main challenges and opportunities for the next generation of women leaders?
I really do think that the opportunities outweigh the challenges. Take the US Presidential Election, for example. It’s exciting to see a woman of colour being the new elected Vice President for one of the most powerful countries in the world. Certainly, the awareness level is unprecedented with regard to diversity and inclusion. We’re also seeing a lot of good progress in the business world and politics. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw great leadership demonstrated in countries like Germany and New Zealand, both nations led by a female leader. So for the next generation of women leaders, they should feel like they’re standing on the shoulders of other women. The future is very bright for women leaders.
Q: What strategies do you have to help these women obtain more prominent roles?
We have to build our own confidence in whatever that we do. We have to have a vision that’s beyond ourselves as leaders. The second piece that’s very critical is allyship. It’s important for us to identify folks who may look and think and act differently from us, but they can be our sponsors, our advocates, in terms of diversity. I think that would be a good strategy for any women leader — or anybody, really — who is the minority representation in a certain group to adopt.
Q: Have you always imagined yourself in a leadership position? Or did you stumble into it?
Growing up, I have always wanted to be better, to be more respected. So I think it’s a combination of both. There’s the intentional piece of wanting to be somebody who’s doing something significant, but there is also certainly a factor of luck involved as well. Luck plays an important role sometimes.
Q: What are some ways you’ve gained more confidence in yourself as a leader?
I try to emphasise the leadership piece more than the women piece. Part of that is probably just the period of time I grew up in. For me, it always starts from domain knowledge. The confidence, for me, always comes from a good mastery of whatever that thing is. Having a group of advisors, such as mentors, sponsors, your peers, your friends or family members, who can see you, see the value in you, that can really help when you are down. Your support system becomes especially critical when maintaining confidence.
Q: What’s one thing that you’ve learnt that you would not have believed six to nine months ago?
Resilience. It’s a pretty high demanding job that I have, and dealing with some of these challenges on the personal front. My parents are actually with me during this time period, and both of them have health issues. So, yes, resilience. It seems like we have more than what we give ourselves credit for sometimes.
Q: What has been your bravest career moment?
For me, bravery is manifested when you truly believe in something that’s bigger, and then you are not compromising what you believe in just because somebody who is more powerful has a different opinion. I have certainly had occasions when I would stand up for what I believe in, even in front of much more senior people. Surprisingly, when you do that, and you share your vision, people have to come around and support you.
Q: Once the travel ban lifts, what’s your first holiday destination?
It will take a while to really go back to Safe Mode, but I think New Zealand seems pretty clear and safe. That would be a good place for me to revisit again.
Q: How did you deal with your first rejection?
I think I have had many experiences with rejection. The first one was not related to work. Many years ago, I applied for my graduate study in the US. I was rejected by the US Consulate in Shanghai, China. That was very hard because, prior to that, I was doing pretty well with my life. What I learnt was that there are always things that you can control, but there are more things you cannot control. So you just have to learn to balance your perspective when you’re in a tough situation. Rejection makes us stronger, and I am very grateful for that. In fact, not long after that, I was able to go to the US to get my MBA.
Q: Now that you are part of a billion-dollar company, what are the pressures that you have experienced? What keeps you going?
The business that I am in is high growth. It’s very dynamic. It changes all the time because it has to do with the future of user privacy. There’s a lot of interactions with the public sector. We are in the developer space, the pressure oftentimes comes from the unknown. So how do you stay flexible and adapt to the new business environment? Thankfully, we are a relatively young business, and we are very agile. So far, we’ve been consistently growing for the past four to five years. It can be hard and challenging for me and the team, but we would rather be in a high growth and unpredictable space than something that’s the opposite.
Q: What trait are you known for at Google?
I am known for being able to spot trends and then build something around that trend. Speaking of which, we are right in the midst of building something that’s going to be very big. It’s an exciting time for us.