Thank you so much for taking the time out for us to interview you!
Lin Yue is an Executive Director at Goldman Sachs Asset Management in London. She is responsible for growing and managing key relationships across UK institutional investors.
As one of the senior executives of mainland Chinese origin in the City of London, she has helped elevate women and ethnic minorities in the workplace. She inspired professionals to challenge stereotypes, and to strive for success as their authentic self. She is a thought leader on Diversity & Inclusion, workplace cultures, and decoding differences between China and the West - her insights and speeches are widely sought for their unique perspectives, originality and passion.
Lin has been honoured on many occasions for her work. She was recognised on the HERoes 100 Women Future Leaders List in 2020, as a top 5 Future Leaders for HERoes Women Role Model , on Brummell’s list as one of the 50 most inspirational women in the City of London, one of the 50 Ethnic Minority Future Leaders by EMpower, and the winner of the “Excellence in Banking” award at the Chinese Business Leaders Awards.
A graduate of Experimental Psychology from Oxford University, Lin is also passionate about applying psychology in the workplace and beyond and making life skills accessible to all.
Sheena: Why did you decide to be an advocate for diversity?
Lin: Coming from mainland China, working for an American company with British clients has proven to be an interesting, but apparently less travelled journey. As a millennial born after the one child policy in China, moving to the UK transformed my perspectives, from being part of a majority of 1.4 billion people, to being a minority in the UK – not only do I tick the ethnic minority box, but the gender box too. I never thought being on a plane for 12 hours from China to the UK would mean I was perceived so differently, I mean, I am still me, but the experience is fascinating.
I realise that people’s perceptions of me are vastly different from what I was used to before – for example, as a Chinese person working in finance, people think I must be very good at maths, very good at exams, they are not totally untrue but that’s not something I actively identified with before. Then I realise the number of times that people assume I have a national advantage at ping pong is just staggering, never mind that I know nothing about the sport. I have also been told by my colleagues, that speaking to me is full of “surprises”. A good example of that is language. “How are you?” It's often not a genuine question. It took me quite a while to figure that out as I've observed a few scared faces from my colleagues who heard me start talking about how I really was, and it's certainly not – “I am fine, thanks”.
At the very beginning when I started working in the City, I hadn’t appreciated the enormity of the tasks of moving from another country that is so culturally distinct. At work specifically, there is also a huge challenge, what’s known as a bamboo ceiling – which means East Asians/Chinese have one of the lowest chances of rising to management.
Coming back to the question, why did I work on diversity? If you ask someone their life defining moments no one said it's a holiday, most people say it's the adversity we face and how we grow above it. My experience being in the minority has opened some perspectives I’d never have in China where I would be in the privileged group, but it afforded me a lens to see the dynamics between dominant and non-dominant groups because I’ve been in both. And that insight is a very enriching experience which provides a sense of purpose, and that helps in contributing to people's diverse thinking.
Sheena: From your work, what are the most pressing questions people ask about diversity?
Lin: There has been a lot of talk at the society level, at the industry level, at the firm and team levels about diversity. Perhaps it’s fair to say, given the recent movements, from metoo to BLM, we’ve all learnt a huge amount about diversity.
But diversity can be regarded as a politically correct term or an issue of social justice. It is often discussed in very vague terms. In business, diversity training can make people believe that it’s something they have to attend, something that’s imposed on people.
What’s worse is sometimes it can backfire as well. Much of the unconscious bias training provides an excuse for people when they behave poorly, because they will say, it’s unconscious, so it can’t be my fault. Even with the best intentions from people, studies find that after diversity training, people can behave worse. Why? Because they felt they ticked the box, so they’ve done their bit, that gives them permission to do what they want.
Certainly through my work, I found that the number 1 question people ask about diversity is this – we’ve done our diversity training, we feel so energized by the speakers, we want to do something, but what do we do on a day to day basis? I found this to be true myself – I went to a great talk, being so inspired by the speaker and then I got back to my desk, checking emails, and a few hours later, nothing happens.
A lot of my work is to help address some of that disconnection between training and our daily business conduct in a way. Whilst it’s under the topic of diversity, but it’s not, it’s about professional development; it’s about building psychological safety and it’s about belonging. It’s about a refreshing mindset about diversity where diversity is every bit about our business – on an individual level, it can form part of our professional development, for example, diverse thinking and hearing others’ perspectives can be a gateway to accessing self-awareness, more effective communication and help us to become better leaders. More broadly, at the team and organisational level, the access to the diversity science and insights will drive a better quality of decision making, performance and commercial results.
Sheena: What is your view of the challenges Chinese professionals face?
Lin: Instead of challenges I also see tremendous opportunities. This upcoming generation, the millennials and beyond, is the generation that is more similar than previous ones. It goes beyond gender, race, faith, we are tech savvy, values led, constraints in generations previously impact this generation a lot less. As an example, when asked about same sex marriage, 70% of Chinese millennials support it which is a similar number to the US. Business communities listen because they are very powerful consumers and we have tremendous opportunities here.
Within this context, I see two layers of barriers – one is on the subject of China, one is on Chinese. And once we break down those perceived barriers we can unlock some of the tremendous opportunities I’ve just outlined.
On China - If you think about what’s going on in the world, the future trends in the next decades, it all comes down to a few trends. For example, technology, sustainability, demographic changes such as millennials where china has 400mn of them, all of these big topics we care about here are so interlinked with China, so without, the understanding of our future won’t be complete.
By contrast it's quite rare for the current dialogues to have a voice from China. It's like we are the conversation, but we are not part of the conversation. So my view is to incorporate the first-hand experience from China, help define the emerging identity of this generation of Chinese and how that links to the world. China will be the largest economy in less than a decade; people who have access to that thinking will be well positioned.
On the topic of Chinese, specifically Chinese working in the West, the first step is more awareness. Our issue is not getting into the companies, but about moving up in the organisation. Studies from Ascend, a think tank in the US highlights that the cultural factor is almost four times worse than the gender factor for Chinese. For Chinese women in particularly, they are facing these double factors of both gender and culture. And whilst people often group Asians together, this is a huge division when it comes to the bamboo ceiling, recent studies from the US National Academy of Science shows that South Asians are not impacted by it as much, and bamboo ceiling is very specific to East Asians and Chinese. The experience between East Asians/Chinese and South Asians in terms of rising to management is very different so putting us all in the Asian bucket undermines the potential issue here.
We also have to recognise we are the first generation of mainland Chinese working in multinationals in the West; there is not a lot of intelligence on us or from us. We are seen as smart/technical, people often don’t realise we have serious challenges. We are navigating our ways from very different cultural upbringings and beliefs and we are paving our own paths as we speak.
Sheena: You mentioned diversity is much linked to our day to day business; can you give us an example how it’s linked?
Lin: Let’s take a simple example of meetings, who’s speaking and who’s not.
There is research that shows that the first or second person who speaks in a meeting actually sets the agenda, the people who speak during the first third of a meeting receive more credibility. But in some backgrounds, people have to be asked to give their ideas, because this is what is considered the norm for them. They will respond with their ideas only once asked, but not before. Also they were told not to speak unless whatever they say is perfectly well prepared. American style, off the cuff comments, or half developed ideas leave some people very uncomfortable.
For Western companies, esp American ones, the general belief is very much the Squeaky wheels get the grease, in our cultures, the opposite is true, that is the loudest duck gets shot.
So in this case my experience and my colleagues experience are almost in a parallel universe. So when I didn’t say things in meetings, these three things were happening – I am waiting for my cue to speak because its rude to talk over each other, I am paying my respect don't want to be the loudest duck, and I don’t want to give half-baked comments because we were told only to speak up when answers were perfect. It took me a long time to understand how others think of me when I don't speak – they also have three thoughts: she doesn’t have views, she isn’t confident or she has poor communication skills. Those are pretty damaging perceptions for a person in our organisation. No one has decoded for me other than simply asking me to speak up, and I had several crises because of it.
Now with that knowledge I can do something about it, and there are a few layers, or a framework of my actions here.
Firstly, I think understanding diversity really helped me with awareness. For example, I wasn’t speaking up in meetings. Now I realise why, I was told by my culture to behave this way, but my culture is not me, at least not me entirely. I now have a choice. This is really quite important because I used to think there was something wrong with me, and people who gave me the feedback asked me to fix it without understanding where I come from either, I take it very personally. This decoding of what influences our behaviour was really very liberating.
Secondly, I am also more aware if I don’t speak out, how that’s perceived by others. With both internal and external self-awareness, I can now choose what to do. It’s important to highlight this is not about changing who we are, but changing styles, meaning modifying a set of behaviours depending on the situations. I now choose to share my views more because I realise I don’t have to conform to my Chinese culture, but at the same time, I still don’t make half-baked comments as the squeaky wheels. I am taking ownership of how I present myself, levering a fuller range of expressiveness depending on the situation.
Sheena: Are there any further steps we can take to drive further changes?
Lin: Absolutely, what I described earlier was about the steps I take as an individually, but there are also two further steps to take within the frame, one is at the team level, and the other is organisational or industry level.
At the team level
With the understanding of cultivating diverse thinking, I am also reaching out to my colleagues, to my team to bridge the gaps in perceptions. If I don’t share, how would they know? How would they know if I am just showing my respect? I think it’s a responsibility to contribute to the diversity intelligence, sharing perspectives; redirect other’s perceptions on how they should see us.
I am also being open and taking a risk to be vulnerable here, and that is also important to cultivate a sense of psychological safety as a leader of our business.
Lastly, at the organisational level
The key here is to appreciate that diversity, inclusion, belonging are three distinctive tasks. The first step is Diversity itself, is for everyone having a seat at the table, secondly, its inclusion, it’s about everyone having a voice and the last step, is belonging, is for that voice to be heard.
For me, I mentioned the biggest challenge for Chinese professionals is this bamboo ceiling and I am driving some industry wide changes to address it. This is a very individual journey for me. We need everyone’s help for this, and it will only work if individuals, teams and organisations come together, to apply the insights on diversity, drive changes to be more inclusive.