Women in Business Student Group Hosts Discussion with Chancellor Julie Chen and Joy Tong
By Ed Brennen
Weeks away from graduation and the start of a job at Liberty Mutual Insurance in Boston, senior business major Natalie Mayo — and a few dozen classmates — got some timely career advice from two highly successful women: Chancellor Julie Chen and entrepreneur Joy Tong ’14 (H).
“Hearing their advice and experiences makes me feel more confident and excited to start my career,” Mayo said after attending a wide-ranging discussion on leadership with Chen and Tong, held recently at the Asian American Center for Excellence and Engagement at Cumnock Hall.
The event was hosted by Joy Tong Women in Business, a Manning School of Business student organization that’s supported by Tong. She and her husband, industrial management alum John Pulichino ’67, ’14 (H), own and operate Group III International, a Florida-based global travel goods company. Over the past decade, they have committed more than $4 million in scholarship funds for UML business students, and the Pulichino Tong Business Center is named in their honor.
Senior business major Khadija Mir, president of Joy Tong Women in Business, moderated the discussion, which covered the following topics:
Challenges that Chen and Tong have faced as women in male-dominated fields:
“When I started, you were never respected as a business owner if you were female,” said Tong, who noticed that men often underestimated her talent when she founded Group III International in 1984. “I spent a lot of extra time making sure that men’s egos were not hurt.
“But today, because of higher education, women now are viewed as equal to men. They have the same qualifications and compete in the same areas. I think that's a big difference.”
As a mechanical engineer, Chen said she would often be the only woman in the room.
“How do you use that to your advantage?” she said. “One advantage in that situation is that you stand out and are remembered more. It’s challenging, because there's a little pressure on you as the sole representative of the female population. But there are opportunities to speak up, to ask questions and to be active in the conversation — with the added benefit of being memorable.”
Traits they look for when hiring an employee:
“I look for a self-reliant person who is never afraid to fail,” Tong said. “And inquisitiveness is very important. Try to volunteer for work that you're not really supposed to be doing so you can gain experience in other areas.”
“The world around us is changing very quickly. The latest thing is that artificial intelligence is going to take over all of our jobs, right?” added Chen. “So, I look for somebody who is stretching themselves a little because they want to learn something new, because you're going to have to keep learning something new to prevent the world from passing you by.”
The importance of internships:
“They give you an opportunity to start networking, to find mentors and to see what it’s like in the workplace,” Tong said. “And for a company, sometimes you’re so involved in your daily activities that you don’t have fresh eyes. Student interns bring a lot of new ideas.”
“It’s something that we are very much interested in at UMass Lowell,” added Chen, who at her inauguration as chancellor announced the university’s commitment to providing every undergraduate student with at least one paid career-connected experience before they graduate. “Because of everything (Tong) said — building your professional networks and creating opportunities to find what excites you.”
How graduates can advance early in their careers:
“I would try to create my own personal brand,” said Tong, who is creative director for her company. “That doesn’t mean that you’re going to create a website or whatever, but you should really look into yourself and say, ‘What am I good at?’ This is your brand. You need to know what you want to do and, whatever it is, it’s helpful for a young person to set their goal.”
“Keep learning new things, because you never know what path it might take you on,” said Chen.
“One of the special characteristics of UMass Lowell students is that you want to work hard, be good at what you do and rise up in those leadership positions by showing that capability — not just expecting someone to hand it to you. Don't lose that sense of non-entitlement,” she added. “That’s something that is special about this university and special about UMass Lowell students.”
“Their impact not only on the university, but on me personally, is so inspirational. I feel like I’m in the presence of celebrities,” said Curley, a junior from Salem, Massachusetts, who is vice president of Joy Tong Women in Business.
Heer Patel, who completed her business degree in December, returned to campus for the event. She said she enjoyed when Tong and Chen discussed the importance of appreciating other cultures and the “good type of uncomfortableness” that comes with building cultural awareness.
“It was phenomenal to hear from two empowered women,” said Patel, a Lowell native who is working as a staff accountant intern at Novogradac before returning to UML for graduate school this summer.
Mayo, who is about to start a two-year accounting and finance developmental program at Liberty Mutual, liked how Tong and Chen spoke about always wanting to learn more and expand their skills to progress in their careers.
“That’s something I never want to stop doing in my career,” said Mayo, a native of Dracut, Massachusetts, who is director of Women in Finance, a spinoff of Joy Tong Women in Business. “I always want to excel in my career. I never want to feel like I’ve come far enough.”