Women experts discuss gender issues and how to build successful China-related careers in London Wanel


NüVoices London, in partnership with Young China Watchers London, kicked off the Year of the Pig on Feb. 20 with a China-related careers wanel (women panel) moderated by NüVoices Board Member Jessie Lau at the Royal United Services Institute. Three women experts with experience in media, academia, government and the private sector presented their China-related career stories and answered questions from the audience:

  • Katie Hunt, a London-based journalist and writer, with almost 20 years of experience at major international news organisations. Until last year she was a senior digital producer at CNN International in Hong Kong and lead China coverage for the CNN website. Katie was previously a correspondent for Reuters news agency in Bangkok, Hong Kong and London and worked as an online journalist in the BBC’s Business and Economics Unit. She started her career as a translator and reporter at The China Post newspaper in Taipei. Katie has a BA Hons in Modern Chinese Studies from the University of Leeds and an MSc in Economic Development from LSE. Katie has two daughters. Reach out to her on Twitter @KatieHunt20
  • Dr. Liu Ye, a lecturer in International Development at King’s College London. Her research primarily focuses on education, gender, youth opportunity, and the legacies of China’s One-Child policy. She was awarded the 2014 Junior Sociologist Prize by the International Sociology Association’s Research Committee on Women in Society for her research on the women from the One-Child generation. She has achieved extensive media coverage and public engagement for her work on the One-Child policy, including acting as panellist and chair for the session on Women, China and the ‘Two-Child’ Policy as part of the 2017 China Changing Festival at the Southbank Centre. Her first monograph entitled: ‘Higher Education, Meritocracy and Inequality in China’ was published by Springer in 2016.
  • Holly White, Senior Consultant at Rouse, an intellectual property business. She supports businesses and universities to exploit innovation and commercial opportunities in China. Prior to joining Rouse in September 2017, Holly was a civil servant.  Her most recent role was as Regional Manager for Asia-Pacific for the Science and Innovation Network based in the British Embassy in Beijing. Holly’s main focus was China, where she led the UK Government’s relationship in her field, working with institutions in both countries to manage over £360m in joint R&D programmes.

About 60 university students, PhD candidates and young professionals interested in China issues attended the event. The discussion focused on introducing careers related to China and highlighting the experiences of women working on China subjects in various sectors. The event was live-tweeted using the hashtag #ChinaWanel by volunteer Nuala Gathercole Lam, a China-focused journalist based in London. Follow her on Twitter @NualaMai.

Fascinated with China after reading Jung Chang’s book “Wild Swans,” Katie began pursuing her China-related career by taking Chinese studies at Leeds University, the only UK university offering the degree at the time, she said. Following graduation, she obtained her first journalism job in Taiwan, at a time when Chinese language skills among foreigners were rare.

Journalism, she advised, is hugely competitive; hence, one needs to be strategic about where to start and what stories one should cover. She advised aspiring freelancers not to start working in Beijing, and instead head to other cities with fewer journalists. “You have to look for that niche,” she said. While internships are a great way to get your foot in the door, they’re very difficult to obtain, she added. Aspiring journalists need to be persistent and have thick skin: “Have confidence in yourself and in your ideas…it will pay off!”

The rise of the #MeToo movement pushed all three speakers to reflect on their careers. Katie brought up various structural issues that women face in the workplace after having kids, including the difficulties she faced when trying to negotiate a four-day work week in order to take care of her children. It was hard for her to find someone whom could understand and share her experience, as the majority of her colleagues were young and ambitious people, she said.

Liu Ye spoke about the gender and cultural challenges she faces while working in British academia, as well as when conducting field research in China. During the 2018 nationwide and student-led strikes held at several UK universities, she found out that there was not only a gender pay gap but also an ethnicity pay gap in academia. “I was shocked,” she said. At times, she also found that her Chinese ethnicity was a limitation when conducting research in China. Her white colleagues would often gain more access to sources and other spheres through their status as a foreigner, she added. In China, “you need to build trust,” she said.

For aspiring academics and researchers, an interest in teaching and the ability to adapt is crucial, Liu Ye said. Sometimes you have to be extroverted, other times more introverted – especially when researching, she added. In addition to gaining teaching experience, she recommended building a strong sense of self-discipline as well as excellent writing and communication skills.

Working in Mainland China in particular can also be difficult for young women professionals. Holly was only 29 when she worked at the British Embassy in Beijing, and had to learn to project confidence and maturity in order to be taken seriously and hold her own during official meetings with government officials (the majority of whom were older men). She learned the need to be “punchy” and “to go for it,” she said.

China is also constantly changing, and professionals looking to work in China must be prepared to be constant learners, according to Holly. “I don’t think you will ever fully know China,” she said. In the UK, there is a lack of “real, sophisticated understanding of China,” especially in the field of UK-China relations, she added. Holly advises young professionals to remain open to diverse career options, and stresses that being a diplomat is not the only way to work on UK-China relations.

About the authors

Riccardo Cociani is a Double MSc in International Affairs candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Peking University (PKU). He also serves as a geopolitics analyst for a Beijing-based policy advisory firm. Proficient in Mandarin Chinese, Italian and English, his research interests include International security, war, military strategy, China and Asia Pacific. He holds a BA in War Studies from King’s College London. Reach out to him on LinkedIn.

Jessie Lau is a writer, editor and researcher passionate about exploring gender, ethnicity, social policy and identity in China and other parts of Asia. Based in London and Hong Kong, she has written stories on everything from illegal housing in Hong Kong and solitary confinement in Californian prisons to China’s massive boarding school program targeting ethnic Uyghur and Tibetan children. Her writing has been published by the South China Morning Post, The Economist and Quartz, among others. She is Online Editor-in-Chief of NüStories, a feminist magazine amplifying minority voices on China, and board member at NüVoices, a global collective supporting women working on China subjects. Now pursuing a MSc in international history at the London School of Economics, she holds an LLM in international studies from Peking University and a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley. Twitter @_laujessie  Website: www.laujessie.com