Q&A Series – Next Generation Leaders: Chen Rao

Q&A Series – Next Generation Leaders: Chen Rao

31st January 2024

Over the past few years, the rise in anti-Asian hate and xenophobia, combined with a global pandemic have made normal, everyday life difficult for the AAPI community.  By sharing stories and insights from those in the Chinese American community, Committee of 100 hopes to shed more light on the issue and help celebrate the amazing accomplishments from within the Chinese American and AAPI community to the world at large. 

The staff of Committee of 100 sat down with one of our Next Generation Leaders and asked them about their careers, what the past few years has been like and their hopes for the future. Committee of 100’s Next Generation Leaders program focuses on young leaders who are passionate about the organization’s mission to promote the full inclusion of Chinese Americans across society and advance the betterment of U.S.-China relations. The program was first established in 2017. 

This month, we spoke with Chen Rao, a Vice President and Global Markets Treasurer for BNP Paribas Corporate & Institutional Banking, New York. Chen has over 9 years of Front Office experience in capital markets liquidity steering and risk management. She provides expertise on dollar liquidity and funding matters to support the sustainable growth of the firm’s Global Markets franchise. Chen is part of the Group’s Leaders for Tomorrow (LFT) program. From June 2022-June 2023, Chen served on the Board of Directors of the Financial Women’s Association (FWA) and participated in the FWA Pacesetters 2023 Cohort.

Connect with Chen on LinkedIn here.

All opinions shared in this interview are Chen’s own and not representative of the views of BNP Paribas.

Committee of 100: As a Chinese American, what are some of the challenges you have encountered to become a leader in your respective field?

Chen: Broadly in the field of finance, the burden of representation for Asians exists especially at middle and upper management levels. One of the challenges I had was reconciling two very different communication styles: the one that I grew up with prizes humility and modesty so being quiet and speak only when a thought is well-formulated is a great trait; the other style, found in Corporate America, demands one to be vocal and visible – you really have to put yourself out there and show up authentically, and create a positive impact consistently. To improve, I’ve taken up public speaking training with Toastmasters International and became one of the youngest members worldwide to be certified Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM).

The second challenge I grapple with has to do with intersectionality. Aside from my Chinese heritage, which I am very proud of, I also identify with being a woman, a professional, a mother… so it has been critical for me to constantly reflect on my values and beliefs to set priorities. Carrying out different roles is fulfilling, but it brings additional psychological and logistical challenges. I am very fortunate to work for a great employer, BNP Paribas, as the firm is focused on cultivating a supportive environment for its diverse talents to bring their whole selves to work.

Committee of 100: There are more than 6 million Chinese Americans in the United States today and it is one of the fastest-growing populations in the U.S. Do you feel that Chinese Americans are well represented in government, business, and other parts of society?

Chen: The short answer is no. Unless you are one of those trailblazers, you typically cannot be what you don’t see. Relative to the size of the Chinese diaspora, there is a need for all of us to do more to elevate leaders in various industries. And I define “leaders” in the broadest sense. This is a big and growing talent pool – the key is to unlock that potential and encourage creativity.

Committee of 100: What do you believe needs to be done so that more Chinese Americans feel empowered to follow their dreams and push forward to create the programs/businesses/position they want?

Chen: I ask myself this question often. I grew up in a single family in mainland China and moved to Canada as a teen immigrant. Prior to Wall Street, I held an eclectic assortment of jobs: window washing, tour guiding, and balloon-o-grams (which included dressing up as a neon pink furred gorilla and singing happy birthday to clients in a mall). So, I have experienced first-hand the kind of bootstrapping opportunities that North America provides to newcomers. For that, I am grateful. But for the first decade, I struggled with switching from a mindset of scarcity to a mindset of abundance. Even as circumstances improved, I over-indexed on conservatism. I always defaulted to being risk averse.

I am still working on this. To have agency and act on it for change making takes courage. And that level of confidence – nobody else can hand it to you on a platter – you need to nurture that over time for yourself by taking on challenges that are truly stretch assignments and by being introspective about your growth trajectory. You need to be intentional when it comes to creating a support network wherever you are. You need to proactively seek out role models, mentors, coaches, and sponsors.

Ultimately, we all have fears and doubts, but it’s important to remind ourselves often that life is short. Try not to have major regrets. That very thought can be empowering and freeing.

Committee of 100: What moment or learning experience inspired you to work in your professional field?

Chen: The field of finance is dynamic and intellectually stimulating. During my summer internship on Wall Street, I realized that this industry is constantly being reshaped by the latest technological, social-economical, and environmental trends. There is never a dull moment and always so much to learn.

Committee of 100: For those Chinese Americans and AAPIs who just recently graduated college, what advice would you give to them?

Chen: One thing that has benefited me is my network of colleagues and friends from different ethnic backgrounds. I often facilitate constructive multi-cultural dialogues, because I believe there is so much we can learn from each other. I suggest the next generation reach across the aisle to truly understand and bond with leaders from other communities. Many graduates already have deep roots within our own communities, and that is great, but more could be done on the outreach part to cross-pollinate ideas and compare practices. Through this alliance, we can attempt to collectively tackle some of the biggest challenges of our times.

The other suggestion I have is stay focused and do not get distracted by others. New graduates often have a hard time understanding this and get jaded after a couple of ultra-competitive recruitment seasons. There is only one you. Your story is your own. Own it. Seize opportunities. Trust that you have unique insights to offer. If you are a better version of your “yesterday” self, that is something to be proud of.

Committee of 100: What do you most want to be remembered for in terms of making your mark on this world?

Chen: Someone who left a place slightly better than she found it.

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