Thoughts on the Influence of Women and Asian-Pacific Culture in My Life

In February, my family and my people welcomed the Chinese/Lunar New Year. In March, a larger number, at least in California, celebrates Women's History Month. For me, these two events represent deeply felt influences in my leadership style and my life.

My mother, Lin Chong, never had any formal education. She and my father were born in China; they met in New York City, where they settled. At 43, speaking little English, my mother became a widow with five kids to raise, and through the force of her will and love, she succeeded in that. My mother had a profound impact on me, as did my older sister Joyce, who moved to San Francisco and encouraged me to attend Cal. Their support and encouragement was so important to me. My two older brothers never finished college.

Dr. Chong's nephew Tony, mother, and sister Joyce
Dr. Chong's nephew Tony, mother, and sister Joyce

I've always had strong women mentoring me. Dianne Yamashiro-Omi, then Director of Asian Manpower Services, gave me my first job out of college. She showed me that women's leadership style is powerful. They are better listeners and more collaborative. I learned that they more often engage other peoples' opinions. She had a big impact on my leadership style.

Women's and Asians' leadership styles tend to be similar. For example, a 2007 study by the Hay Group found that social responsibility, harmony and a quest for self-improvement (often including self-criticism), are valued by business leaders in China. These have often been seen as female values in the West.

There are so many women who've influenced me. Del Andersen is an African-American leader who served as Chancellor of City College of San Francisco in the '90s. The way she conducted herself, just the way she moved, exuded confidence, class and commitment. Sisters Mabel and Judy Teng were shrewd and tough, yet also compassionate and high-touch. Mabel Teng is a former Community College Trustee, San Francisco Supervisor, and County Assessor-Recorder. Judy Teng is a former CCSF Dean.

I believe that when you work for different leaders, you get to learn profound, powerful lessons about leadership. It's up to you how that influences your work and life.

It starts much earlier, though, in the family. My mother had unwavering grit and determination. She had the challenge of being a widow without English language skills and with five kids. I learned from that. I learned from my sister Joyce, too. She saw potential in me very early on, and looking back, I see what her support meant to me. The former Director of EOPS at Sonoma State University, Joyce has her own legacy here in the county, and I've benefited from that.

The Chong Siblings
The Chong Siblings

I've taken all of these leadership lessons to heart. One important area has been advocating for Asian-Pacific Americans, who have often been marginalized, invisible, stereotyped and misunderstood. I continue to advocate for us to have a place at the table whether that table is in San Francisco, Sacramento, Washington, or Sonoma County.

This is the first community I’ve lived in without a large Asian-American presence and I miss it, I hunger for it. We have a relatively small but growing community here, and there is certainly a history of Chinese people in Sonoma County going back as far as 1860. But so many, including young Asians, are unaware of our history.

Being Chinese-American, being Asian, is a deeply rooted part of me that many people don't know about. I can speak Cantonese; I was an Asian-American studies major at Berkeley. I co-founded and continue as a leader in the Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education (APAHE). I have made a special effort to mentor young Asian Americans in higher education.

I have two teenaged daughters. It’s important to me that they celebrate and understand their heritage. They need to know that women – their grandmothers - made tremendous sacrifices to be sure that my generation, and their own, would have good lives and be successful. My daughters are very hard workers; I think it's in their genes.

Looking over my career and my life, I am proud to have been mentored and helped by so many powerful women. I am grateful to serve the Asian Pacific American community. And I do my best to pass along the lessons I have learned along the way.

Frank Chong