Meet Wincy Li (she/her), a valued Educational Partner of Accelerate Her Future (AHF) at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU).
Wincy Li is the Associate Director of Career Education at TMU’s Career, Co-op & Student Success Centre. She leads a team of educators who help students explore and strategize their own career and professional development. Wincy’s professional and research interests include international students’ experience in post-secondary institutions and in the labour market, as well as professionalization of student affairs in Canada. She holds a BA in Psychology (minoring in Counselling & Human Development) and an MA in Higher Education.
We had a chance to sit down with Wincy to explore her career, research and more.
Turning Experiences as an International Student Into Research
Originally from Hong Kong, Wincy Li studied as an international student for 8 years in Norway and Canada. “I come from a working-class family in Hong Kong,” Wincy reflected. “Growing up, my parents would always tell me, ‘Get a good education, get a good job, so you can get a better life.’ So, for me, education and career have always been connected.
One way this connection played out for Wincy was during her time as a co-op student in undergrad, “I had such a great experience! Seeing how my knowledge can be applied in the real world really motivated me to be a better student.”
When asked what motivated her to get into career education and working with youth, Wincy recalled her positive co-op experience and how it led her to focus her studies on career counselling and pursue a career in employment advising. “I wanted to help young people and newcomers–folks that I really identify with–overcome challenges that I myself once faced.” To this day, Wincy continues to work with various equity-deserving student groups, including those who identify as racialized, first-generation, and/or newcomers to Canada.
“Many international students come to Canada without an existing social network to help them navigate life here, and student services are often the first support system they have access to when they arrive.”
With a research focus on international students’ experiences with student services, Wincy investigated “how they utilized these on-campus resources strategically to advance their goals, specifically with immigration and employment.” She ultimately found that international students were very “resilient and resourceful.”
“They will not hesitate to seek help, as long as they are aware what services exist, and they know how these services can support their goals.” Wincy also emphasized the importance of quality and accessibility of the services provided. In order to stay relevant, Wincy recommends student services “continue to create a warm and welcoming environment to encourage help-seeking behaviours, and they must find ways to address international students’ ever-changing needs.
Overcoming Challenges as a Woman of Colour in the Workplace
Wincy has served as an Associate Director at TMU for about a year. “We are all capable of leading in different contexts,” she says, “like when we are steering a project team at work/school or coordinating a meal train for a friend in need.”
When asked about the most challenging part of leading as a woman of colour, Wincy reflected on the common stereotypes of young East Asian women. “Some people assume that I am quiet, passive, and agreeable, or have unrealistic expectations of me (thanks to the model minority myth…),” she reflected. “They don’t often say it openly, but you can tell that some old stereotypes die hard from the fleeting expression of surprise on people’s faces when I speak up to express disagreement, or say no to certain opportunities because I want to prioritize other projects or work-life balance.”
Wincy relates to a common challenge many women of colour face, “finding a balance between staying true to myself and managing other people’s perceptions of me–particularly those of my supervisors or colleagues.” When confronting/facing imposter thoughts, Wincy reminds herself that, “part of that insecurity comes from the bias and exclusion that are baked into the design of the systems we live/work in.”
We at AHF, like Wincy, are big advocates for stopping telling women of colour that we have imposter syndrome as there are a variety of systemic factors at play that this concept simply does not address. It’s not about fixing women, but fixing the systems and institutions within which we find ourselves that weren’t designed for us.
“That said, it is really rewarding when others express their gratitude for a piece of advice I have given, or appreciate an idea that I have put forth, or enjoy a program my team has worked hard on. To me, those are signs that I am on the right path in making a positive impact.”
Women of colour have been leading all along, yet there aren’t enough of us at decision making tables across most sectors. When asked how everyone can better advance women of colour in the workplace, Wincy recalled how Obama’s female staffers amplified each other’s voices during meetings to combat gender bias and ensure their ideas were heard.
“That strategy has really resonated with me because all it takes is for someone to really listen to what others have to say, then repeating it with attribution,” Wincy reflected. “We are even trained to do this at university/college: Always credit the author of an idea that you are paraphrasing or citing.”
“Imagine if everyone just starts to really pay attention to the ideas put forth by women of colour, and amplify voices that might otherwise go unheard… I think that would go a long way in advancing different equity-deserving groups in the workplace. That active listening would be the first real sign of respect.”
The Importance of Diverse Perspectives and Community
When asked about her experiences as an international student, Wincy mused, “Needing to adjust to life in different countries has taught me a lot about independence, problem-solving, but also the importance of friends and family.”
“As a young person living away from home, my schools became my home, and my teachers and friends became my family.”
With new experiences come new opportunities for learning and growth, “I learned how people’s perspectives are shaped by their culture and personal experience, and how my own perspectives are susceptible to the same biases.”
“My friends and I realized that the only way for us to thrive in a global, interconnected world is to remain open-minded and be empathetic towards each other,” Wincy contemplates. “We must lead with kindness. This belief or philosophy still guides my actions today, in life and at work.”
Looking back at her career, Wincy says, “I am most proud of the professional community I have built, and the friends I have made along the journey. Having mentors and mentees who share my core values but come from diverse backgrounds, with a range of expertise and perspectives, has meant that my journey as a leader is not a lonely one. I am constantly learning and being challenged by folks who genuinely care about my professional and personal well-being, and I hope that you will find a similar circle of support through Accelerate Her Future as well!”
Thank you Wincy, for your inspirational reflection and wise words.