A Call for More Women Leaders

Throughout my career as a female chemical engineer working in the chemical industry, I have always found navigating the career landscape challenging; and I often wished I was not the only woman at the table — and wondered whether other women felt the same way. 

Sheryl Sandberg’s newly released book “Lean In” really clicked with me in this regard.  While raising the question: “Why do we have too few women leaders?” she pointed out certain behaviors women have that hold ourselves back.  For example, women tend to incorporate family planning in their careers long before they have a family.  They essentially “lean out” with respect to career. Women are less confident to take on greater responsibilities and tend to have more self doubts. Women are also less likely to negotiate salaries and directly ask for opportunities than their male counterparts. Networking is another area men and women approach very differently: men will casually grab a drink with his superior, which due to the current state is usually another man, while women take a more formal approach by setting up a meeting during the workday avoiding the “wrong impression.”  These are only a few of the many differences between men and women she cited throughout the book.

I am passionate about the topic; however, this is not an easy blog to write because Sandberg’s book is definitely more than a little controversial.  Therefore, I feel it is important to make the point that this is not a feminist crusade, not a snobbish look-down on women who have decided to stay at home with their children. Nor is this about women complaining that they have not been given the same opportunities as their male colleagues. 

Instead, this is about encouraging women when we hesitate to take on challenging opportunities out of self-doubts, encouraging us to be more direct rather than too subtle when expressing our career needs, and not passing on us for assignments requiring relocation because  we have working husbands.  This is about understanding we might need to dial in for a 6:30 am meeting from home because we split the responsibility of dropping kids off at school with our husbands; and encouraging us to give more consideration when it seems we are making family-related career decisions too early.   And if I may be even more provocative, this is about when you see a male senior and female junior having a drink after work: please don’t put it in an inappropriate context.

This is about understanding a woman’s point of view and how women approach things.    

To my female colleagues: form your own “Lean In Circle” with women you trust. Openly discuss the challenges you face while trying to “have it all” and issues we historically have not been comfortable talking about.  Share what happened when you asked for an opportunity and negotiated salary; how pregnancy did not slow you down; how many times you have given your sick children medicine and dropped them off at daycare.  Share your experience when you are the only woman at the table and the only topic of discussion at customer events is sports.  Don’t be concerned about working for women, and take the time to mentor women when they work for you. When you get to the top, become a female role model and use your stronger voice to continue this conversation and help your female colleagues to succeed.

Even though I did not grow up in this country, I know things have greatly improved for women in the workforce; I only need to watch one episode of Mad Men to appreciate all that we have today.


Sheryl Sandberg’s Ted Talk “Why do we have too few women leaders” can be found at http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders.html

According to data provided by our Human Resource Department, 22% of CE’s employees and 18% of executives are women, which is higher than the average of Fortune 500 companies.

64 people like this post.

About the author


Lu Zhang is the Director of New Business Development at Emulsion Polymers. She was born and raised in China and moved to the US after she finished her undergraduate study. She is the only female in her household with her husband, two sons and one dog. She enjoys reading, travelling and staying fit.

There are 36 comments. Add yours.

  1. Magdalena Vargas says:

    Dear Lu,

    Just a month ago I discovered and began reading “Lean In”. I´ve shared this discovery with other working female friends in Mexico and are planning to meet and discuss as you suggest.

    Since joining Nutrinova / Celanese 3 years ago I´ve worked with great women colleagues and leaders whom I admire greatly and learn constantly from. Hats off to you ladies, specially working moms.

    Thank you very much for your blog Lu!


  2. Phil McDivitt says:

    I have had the honor and pleasure of working with Lu. She is a great example for not only women, but everyone who she interacts with. Thank you for the insightful blog.

  3. Aref Amanat says:

    Dear Lu – thank you for sharing your very lucid thoughts on this important issue. The challenge is not only for women, but also for men to examine our own limitations and to champion the success and equality of women inside and outside the workplace. Meaningful equality is in the best interests of us all.

  4. Antonina Lobanova says:

    Dear Lu,

    Thank you very much for your blog! I was surprised to see you mentioning the book I am currently reading. In May this year I have participated a workshop in EU – Women Career Development organized by Katja Conner and Diana Peninger, it was a very nice and totally different experience, a lot to re-consider and follow-up. From there we have got the book of Sheryl Sandberg to read until our next meeting. I am happy to see that similar thoughts/initiatives are existing in the US!

  5. Rebecca Sewell says:

    Dear Lu,

    I appreciate you speaking up and sharing your thoughts. I also was inspired by some of Sandberg”s statements and I truly believe we can improve the world we live in today, if we consider the different approaches women and men tend to take in career decisions. I am confinced our career and family lives will undergo further change in future and addressing these topics at Celanese will make us all better colleagues and leaders.

    Thank you very much for your support in raising this sometimes considered sensitive topic.


  6. Dorothee Harre says:

    Excellent blog! Thank you very much for bringing up such a sensitive topic which concerns us all…


  7. Kristin Herrel says:

    Thanks, Lu for writing this – it”s something we all need to here. I especially like that you made recommendations for both those of us working through our careers and to those that manage women on how to make positive changes in our working habits. We can”t just talk about it and expect change – it starts with each one of us.


  8. Ms. Zahn Patin says:

    Your article is so true, well-thought and well-written. I can”t wait to participate in the upcoming ”Lean In” circle at the LCOB. I”m sure that we can benefit from hearing about others” experiences.

    Thanks for your open honesty.


  9. Cecilia Tehrani says:

    Hi Lu
    This is a refreshing and encouraging blog!!! I love that you said it out loud because most of us, women, think about these things but don”t say or share them with others. I think that all women in Celanese have the responsibility of creating this women-friendy environment without thinking it will harm our carrers. Besides we have great male colleagues and leaders that support us!!! Thank you for writing it : )

  10. Sarah Murray says:

    Lu, this blog was very well-written and insightful. I think you are correct in saying that in many instances, women”s careers are influenced as much or more by our own decisions as by outside forces. I hope that these kind of discussions will help us all to be more cognizant of the decisions we make, and that for future women in the workforce, we can be brave enough to make the choices that can result in more women in positions of power.

  11. Jenny Zhu says:

    Lu, really appreaciate the sharing ! I was thinking women in western world are ususally more open to share the mind, speak up demands, and more direct on communications, but apparently I am wrong. But the good thing is we are luck to be in a comparatively open company, so that we could express ourselves with less hesitation, let”s work together to achieve more….. thanks !

  12. Maria Ciliberti says:


    What a wonderful blog you have written on what is often a sensitive issue for all — not just women but also men.

    Having worked for over 25 years in the chemical industry in one form or another, I can personally say, things have improved immensely.

    Just the other day, I was talking with a more experienced (35+ years) businessman in Celanese and he is a breath of fresh air on this topic. He shared that over the years (aka, decades) he has come to see colleagues and subordinates with a changing lens, looking at work ethic and results and overcoming what would normally be first observations of gender, ethnic background, etc . He openly shared that this was not the typical, natural way of looking at things for himself, his peers or his superiors (of course, mostly men in those days) when he first started out.

    So it”s a learning experience for us all — men and women.

    And a wonderful testiment that growth and change are a continuous journey.

    I”m glad to be a part of this journey knowing that together, the world will look even more different 25 years from now.

  13. Jennifer Self says:

    Lu – Fantastic blog, thank you so much for sharing your perspective on this topic. It is very encouraging for our current and future women leaders here at Celanese.

  14. Todd Elliott says:

    Thanks Lu for the blog and especially your insight
    I will refer the book to my younger sister Jill who works in Washington, DC and “manages” her great family with two children while working at USA Today.

  15. Harrie Schoots says:

    i”m impressed!

    (disclaimer, Lu is thankfully my boss, and i”m not writing this to get a good review)

  16. Misty Moore says:

    Lu – Great job on a very well written blog! Thanks for sharing and giving us a little insight into the book. I look forward to reading it!

  17. Mark Oberle says:

    Lu – thanks for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate the openess you display in the blog. I”m sure there will be many people who will benefit from your courage. Keep doing great things for Celanese.

  18. Michaela Reuter says:

    Hi Lu,
    thanks for your excellent article and the encouragement which I will share it with my two female mentees as well.
    As Tonya mentioned, we just started in EU to put a network in place and let us try to soon combine the initiatives across the globe.

  19. Trinity Hale says:

    Lu, Excellent insight and points, amongst my friends we call it the “kitchen cabinet” a group of like minded mentors and collegues that serve as your advisory board, on how to navigate the world and your career as a woman, wife, mother, etc. We must remember to not shy away from taking out seat at the table.

  20. Sue Brogren says:

    Lu – Thank you so much for your leadership and strength and for posting this blog. One of the best I”ve read so far!

  21. Maria Valehrach says:

    Awesome blog, Lu!! So real and from the heart! I, too, am thankful that we work for a company that is open to hearing what we think. And, I also agree with Cecilia”s comment that we have great male colleagues and leaders who support us (I would not be where I am without them, and they know who they are.).

    In most of my business dealings, I am usually the only woman or one of 2 or 3. And, I have seen my female CE colleagues take a seat around the edge of the room when they should have sat at the table. We all need to encourage each other to “lean in” with confidence and take that seat at the table, knowing we have what it takes to be successful (or we”ll surely learn it if we don”t!).

  22. Francesca Gambardella says:

    Lu, I strongly appreciate your article, very inspiring. I agree: the change can only starts from us.

  23. Helen Yu says:

    Lu, I love your blog!! Very inspiring and encouraging. Thanks for initiating the monthly discussion at LCB on this topic and others! You are a truly great leader who motivates thinking and influences people”s lives. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!!

  24. Anna Meier says:

    Thank you Lu for this great blog,

    soon I”ll work in a completly men area as a Blackbelt in the plant. It will be like a little revolution that a woman is working on this position in this plant and I”m very excited and curious how it will be for a young woman like me. You report encoured me and motivated me to make the change there and show that we are strong enough to get along with this different ambience. I”m definetly looking forward to read the book. I like this kind of topics and totally agree with the point about when you see a male senior and female junior having a drink after work not to put it in an inappropriate context.

  25. Diana Garibay says:

    What a great blog! I just finished reading “Lean in” a few days ago and I realized, such as you, how many things differences men and women in a professional environment.
    As a young professional, I have deep respect to all of you that can combine family and work without compromising any of them. Not sure, if I will be able to do it as good as you in the future (prefer to “lean in” now) but watching many successful and talented women here at Celanese makes me feel motivated about the future.

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