Cecilia, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you find yourself in Calgary?
Growing up, I always know there is a hierarchy in the family that is based on gender and seniority. The most senior male in the family always gets the ultimate say to everything. Daughter in-laws and daughters are either not allowed to be recorded on the family tree or they are all named as “Mrs. Chen” or “daughter of xxx” with no real identification. My mother was the first one that fought about that for herself and her two daughters because she was one of a few women in the family that was financially independent. Significantly influenced by my mother, I am always motivated to seek gender equivalence, which led me to Canada. If coming to Canada was my first milestone in that search, then coming to Calgary was my second, and this time specifically from a financial perspective. Calgary is a young and vibrant city. The only thing that capable and ambitious women need is opportunity to shine and rise. In my opinion, there is no better place to do that than Calgary.
You work in financial services. As a woman and a leader, how are you carving out a place for yourself and other women in this industry?
It is hard to point to one thing that I see as critical here. Let me try to use an analogy, if I may. Chinese has an old saying “women are like water.” Back then when our ancestors said that, it was to encourage women to be pure, soft and gentle. I see a different definition here. Water is extremely flexible and adaptable. No matter what shapes the containers are, it can turn itself into that shape. Water is extremely persistent. It originates itself from the summit of the mountains and doesn’t stop until it pushes all its way to ocean. Water is extremely inclusive. Drops of water collectively form themselves into running rivers and rivers collectively form themselves into a powerful ocean. No one can ignore the power of one small drop. The list goes on… I hope I am making sense here. Haha! But those are things I see as really important to be successful in any environment and as women, we’re already born with them. We just need to know how to use the great tools we have and be really comfortable with ourselves. Then you will be noticed!
Chinese has an old saying “women are like water.” Back then when our ancestors said that, it was to encourage women to be pure, soft and gentle. I see a different definition here.
Thank you so much for doing a photoshoot while being beautifully pregnant. We need more photoshoots like this! This your second child, right? What's your biggest lesson as a mother?
I feel I only learnt how to be considerate of others when I became a mother. Nurturing an independent life from zero to one is a magical experience. The kind of unconditional love and trust you get from your kids are really mind blowing to me.
We loved how you put on our Morocco Chemise and said, "I am not taking it off, I love it!" The financial service industry must have a “uniform”. Is the industry now more accepting of women wearing what they want, while still “meaning all business all the time”?
Oh, the Morocco Chemise is my “uniform” now! I just love how it hugs my body. The industry most definitely has a “uniform”. One of the female executives I used to work with wore the same three sets of clothes all year long. It turns out that she bought 5 of each, so she had options. Her reason was she was tired of thinking about what to wear everyday, with so much on her plate already. I try to make my day more fun with different clothes (of course not now that I can hardly fit into anything). I play with color, accessories and fabric. It is important to start your day with positivity. I would say the industry now is more accepting of women wearing what they want, especially at SmartBe. This company is very modern and open-minded. I LOVE it!
First image above: Cecilia at the SmartBe Wealth office looking fabulous in the HK Rock Salt Robe. Left: Cecilia in her new favourite “uniform” the HK Morocco Chemise Right: Outside in the HK Rock Salt Robe.
We hope we can bring this up – you have talked about being an immigrant in Canada and finding yourself in two worlds. How does that work? Is your community accepting of your leadership and ambition? Is there anything that we can learn from you about being a Chinese immigrant in Canada?
To be comfortable with who you are is tough for anyone, regardless of their nationality or culture. However, I find it especially challenging when trying to do that in a foreign country. Sometimes it feels like you are in a “high school girl fight” situation. You have two good girlfriends that are distinctively different and don’t necessarily get along with each other, yet you try to be friends with both. This is like me trying to embrace my Chinese background while trying to be accepted by local western community. Plus, we throw the word “ambitious” on top of it? Oh gosh, it is just not easy. You just have to be sure about who you want to be and just focus on being that person and ignore everything else. People that are meant to be your friends will always be.
Only when the minority groups get empowered financially, can we start to look at real equality.
You live and work in Calgary, Alberta. What is your sense of the political and economic discourse happening right now? How is your company looking to bring commercial value and social impact to its community?
SmartBe’s mission is to bring highly sophisticated financial strategies that are normally only accessible to high net worth individuals, to the general Canadian public. The ETF product we developed (SBEA) is the vehicle that enables SmartBe to do that. It is hard to talk about any equal rights if 80% of the wealth globally is controlled by 20% of the population. Only when the minority groups get empowered financially, can we start to look at real equality. That is why I think SBEA is a powerful tool that SmartBe has and can make a real commercial and social impact to all of Canada, especially now we are in such an uncertain and unstable political and economical environment.
The countdown is on! When are you expecting? Will you manage to take some time off?
I am expecting in Feb 2020. SmartBe is the most supportive company for gender equivalence that I have ever worked for. They basically leave the decision up to me to choose what is the best for me and my family. I plan to take some time off, but not sure how much. As much as I love to be a mother, I really enjoy being part of the exciting entrepreneurial journey that SmartBe is currently on.
Having it all, wanting it all. Is that representative of you? How do you juggle it all? Do you have self care rituals that are sacred to you?
Of course, I want it all! I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. My “all” changes over time though. Now, I want to be a good daughter, sister, wife, mother and CFO of a fast growing start up. How do I juggle? First, I enjoy the challenges and admit that I will not be perfect and might fail. Ultimately, I just “want it all” not “want it all to be perfect”– right?
The best self care ritual I acquired is to surround myself with positive and supportive people. Too much daily chaos can bring your energy down. It makes such a huge difference if you surround yourself with the right kind of people. The kind of network that Harris Kuipers and The51 have introduced me to are fantastic. I also try to eat well, read more and most importantly, listen more.
Do you know of any organizations that are changing things for women, economically, socially and professionally?
I might be biased here but I would recommend the SmartBe Wealth. Not because it is the start up company that I am part of. SmartBe truly offers great educational webinars and podcasts about investment and has gathered a group of highly respected financial experts globally to do that. PLUS, IT IS FREE! So regardless of gender, social status or economical situation, anyone can access it. Check it out! The other organization that I am super excited about is The51. I love the energy this organization has injected into the community. It is so wonderful to see women support each other and learn from each other. We “lean in” and “lean on each other”.
Can you tell us about one book we should know about?
I really enjoy reading “Imagine it Forward” by Beth Comstock. I haven’t finished the book yet, but it has already helped me a ton. Beth believes in innovation and she’s not afraid to create disruption and push for changes. It really re-assured me about moving ahead without knowing all of the answers.
We want to follow you and what you do! How do we do that?