The She-Suite Magazine Highlight
Emily Chang is no stranger to creating a social legacy and aligning calling with community. Her book, The Spare Room, has helped women professionals create room for their purpose amongst their careers and responsibilities. “The Spare Room is a euphemism … it stands for what I believe everyone is uniquely positioned to contribute to our world. Each of us has something unique to offer. For me and my family, it was the combination of a physical spare room + a love of hospitality + a stable family unit that enabled us to smoothly welcome and embrace people in our little circle. … So, the intersection of our Offer and Offense is our Social Legacy. And while I first called it my Spare Room, I soon realized it was more than that.”
While Chang’s ‘Offer’ can be found in the way she welcomes people into her Spare Room, she uses her calling molded by her ‘Offense’ to create her social legacy as well. This materializes in the form of social justice initiatives that she combines with her career to create a legacy that lives on and positively affects women in the workplace along the way. “I think every person possesses power in social justice initiatives, and certainly, that includes women. Whether it’s because of gender, ethnicity, or other factors, the majority of people have faced some sort of inequality. And actually, that inequality marks us in a useful way – it imparts upon us the all-important empathy.” Chang advises against silence when faced with inequality — “If we hadn’t gone through the fire to emerge stronger than before and sharpened with focus, then what a shame to have gone through the fire at all.”
Currently, Emily is flourishing in her day-to-day home life with her family: “Everyone is thriving because we have embraced the messy middle of professional-personal integration.”
- What does ‘Resetting the Standard in Work and Well-being’ look like in your personal life and career?
My first reaction is that resetting the standard looks intentional. It’s not going to happen by accident… we’re not going to accidentally stumble upon healthier personal habits and a more well world. Yet, resetting the standard is not a nice-to-have today; it’s a must-do! McCann Worldgroup recently published a global study on The Truth About Wellness, which revealed 86% of people say that creating a well and healthy world is the biggest challenge of the 21st century. So what does this intentionality look like?
In my personal life, it really comes down to scheduling. To make space for the things that keep me balanced and well, I have to plan time accordingly, because exercise and date night and family game time won’t happen on their own unless the calendar is managed to include these priorities. So for me, managing one integrated calendar helps ensure everything’s on the table. A side benefit of my color-coding system not only allows me to set aside breaks and travel time but also allows at-a-glance reassurance that the important things are all accounted for in the week.
In the workplace, it’s all about team effort. It helps tremendously when our leadership team is all on the same page. We respect one another’s priorities and ways of working. We value flexible work styles and creative solutions, while we devalue old-school traditions like face time. When we treat each other with the generosity of spirit and assume the best, true collaboration comes much easier, which enables even smoother, efficient work… which enables an even higher level of well-being in the office, and thriving teams at work. It’s an upward spiral – the very best kind.
- What power do you think women possess in social justice initiatives? Would you say that the inequalities women have faced throughout the decades have made us powerful allies and social injustice advocates in ways men may not be able to be?
I think every person possesses power in social justice initiatives, and certainly, that includes women. Whether it’s because of gender, ethnicity, or other factors, the majority of people have faced some sort of inequality. And actually, that inequality marks us in a useful way – it imparts upon us the all-important empathy. Because, you see, having experienced unfair treatment gives us the heart to speak up for and stand up for those who are still being persecuted. I believe it’s every person’s responsibility to speak out when we witness injustice.
- What are the principles that you live by and how do they help you to attain your goals gracefully?
Our family’s driving principle is Contribution/Consumption > 1. We seek to contribute more than we consume, whether it’s with each person we meet or in the footprint we’re leaving on the earth. I like the way you ask how this helps us attain our goals gracefully – that’s a great word. Because I’ve realized that when a concept is whittled down to its simplest form, life becomes quite simple. Then, our priorities become clear, and we find ourselves operating with more agility and grace.
This principle has become foundational to my life goal. I cover this in my book, “The Spare Room”. First, I help readers identify their priorities – their Offer (that unique combination of resources, skills, and experiences they possess) and their Offense (that one issue or problem they feel compelled to do something about). The intersection of these two things is what I call your Social Legacy. Legacy is simply leaving something better than you found it (or contributing more than you consume!), while Social defines the space in which you’ll make your mark. And coming back to your question, our Social Legacy should certainly play a meaningful role in our life goals! So after readers identify their own Social Legacy, I help them extend their definition into a life goal. I’ll share mine here: “She lived a life of purpose and integrity, every day filled with joy and laughter. She gave outrageously, extended grace unceasingly, and lived her life in such a way that death finds her empty.”
- Tell us about a time when you had to overcome a major obstacle – or make a difficult professional decision?
How did you navigate them, what did you learn about yourself? Well, each job transition has been a difficult decision. I’ll share with you my decision to join McCann Worldgroup. This all transpired between Feb – Jun 2020, right as COVID-19 was making itself known. At the time, I was based in the U.S. and had an outstanding job offer from one of the world’s top brands. Meanwhile, I’d met this amazing group of people and was extended an offer to come and lead McCann Worldgroup in China.
So, should I accept the known quantity, working for a leader I knew and deeply respected personally, make a lot more money, and add a killer brand to my experience set? Or should I go run a creative agency, never having worked at an agency, working with and for people I didn’t yet know, in a country, I wasn’t sure would let me in (visas were impossible to get at the time)?
Sort of seems like a no-brainer, right? Yet, there was something about the McCann opportunity that really appealed to me. I’d seen all the articles proclaiming “4A agencies are a thing of the past”, and as a client of two decades, had experienced my own challenges finding a true agency partner. What an opportunity to go try and create just that agency! Second, the hiring manager was an incredibly thoughtful person who made me feel valued, not just for my experience, but also as a human being. Alex made me feel just how I hope each person who works on my team feels! Last, Alex also had more of a “known quantity” candidate who had agency experience and was already located in China. So when he and I agreed to hold hands, and both pursue what felt right to us, this was no longer just my decision – it was a shared adventure between the two of us.
So how did I navigate this decision and what did I learn?
1. I learned that the combination of creativity and change management is a true passion for me! That a challenging experience with a great company was worth more to me than money.
2. I prioritized company culture and followed my intuition. I’d felt that I’d found my tribe when I met Alex and some of the global leaders and wanted very much to work where I could lead with authentic purpose, bringing my whole self to work. I believed that this opportunity would give me that opportunity. And indeed it has.
- Which female leaders have inspired you throughout your life?
Paris Watts-Stanfield left a huge impression on me in 1998. We met when she conducted on-campus interviews for P&G at my business school. In fact, the second time we met, Paris told me she had reviewed the candidates and was prepared to offer me a Finance internship. Yet, she paused and felt compelled to tell me that she thought I’d really do well in Brand Management. Not knowing the first thing about the incredible program at P&G, I was intrigued and agreed to decline the Finance internship, immediately reapplying for a Brand Management internship. That transition resulted in an 11-year career at a company I love, and lifelong friends I cherish to this day!
One important fact wasn’t lost on me – when she encouraged me to apply for a Brand internship, Paris lost her opportunity to recruit a Finance intern for her own department. She had leaned into me, selflessly, when she thought she might prompt a young woman onto a different path. For that, I’ll always be grateful to her. And in fact, it’s one of the reasons we stay in touch. Every time I make a big move, I reach out to Paris to thank her for leaning into me back in 1998.
- What is one quality or thing you think every woman professional should have/know in order to succeed?
I think women who are Gracefully Resilient have a strong likelihood of success. We must be resilient – learning to bend but not break. Persevering and standing firm in our convictions. At times, possibly bearing unbearable burdens or withstanding unfair attack or judgment.
This is where grace comes in. Bending, persevering, withstanding… those were some tough verbs! Whatever required them might easily leave us bitter, angry, or defensive. Yet, negativity simply doesn’t serve us (or those around us). So persevering gracefully is a unique skill. After all, what is grace? To me, it’s extending kindness beyond what we feel may be deserved in a situation.
Someone’s behavior forced me to bend? Let me not hold a grudge, which can eat away at me and impact how I show up. Graceful means I let it go. I don’t wonder why they did what they did, or plot revenge. Graceful means I focus all my positive energy on resilience and learning. The Gracefully Resilient come out the other side even stronger and sharper than before.
- How do you balance your professional and personal life? Are there any specific ways that you take time to reset, and have time for yourself?
I threw the idea of “balance” out the window long ago, because it requires a perfect symmetry between two competing forces. Instead, I live in the messy middle of personal-professional integration. I’ll give you a live example. As you might know from my book, we have cared for 16 vulnerable babies or young people in our spare room over the last two decades. Well today, we have our 17th! Wayne is a boy who was born with hydrocephalus. Likely three or four years old physically, he’s mentally at a six-month-old’s level. And when he came to us, the little guy could only make guttural noises and had no control over any part of his body.
About five months ago, though my husband and I both work, we agreed to care for him. Well, if I were to balance my family and personal obligations, including caring for Wayne, against my professional life, I would have been torn in two! I can only imagine trying to rush out of the office at a given hour to relieve a caretaker on time, with an hour commute in the middle – impossible!
Instead, our family-integrated and life has been beyond beautiful. My husband gets Wayne up in the morning while I work out. Then he leaves for work as I get to take the boy in the car with me. We play and talk on the hour commute to work, then he hangs out with my driver all day. They say it takes a village, and Wayne is doted on by a bevy of drivers and janitors in my office building’s break room! Man, the kid is having a blast! He’s learned to say and sign a few words, and can now feed himself finger foods. Sure, he’s being raised in a car park. And yes, he naps on the backbench of my Buick van, and absolutely, my car looks like a daycare. But Wayne is warm, loved, and (extremely) well-fed, and my driver’s life is no longer boring! Everyone is thriving because we have embraced the messy middle of professional-personal integration.
- What is a social legacy and how can someone create their own social legacy and find what their Spare Room looks like?
The Spare Room is a euphemism… it stands for what I believe everyone is uniquely positioned to contribute to our world. Each of us has something unique to offer. For me and my family, it was the combination of a physical spare room + a love of hospitality + a stable family unit that enabled us to smoothly welcome and embrace people in our little circle. Any vulnerable baby or young person who needs a safe place to stay for a while is welcome. So, the intersection of our Offer and Offense is our Social Legacy. And while I first called it my Spare Room, I soon realized it was more than that.
This was actually something one of our spare room occupants helped me coin. Jaesin was from South Korea and introduced the concept of Kibun to me – roughly translated as “a comfort for the spirit.” He told me our house had great Kibun – and suddenly, it clicked! Our Social Legacy was about more than just a room in our house. It’s about comforting the spirit of those who need comfort. It’s about creating a warm and deep sense of belonging for everyone who enters.
I believe there’s power in words. Writing and declaring our social legacy made it like a promise to the world. Our family offers Kibun. This simple statement is incredibly clarifying and has helped us prioritize, and align on difficult decisions with minimal angst or drama.
By the way, I bring the same Social Legacy to the workplace. Our whole leadership team is committed to creating “comfort for the spirit” or a deep sense of belonging for every team member at McCann Worldgroup. Because if you feel valued, respected, and loved, we believe you’ll do your best work and truly enjoy building your career with us.
- Do you have any projects you’re working on that you want our community to know about? Any new books to look out for?
I’ve been approached about writing a second book, but am focused on my day job, for now! 🙂 But, if you guys have any ideas, I’d certainly love to hear them!