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Women Leadership Roles in Education and Innovation

On the sunny afternoon of April 14, over 100 people, mainly women, gathered in the campus of Peking University witnessing a dialogue on women leadership roles in education and innovation between two outstanding ladies, Professor Sun Qixiang, Dean of the School of Economics of Peking University, and Victoria A. Espinel, President and CEO of the Software Alliance (BSA), a Washington-based industrial association with over 60 offices around the world representing the voice of the software industry.  


Great minds think alike. Professor Sun, an outstanding woman academic in China, and Victoria, a woman political and business leader in the western world, agreed to each other on almost every topic.


Both ladies define the purpose of good education to be helping people become contributors to the society.  Professor Sun stressed the importance for a person to be high in both IQ and EQ, while Victoria highlighted an effective way of education from her experience studying in UK and the US, which was for people of different cultures and backgrounds to learn from each other.


Could innovation be achieved by education? Both gave a positive answer. Innovation can be seen as a new idea, a new method or a new product. Innovation does not depend on where you come from or what gender you are– it asks for you to think, question and find and create solutions to the world’s biggest and most complex challenges. Professor Sun stated that innovation was everywhere. Research is actually a process of creation and innovation. Selecting research topics, determining different research angels, arguments and methodologies, doing modeling test, and finding evidence, creative and innovative ideas are indispensable to take these research steps. Although social science researches do not lead to tangible products as industrial and engineering researches, they are indefinitely a critical engine driving social advancement and economic growth.  Victoria shared her secret recipe of reading, which she thinks helpful to keep active thinking and be innovative: read several books at the same time and make the choice depending on the mood at the time. The two ladies call for an innovation friendly society and sound legislative environment which will enable education, especially high education to foster more innovation.


Is education the solution for more women leaders? Victoria holds that education is crucial for girls not to be restricted by stereotypes. She evidenced her statement by introducing the Girls Who Code program BSA is sponsoring in the US to encourage more female coders in the computer science industry. Victoria claims the whole industry and even the whole human being will be benefited with more innovative and functional software, which is having huge impact on human life, if more women are involved in the industry and play leadership roles. In Professor Sun’s view, a woman leader must be strong in the ability to learn and communicate, work hard and be responsible. Education will help girls to be equipped with such features she sees to be the best for women: body soft but strong willed; confident and modest; decisive and gentle, independent thinking and easy going.   


The two successful women are also similar in having the support of their families to their career. They both agree it is important for the success of women to keep a work life balance. The audience luckily had their sharing of such tips as:

Keep a positive attitude and always believe tomorrow things will get better;

Read extensively;

Do exercises to keep yourself energetic;

Put your mobile phone away at home to be with your families wholeheartedly.  


Women are becoming very important in China’s economy. Women are already majority workforce in big law firms, investment banks, consulting firms and even universities etc. In universities, female student enrollment probably exceed that of male student.  However, women are not seen in leadership ranks proportionately. This dialogue, touching upon topics on women leadership, education and innovation, has provided a lot of food for thought, which was warmly responded by the onsite audience and over 200,000 online viewers of the live broadcast by We look forward to seeing it contribute to more women leadership to validate the so-called “Half Sky” phrase.


【Attachment: Bios of the Professor Sun and Victoria A. Espinel】


Dr. SUN Qixiang is the dean of SEPKU and the C.V. Starr Chair Professor of Risk Management and Insurance at Peking University. She is also head of the China Center for Insurance and Social Security Research, and the Research Institute of Social Economic History in Peking University. Her other capacities include the Vice President of the Insurance Society of China, and the President of Beijing Female Professor Association. She is the recipient of Special Government Allowance awarded by the State Council. In 2014, the International Insurance Society awarded Professor Sun the prestigious John S. Bickley Founder’s Award in recognition of her outstanding achievements and significant contribution to the academic research, education and policy of insurance. She is the first female recipient of this Award and the first Laureate from China. She is very passionate about sharing with other woman leaders, teachers and students on how to manage women’s role in education and leadership. She did a popular TV talk about women leadership.


Victoria A. Espinel, President and CEO of BSA | The Software Alliance, is a respected authority on the intersection of technology innovation, global markets and public policy. Prior to heading BSA | The Software Alliance, Espinel served for a decade in the White House, for both Republican and Democratic Administrations. Espinel advised President Obama on pivotal IP issues in her role as the first US Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator. She was the chief US trade negotiator on IP innovation as the nation’s first Assistant United States Trade Representative for Intellectual Property and Innovation.  She has also served as a professor of international trade and intellectual property at the George Mason School of Law.

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