Over the past twelve months, the rise in anti-Asian hate and xenophobia, combined with a global pandemic have made this 2021 AAPI Heritage Month more important than ever. In celebration and recognition of AAPI Heritage Month, the staff of Committee of 100 sat down with some of our Next Generation Leaders and asked them about their careers, what the past year has been like as a Chinese American 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 2015.
This week, we spoke with Shuo Chen, who is General Partner at IOVC and Faculty Member at UC Berkeley, and asked questions about her career, the year of 2020, and what the future holds for Chinese Americans.
Committee of 100: As a Chinese American, what are some of the challenges you have encountered to become a leader in your respective field?
Shuo: My great-grandfather was the first person in known family history who had come to the US, where he completed his PhD at UC Berkeley and the University of Chicago in the early 1920’s. Despite this long family history in the US, there has been an unfortunate revival of a harmful narrative seeing Chinese Americans as outsiders. In my current role running a venture fund, I often have to provide further explanations of our fund and LP base to prove that we are an American fund based in Silicon Valley focused on investing in US-based startups, whereas this may come as a given to some of my other colleagues. I do hope that this will continue to change for the better for younger generations. For me, I have fortunately been able to learn over time to see my Chinese American identity as an advantage, in that my ability to speak, read and write Chinese fluently allows me to do business without barriers across cultures.
Committee of 100: Earlier this year, Committee of 100 released a study, commissioned with the Economist Intelligence Unit, that looked at 175 years of Chinese American contributions to the United States. What was one conclusion you drew from the study?
Shuo: I was shocked to learn that there are more Chinese restaurants in the US than all of the McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Wendy’s combined! Surprising facts aside, I learned about all the important ways in which Chinese Americans have made major contributions to the fabric of America across economics, public and cultural realms–information that previously was not easily accessible to the general public. Given that US global leadership in the past decades has been driven by the cross-pollinations of ideas, values and mindsets from its diverse population, this study has been critical in driving a fact-based conversation to enable a fuller appreciation of Chinese American contributions to American society and to promote a more cooperative and inclusive climate for the benefit of all Americans.
Committee of 100: There are more than 5 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?
Shuo: Unfortunately, as found in this landmark study commissioned by the Committee of 100, it is clear that Chinese Americans are underrepresented in leadership roles across professions when compared against Chinese Americans’ share in the US population. While Chinese Americans founded or served as C-suite executive members in 20 companies in the Fortune 500 between 2011 and 2020 In total, with the market capitalization of these companies representing 10% of the NASDAQ market cap, Chinese Americans have remained underrepresented in leadership positions. In the corporate sector, Chinese Americans account for roughly 3% of professionals but hold only 1.2% of executive positions. In higher education, Chinese Americans account for less than 0.5% of all college presidents, despite their outsized representation in teaching and research occupations (2.2%). I would love to continue to rally for more Chinese American representation in leadership roles across industries.
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?
Shuo: There are already amazing institutions like the Committee of 100 focused on elevating the voices and profiles of prominent Chinese Americans across business, government, academia, and the arts. This is extremely important work in showcasing role models to empower more Chinese Americans. I would love to see more corporate and public support for empowering more Chinese Americans, starting with actively supporting more Chinese Americans on public and private boards. I would also love to see more grassroots organization emerge across all sectors to further this work.
Committee of 100: In light of all that has happened over the past year related to Covid and the rise in anti-Asian hate, does this specific year of AAPI Heritage Month have more of a special meaning for you?
Shuo: Absolutely. The silver lining to the past year is that it has enabled an unprecedented amount of dialogue across diverse populations in support of the AAPI community. I personally helped organize the first #TechforAAPI virtual rally, where diverse stakeholders across the technology industry came together in support of the AAPI community. On the back of such enthusiastic support from diverse communities, we are excited to be hosting a hackathon through the Tech for AAPI Alliance to #HackforChange.
Committee of 100: What moment or learning experience inspired you to work in your professional field?
Shuo: The realization that I can build the future I want to live in inspired me to become an entrepreneur and venture investor. I wanted to create similar moments of inspiration for others, so I began to teach part-time and now continue to do so as Faculty at UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering, where I teach entrepreneurship and emerging technologies for undergraduate and graduate as well as executive programs.
Committee of 100: For those Chinese Americans and AAPIs who are getting ready to graduate college here in the month of May and June, what advice would you give to them?
Shuo: Actively engage in and contribute to your local communities! The Committee of 100 runs an amazing NextGen Leaders program and is a wonderful way to connect with outstanding young Chinese Americans throughout the US. I’ve been personally involved with Shinect (Share + Inspire + Connect), the largest community of Chinese American engineers in Silicon Valley. This is a 501(c)(3) non-profit community of 5,000+ engineers (from Airbnb, Amazon and Google among others) passionate about entrepreneurship, with alumni that have since (co-)founded a dozen unicorns (startups valued over $1 billion) that have scaled globally including Agora, Alluxio, Databricks, Rokid, Smarking, Strikingly and Trustlook among others. Regardless of your industry and profession, identify your local community and engage!
Committee of 100: What do you and your family do to help celebrate AAPI Heritage Month?
Shuo: We start with celebrating our family heritage through storytelling. My parents, sister and I drove to my grandparents’ to spend quality time together earlier this month, during which we shared stories and learned from older generations. In fact, I had the fortune of having my great-grandparents around until I was in high school, and we used to do family story-telling regularly across 4 generations.
Committee of 100: What do you most want to be remembered for in terms of making your mark on this world?
Shuo: Honestly, I am not concerned about my name being remembered, but I do care about leaving the world a better place by leveraging exponential technologies to help solve some of the world’s biggest challenges in a way that is more accessible and inclusive for all.