Today, Priscilla Chung is part of the senior leadership team at South East Water, managing the planning and delivery of critical infrastructure projects, and cultivating a work environment where people can perform at their best. A chartered engineer, career mum, and woman of color, Priscilla is a mentor, role model and advocate for change for women in STEMM.
Back in high school, however, none of this amazing career felt possible. Her career advisors told her she’d need to excel in math to be an engineer, there weren’t a lot of other examples of women in engineering – or leadership for that matter – and don’t even get us started on the limited options for flexible working!
But despite it all, curious and craving change and freedom, Priscilla stood firm.
She shares with us the four biggest trials she faced throughout her career, and how she overcame them.
We have shared the stories of hundreds of incredibly talented and intelligent women here at WORK180, yet self-doubt continues to crop up as an obstacle to their success. Priscilla’s story is no different.
“In my early twenties, the biggest obstacle I faced was self-doubt and lack of confidence.”
The underlying problem, she reflects, was how very conscious she was of how other people thought of her. She wanted to please. And while she said age brought with it a stronger sense of self and more confidence, she has two big tips for other looking to straddle this hurdle:
“Firstly, take ownership of your own career development by constantly reflecting and re-projecting. And secondly, actively reach out to seek and surround yourself with multiple mentors with different strengths to form a personal advisory board.”
Reflecting on the doubt of her earlier career, she also wonders if some of her experiences could be attributed to a disparity in the cultural language used around men and women in the workplace.
“I am very conscious of how we bring girls and boys up differently. Even the language we use to describe a behavior is different when it comes to men and women. For example, the same behavior performed by a man in the workplace is seen as ‘compassionate’ but when performed by a woman it is ‘weak’. A man is ‘considerate’, but a woman is ‘hesitant’. The list goes on.”
Unconscious bias is a long-standing challenge facing women at work, and Priscilla believes it’s played a crucial role in limiting her chance of getting promoted into leadership roles in the past.
“While my ideas and work have always been highly valued by my employers, I was often put into a supporting role. Meanwhile the peers who looked and thought like the existing managers were hand-picked for promotion.”
Priscilla believes the key aspects to navigating unconscious bias is to stay abreast of the job market and industry trends, and actively look for workplaces with an inclusive culture that aligns with her sense of purpose.
“I am very glad for the very supportive culture at South East Water. As an organization, we have open and honest conversations about diversity and inclusion. We pride ourselves in this space and have a work culture that enables us to be ourselves at work.”
Work Life Balance
Outside of work, Priscilla has been exploring the world through new eyes with her six-year-old son. Having a family was always the plan for Priscilla but giving up her career was not.
So, the next big challenge she faced was when she was pregnant, and it seemed all her training, career development opportunities, promotions and pay rises were put on hold.
“I returned from parental leave to my previous workplace, and I realized I need a change. I needed a workplace that better supported diversity and inclusion. Somewhere I could progress my career in full gear, while caring for a baby. I believed I could have it all and thankfully, I did with South East Water and the support of my lovely husband.”
Not only did South East Water offer her a full-time leadership role and offered her the perfect work-life integration she wanted.
“I felt trusted and valued. I wasn’t judged when I wanted to work full time, I was given flexibility to be fully effective at work as well as looking after my baby and family.”
Thinking back on the trials of her career, Priscilla’s advice to any woman who strives for a career in engineering or leadership is very simple:
“There are such diverse and rich career options an engineering degree could lead you to. You could achieve anything your heart desires, the only limitation is your imagination.”