August 19, 2013 — Welcome to the latest in our series of #WomenCan profiles, highlighting executives and experts who are Catalysts for change within their companies and fields. This week, the spotlight is on Fang Lee Cooke, Professor of Human Resource Management and Asia Studies at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. Professor Cooke is an expert on Asian women in the workforce.
Meet: Fang Lee Cooke, PhD, Professor of Human Resource Management and Asia Studies, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia and author of HRM, Work and Employment in China; Competition, Strategy and Management in China; and Human Resource Management in China: New Trends and Practices.
Career path: I grew up in China and studied for my BA and MA degrees there before I married an Englishman, had our son, and migrated to Manchester, UK in January 1994, where I spent almost two years as a full-time stay-at-home mom. Because I had difficulty finding a job commensurate with the qualifications I’d obtained in China, I decided to go back to university in September 1995 for my MSc in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations. I hoped that having a Masters degree from a British university might increase my chances in the job market. I never intended to be an academic, but I was thrilled when my dissertation supervisor offered me a chance to continue studying for my PhD degree after I completed my MSc dissertation. A post-doctoral research position came up just as I was about to finish my PhD in 1999. I became a lecturer in 2001, senior lecturer (equivalent to an associate professor in the USA and Australia) in 2004, and a full professor at the University of Manchester in 2005.
New horizons: In February 2010, I migrated to Australia for its weather and its geographical and cultural closeness to Asia. This transnational migration opened up a whole new range of research and collaborative opportunities, and enabled me to focus more on Asia/China, researching on a wide range of issues related to human resource management, work, and employment. This helped me carve out a niche of expertise on topics that were under-investigated.
In China, and more broadly in East Asian countries where gender norms are largely informed by Confucian values, women continue to be the primary caregivers and are expected to prioritise their families’ needs and their husbands’ careers over and above their own needs and career aspirations. In the workplace, women are often considered less productive due to their family commitments, and are less likely to be promoted than their male counterparts. Research shows that women would like to receive more work-life balance support from their employers (e.g., childcare facilities and flexible working arrangements) as well as more career advancement opportunities (e.g., development and mentoring programmes), but very few Asia-based companies offer such programmes.
I am a Catalyst: As an academic, I act as a Catalyst for change in the workplace in a number of ways. First, I help raise the awareness of organisational leaders and future organisational leaders on gender equality and diversity issues through teaching and executive training and development programmes. Second, I act as a consultant to government organisations and NGOs and help influence policy decisions. Third, I disseminate research findings by publishing journal and conference articles, book chapters, and books. Fourth, I am actively involved with organisations such as Catalyst and the Australian Human Resource Institute that carry out advocacy work on gender and diversity issues.
My champions: Many people have helped me along the way. My MSc and PhD supervisor, Jill Rubery, is one of the most successful female academics in Europe. Studying and working under her taught me many of the skills required to advance my own academic career. Jill Earnshaw, an Employment Tribunal chairman in the UK and a senior lecturer of employment law at Manchester University, taught me to think logically and adopt a step-by-step approach to fact-finding and problem solving. Bernard Burnes, my second PhD supervisor, was an invaluable mentor throughout my time at Manchester University.
What’s the best advice you have for young women just starting out in the workforce?
- Work hard and stay focused.
- Have mentors who can offer advice and sponsors who can actively advocate for you in the workplace. But also pay attention to and learn from everyone around you.
- Key into your unique strengths and look for niche opportunities that set you apart. I decided to focus my research on work and employment in China. What will your specialty be?
Read our other #WomenCan profiles:
Watch and share our #WomenCan Video.