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Episode 1 Transcript – Interview with Shirol Liu

Anish:

Welcome to the innovating your career presented by Ascend Canada. Ascend Canada’s vision is to have a diverse and inclusive Canada where Pan Asian talent can achieve its full potential. This will be a 3-part pilot Podcast series we will provide listeners with innovation principles that are usually applied in a business context but can have applicability to your career. I am your host, Anish Patel. Today I’d like to welcome a leader who’s known for her brand as a change agent, Shirol Liu.

Shirol:

Thank you for having me here I’m very glad that I can join your podcast to kind of share some of the experiences that I’ve had, and I hope that listeners take some away to apply in their careers.

Anish:

We’re excited to have you Shirol, Welcome. Shirol, you have an interesting background, can you share with our listeners a bit of that background?

Shirol:

Sure, so not long ago I was talking to someone, talking about as a Pan-Asian how do we progress our career in an organization and the person kind of said to me, you may not understand because you in audit which is under the big finance world, which a lot of Pan-Asians are starting their career with. I said, ‘that is not the traditional career path that I decided to take for myself, I actually started from capital markets which is known for male-dominated area, Type A personalities usually in those environments so for me to start in my career I actually started in capital markets for about 12 years.’ For me to be there as probably one of the few women, a lot of times when I walk into a big board room or meeting room, I’m the only women, and let alone the only visible minority, a Pan-Asian, in that environment. That environment actually gave me a foundation to grow my career differently than other people.

Anish:

So, having worked in TD Securities as you’ve mentioned, a traditionally male-dominated environment, what have been some tips you can share with our listeners today that helped you be heard, and have your voice matter where you were able to actually influence the people at the table.

Shirol:

I think the approach I decided to take was not an easy recognition to actually say that is actually the approach I’m going to take, and it actually works. It took me a while obviously to recognize and to see the differences that I have compared to other people. So, rather than trying to blend in or trying to be the same as everybody else I decided to recognize I am different, I’m Pan-Asian and I’m a woman in this environment so what kind of advantage can I leverage to use on my own to differentiate myself in that type of environment. As I mentioned, in that environment, Type A personality and so everybody has very strong opinions and as woman and a Pan-Asian, we learned, at least in the culture that I’ve been brought up in is I have 2 ears and 1 month. I tend to listen twice before I speak and so because of that culture / upbringing actually gave me the advantage of learning how to listen to other people’s opinion and I became the person who is able to consolidate a lot of people’s opinions to get to that common ground, to bring people to consensus and now that naturally becomes, I am the one who can lead the conversation, I’m the one who can actually bring the different opinions together and because I decided to recognize the culture or to recognize who I am rather than trying to blend in or trying to cover up the differences that I have and so in that environment that’s one thing I decided to do. Leverage off my differences and have them become my advantage. Secondly, because I’m a woman and in my mind that’s OK to be the woman, probably the only women at the time I am actually managing those functions and so I kind of joke about it but I actually felt proud of the function I was leading because it was called Value at Risk, and it’s one of the particular function, and I became the VaR queen in that function so I became known for someone who is different in that environment but I’m also proud of it to. I think it’s when you start recognizing your difference and using that as your advantage towards the differences that you can actually see, that will actually drive to a better result rather than trying to be like everybody else or trying to blend in because that’s not the authentic you.

Anish:

I couldn’t agree with you more. From what we’ve seen in terms of brands that have been able to differentiate themselves, it’s the ones that do it differently. Apple’s one that sort of carved out their own category when it comes to best in class products. I love the mention of leaning into the differences and the complimentary skills versus replicating what you see around you, ‘oh these are my leaders, and these are the ways that they carry themselves, some of these things are great, but what’s missing?’ You went down the route of figuring out how can you bring additional value to that table versus being another loud voice, for a lack of better words. Thank you for sharing those insights. So, you’ve moved from capital markets into auditing and that too in a very data heavy focused role, can you tell us a bit more about what brought that move, and, shed a bit more light on how was that move possible?

Shirol:

Thank you for that question because I felt this is one of the journeys I will love to share with everyone who’s considering getting out of your comfort zone. Things that you probably you know have certain perceptions about and how do you move from one area to the other. I’m going to start sharing these background a little bit of two aspects because it helps me to move from capital markets into audit is actually because of sponsorship or the sponsors who helped me, that’s one, the whole component is the approach / way of looking at my career so maybe we bring it back that innovation arena, in how can you take a different or creative way of how you manage your career. I’ll starting from the sponsorship component. When I work with I my previous SVP on what my next role should be, the SVP kind of at the time he was telling me to say, ‘for you to take on the functions that I want you to deliver, here are the three deliverables I want you to deliver and I want you to finish everything within 18 to 24 months’. In my mind I was thinking that’s almost impossible, because of what he was asking me to do is very difficult and if those are the things in that particular area, people had tried that before. What I decided to do is I agreed with him, took on the challenge, but I did not take on the challenge myself. I being very transparent to my SVP said, ‘if you want me to take on these types of accountabilities, I need you to be on board with me, so all the proposal I’m coming forward, you have to carefully review, look and then support me. Don’t let me just do the job myself’, so that’s one. Second component is I also didn’t take the challenge in the risks myself either. I had four senior managers and what I decided to do is, I decided to split the accountability to each one of them, so I can almost kind of de-risk to centralize the risk of out of my level, I de-risk it so I give it to 1/4 of the component to each of the senior managers. Creating their buy-in to execute on the Vision and so they are on the same boat with me and so we can work towards the same goal rather than that’s ‘my’ goal, so we are basically working together as a team to make that realignment happen. Second is I have my SVP sponsor or kind of support because change is not easy, change also requires sometimes outside our organization’s help to and so with my SVP’s help, we were able to make the changes within 18 months and which we are very proud of because obviously there’s a lot more to it, but I think it’s, every time when trying to change something, or make a significant shift of the mindset, I’ll try not to take it on as that’s the only tasks that YOU are delivering, you share that with your stakeholder, you share that with your team and you make sure that they also see the same vision as what you see. That way you almost have an alliance in also support, top down, bottom up, to help you to drive the change. Because of that, I was able to deliver the change that my SVP was looking for. So, when the previous chief auditor was looking for someone who can come in to develop a brand-new data strategy within the audit division he was looking for someone who can work in a grey zone. Someone who is comfortable with not a lot of guidance, with a lot of ambiguity and is able to kind of make things from scratch or change things from scratch. I think that is where my name got brought up, because they both actually took the GO train together and so when they were chatting about ‘these are the things that I am looking for the audit division’, my SVP basically said, ‘I have somebody who just made the change to one of the most difficult changes in my world and that person could be also another ideal candidate for you.’ Without the sponsorship of my SVP it would be hard for me to move from one area to another, but sponsorship needs to be earned. It’s not something that is handed off freely to you. I also earned it through the work, I demonstrated I have the capabilities to deliver on what my SVP is looking for. That became a kind of a perfect match to begin with. Secondly, it also has to come from me, who is also looking for different challenges. People very often ask me, ‘why would you decide to go to audit why not a different area?’ I say it’s a very good question, to be honest everybody has a tendency of staying within your comfort zone and so when I was looking for my next role, I was also looking for area that I’m comfortable with. I am also very lucky to have a very good mentor. When I was sharing what I want to do as my next role, I started sharing with my mentor, because I have certain skill sets and experiences, maybe this is, area A or area B that will be something that I’m looking for. While I was talking about which area I want to get into, my mentor said, ‘stop thinking which area that you want to get in to, think about what skill sets you want developed in your next role.’ That made me actually rethink how can I actually do the search for my next area and when I started writing out what type of skill sets I really wanted developed for my next role, it just so happened the data strategy role in audit, matched with the profiles that I created for myself and because of that match, my SVP also supported it because I also shared the profile I created with him and he said, ‘that’s a perfect match for what you are looking for your next career role.’ When you put it all together as a package, that’s why and how I moved into the audit division and so a lot of times people ask me why you interested in audit, I say, ‘I did not target audit, I actually targeted the role that will actually and let me grow and just so happened that role is actually in audit.

Anish:

Appreciate you sharing those insights with us, kind of like the behind the curtain of what actually took place to have you move from the capital markets to audit. I want to reiterate some of the themes that I took away from what you’ve shared, the endorsement from your leader, the ability to have the confidence to not say no to a request, but say, ‘in order for me to be setup for success, I’m going to need you in the trenches with me.’ You’re not shying away from knowing it’s easier done with a village than by yourself. You mentioned empowering your direct reports, where you made their victory and not your own, you moved to empower them by sharing the different streams of work and allowing them to run with it. Allowing them to come up with different solutions and collectively, leaning into your core competency you were able to piece it all together. I would agree being a change agent is not easy, but it sounds like that you’ve naturally begun becoming an expert in. It is exciting to hear and working in the grey and ambiguity, I think a lot of folks that think about innovation, it happens in the grey, but I think one of the things your helping myself and hopefully our listeners wrap our heads around is innovation doesn’t need to be an isolated activity, it can be one that as a group can be achieved. Figuring out the right skills / experiences and the pain points is easier with more than one brain.

Shirol:

Absolutely.

Anish:

You mentioned you were able to find a unique skill that peers of yours lacked. You were able to enter a room and become observant on seeing what many of the surrounding team members possessed in terms of being very confident, very dominant personalities and you recognized the lack of a voice or sorts where the personalities needed someone to create alignment and you without being told, took on that responsibility. Can you tell us more about how you did that?

Shirol:

I have to credit Ascend Canada. Kelvin Tran reached out a few years ago and asked me to attend the executive insights series, through that three-day course, it opened my mind on what are the things that Pan-Asian’s value or the way how we were brought up and how that impacts maybe my thought process, maybe my behavior. Without that course, I will think those behaviors are or mindset are part of my personality and because it’s a personality you will never think about trying to change that, you will feel it’s a part of you and you shouldn’t change that. For example, if I am an introvert, I won’t think of changing that, but because of that executive insights series, it opened up my eyes that there are certain ways because of my values or I’ve been brought up. For example, going back to what I said, the Chinese culture is you have two ears and one mouth, so you better listen twice before you speak. It’s almost sort of respecting elders, respecting authority, and, that makes me feel I need to quiet, and I need to listen first to the authority or the people who have a higher hierarchy and what they are talking about because they must be right. But what that executive insights series taught me is my upbringing is actually something you can actually adjust and learn to change and to recognize those differences. I started thinking of the disadvantage or difference as my advantage or becomes things I can adopt or adjust to the environment I am actually in. That helps me to see the initial differences / advantage that I have in that male-dominated environment to something that I feel I can actually leverage off what I have and recognize what other people don’t have because I’m different, and, how can I actually use that to bring different value to the table and that actually helps me kind of change my thought process and change the way how I approach things. I will say again, that’s going back to what Ascend really helps me, because Ascend really helps bring out what’s the differences in Pan-Asians’ and also the cultures that we actually grew up in, which we should cherish too.

Anish:

Great insight it sounds like a great workshop that really helped reframe the conversation from thinking about your upbringing, your culture, and thinking some of the learnings were things that weakened you, instead it gave you me and you lens to look through, to see being respectful, being observed, having 2 ears 1 mouth are things that you’ve been conscious of since you were young. And, in a room where being the only female, being a visible minority, the upbringings are highly likely not the same, and, being able to lean into it and understanding how to apply the values has been great. To switch gears a little, what does innovation mean to you?

Shirol:

I think it’s a lot of times people will think innovation has to be something very creative. The way how I look at it, innovation is almost kind of a guiding principle in my mind, is what I can do to add different value for the organization, for the things I do, and, even as a mom at home, what are the different perspectives I can share with my child. So, it does not have to be the most amazing things the best product, to me innovation should be part of your daily life, should be part of your natural thinking in what type of different value are you putting on the table. To me that’s actually innovation, not just the big ‘I’ of the best products or the most amazing projects that you deliver.

Anish:

I love the definition, great conversation so far. As we near the end of our time together what are 3 takeaways you’d like to leave with our listeners on this Podcast today.

Shirol:

I will say innovation, it is something that you need to practice every day, it’s a muscle, like you have muscle memories. What I leverage from the experiences that I have, the first time when I’m trying to do this it’s not something easy that’s why I say it took me a while even to recognize my own differences and how do I apply the differences into something that will work towards my advantage. When you try it ones, twice, obviously it will come more naturally and so, same thing as when you say I’m known as a ‘change agent’, it’s not easy to do with the first time, but I think the more you try to practice the better the result that will come. Secondly, in innovation I think it also requires you remove a lot of assumptions that you have. It’s very interesting, just like when people say, ‘you would not understand this because you are in audit / in accounting area’, I came from captain markets, so what kind of presumptions were made for yourself or when you are searching for your next challenges, what type of boundaries do you start putting for your yourself. To use an example, a lot of times when you look at job postings and the job posting will say, this requires SAS skills for 5 years, that you have to be able to work with SAS language. I think a lot of times when we look at that we put a presumption that, ‘I don’t have that skill set so I’m not qualified for the job’, I’m asking you to think innovatively, think differently. First of all, why would that job require that skill sets to begin with and why would that certain job require that type of skill sets or a type of experiences to begin with? Understanding that it’s more important than just putting in the boundary for yourself to say, ‘I don’t have it, or I never had that experience before’. The last piece I mentioned about networking or sponsorship, I think it’s a lot of times is your mentor, your peers, your people leader, people that you trust, will give you a very different perspective of how you look at your career or how you look at the things that you want to do. I think it’s that outside voice definitely will help you to look at your career differently and to help guide you to achieve different goals. I would say those are the 3 key takeaways I would like to leave with our listeners.

Anish:

Great takeaways. Earlier, before we started the Podcast you mentioned the empowerment of your narrative, your story. Lean into the components that light you up bring a joy to you, don’t get fixated on don’t have and summate the conversation to be, what is your strength, your unique factor that you have that someone else doesn’t have. I think when you take that view on it, you will find a way to always add value, no matter what the situation is. I love the example of having those outside voices also play a role. Be a critical thinker in terms of understanding what they’re saying fits with the situation but having those trusted alliances go a long way, especially when it comes to an idea where you may be blinded by having seen it for too long and have drunken the cool-aid, it’s always helpful to have a trusted voice sanity check. For listeners who are considering a pivot from their current role into possibly a space where they don’t have those skills that are sort of on the job application, the SAS, the X amount of years with something specific, what are some tidbits you’d share with them in terms of positioning themselves to effectively sort of tackle that interview.

Shirol:

Before we jump into the interview component, also my mentor shared with me, when I am looking for my next role, how do I do an assessment to tell myself that is actually a good role to jump into it. He said he has a 1/3 rule. Any new role that you are considering for your next opportunity, 1/3 of the job or role, you should be make an impact right away. Another 1/3, it will be something that makes you nervous, you know you have something to learn, has a steep learning curve, but you know you can do it, you just need time. The last 1/3 should scare the hell out of you, because that’s the only component that you will truly grow exponentially, you won’t even know you had that potential in you before. I’ve been using that 1/3 rule to help me and even to help me in my transition to audit, I tried to apply that. A lot of times you have a lot of skills you may not be aware are transferable so when you actually go through that exercise, you will realize a lot of things are kind of similar in some aspect, so that’s the 1/3 you can actually make an impact right away. There’s going to be 1/3 that you’re going to need to learn, you kind of are aware of knowing about it but your just not the expert. The other 1/3, I have to be honest is when I first joined audit, the first 3-6 months I really went home every day with a headache just because that was the area I was so comfortable, I didn’t even know where to start, but to be honest, that’s also the area that I probably grew the most.

Anish:

It’s great to hear from your time in a new space where that 1/3 of its got to scary you lived up and knowing that it was supposed to and it’s not this uncomfortable scenario that only you’re going through, but it’s anyone that goes into a space where they may not have that sort of history of expertise in, there’s going to be a steep learning curve, but it’s a normal thing for it to happen. Shirol this has been great, I want to thank you once again for taking the time to speak with us today. I am sure like myself, many of our listeners value the insights you’ve been able to share with us. Before we say good bye, if our listeners are like to hear more from you, is there a place to do so, are you on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook?

Shirol:

I am on LinkedIn, so you feel free to connect with me. Definitely, I would love to share my experiences and to help other people if they have different questions regarding their career, always more than happy to help.

Anish:

Amazing, thank you once again, listeners this is your host signing off, stay well and keep innovating.