Michelle Zou is a woman on a mission. She’s teaching business leaders and startups about the importance of being happy as well as the widespread benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
With 30 years in the tech industry under her belt, Seattle-based Michelle hasn’t looked back since swapping her high-level corporate career at Microsoft to help organisations understand different markets, learn from each other, and grow together.
Since launching Pacific Technologies Consulting Group, she has worked with many companies globally including Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon, Oracle, IBM, HP, AT&T, Philips, DELL/EMC as well as Chinese top tier companies such as Huawei and ZTE.
Speaking to Michelle during her recent trip to Australia, where she was invited on behalf of the US Embassy in Canberra, she said a positive work culture, diversity and inclusion, all lead to better outcomes and helps improve productivity and revenue.
“More and more people are aware that diversity and inclusion are important,” said Michelle. “There’s data and research to show the benefits for companies and teams who put an emphasis on these areas – and create those inclusive environments.
“It’s not just for the sake of being ‘politically correct.’ It’s very important for the companies to highlight what they care about – people, thinking about employees, their productivity, their creativity, and the culture of the company in the workspace – as well as the bottom line of the company.
“When people are happy and more productive and more engaged, it will drive revenue. It will produce better products and provide better services to customers. So, that also translates into better results for the company.”
Working with clients to show how they will increase revenue through diversity
This is where Michelle works with clients. By speaking to organisations and leaders in their language, she can demonstrate how by achieving a more inclusive and diverse workplace, they will increase productivity and revenue.
She even brings ideas from the West to the East and is also passionate about supporting gender diversity. As a Chinese-American businesswoman, she’s played a key role in teaching people in China more about how to achieve happiness, success, and innovation – bringing ideas from the West to the East. She’s also organised US companies to attend the China International Import Expo and other trade shows in China.
Michelle previously led Microsoft’s mobile business and ecosystem in the Greater China Region and is now a consultant for the company.
Michelle was a rare commodity in the 1990’s – a woman working in tech
Back in the 1990s’ when she was living in China, she recalls being one of the few woman working in tech: “I got involved in tech very early, in the 90s, when I was still in China,” she says. “I grew up in China, and my first few jobs were in China.
“I was working for Hewlett Packard (HP) which is an American company. I loved the company. I loved the culture created there, and I decided to go to the US in the late 90s to get my MBA, with the purpose of learning the management theory and practice and then coming back to China to become a bigger boss,” she said.
“So, I was an ambitious, young career woman in the tech industry. After my MBA, I stayed working in Microsoft HQ in the US and then I got a great opportunity to came back to China as a business leader for Microsoft, leading the business for the great China region.”
It was during this time, she realised there was a role to play in bridging the differences between the East and the West when it came to best business practices she’d learned. “That’s how I started to change my career and make the shift from working in corporate as a business leader to starting my own consulting training and coaching business. That was a big shift. First, I became a consultant for Microsoft, running training programmes for leaders, managing events, and starting to bring happiness-related things into Microsoft.”
Now Michelle Zou is a global leader in the field
Now, Michelle is a global leader in the field and her company has trained more than a thousand companies worldwide since she made the leap. She’s also enjoyed her role working with organisations to help them make positive steps towards a more inclusive workplace.
“I see a lot of executives now being KPI’d for this now,” she adds, saying companies are becoming more transparent and are working harder to encourage best practice amongst their team. “Microsoft has published an annual Diversity & Inclusion report since 2019. In that report, you see those KPIs.”
Michelle adds that sharing stories is a good way to change behaviours and recognising that we all have unconscious bias: “The thing is to admit we all have it,” she explains. “It’s not something we should be ashamed about, it is something that we just need to learn and then be aware of it, then we will change our behaviour.
“The purpose of my work is to really find ways we can create an inclusive environment. So, relationships are key. We want to do it in a way that we create the intended relationship. In my class, I always tell people, this is a safe environment and it’s a brave environment in which we can practice.”
Michelle says we will all make mistakes as we go but we need to keep going
Michelle says we’ll all make mistakes as we go, adding: “You’ll see me – I’m teaching it, but there are times that I still make mistakes, and I will teach you how to call in, versus call out.
“So, there are many things we can do to really make this teaching and education work in a way that’s very useful and in a way where it needs courage – but the classroom can be a really safe and brave place to encourage people to practice.”
How we can increase the number of women in the IT industry?
When it comes to increasing the number of women in STEM, Michelle believes we all have a role to play, not just governments, and schools. She says: “We need to start with how we educate our children and ensure that we share positive messages and not stereotypical ones such as girls are not good at maths or computer science.
“We need to think about the education sector and what we are teaching our kids? Do we encourage them to put their hands on computers? Do we encourage them to try coding? Or do we encourage them just to do, these types of more ‘female’ work? So that’s something we can think about.” Because that goes beyond individuals, it goes to the system.”
Happiness in the workplace
“I’m here in Australia to really help on the cultural side, or on the people’s side, to really create the bridge or help people to connect with each other. There are different communities in Australia which may find they relate to me – I’m more like them, because I am a first-generation immigrant from China to the US. My kids were born and grew up in the US, so I’m representing people like me who are immigrants.
“In Australia, there are many people like me, no matter whether they’re from China or from other countries, coming to this wonderful country and trying to be part of this country and fitting into it, and having a good life here. So, I can speak to people like me because I know how we can, as an immigrants, make our life here and we can be successful in our career and in our life. We can live a happier life.
“So, that’s one part. On the other part, I also have some knowledge and expertise in areas that I’m really good at, which is like, what we’re talking about – diversity and inclusion,” she adds.
“I have been spending time on things like happiness, how we can create a happier, more positive workspace in community, and also how we, as individuals, can live a happier life.”
Working with startups
“When I’m working with startups, I help by coaching them, to think about how to build a business? Especially when we’re facing obstacles. How do we really keep ourselves motivated and how do we innovate? There are many things I have learned through my study and working in the Western world in the US,” she said.
Michelle concluded saying: “I was a business leader for many years. I learned a lot from working for those great companies about management, about leadership, about how we develop people. These are things I would also like to bring to China, and other parts of the world that might find them helpful.
“These are also the things that help clients to think – how can we not just be heads down in the day-to-day business of operations, but zoom out, stand at a higher level, and look at who we are, why we are here, how we’re helping the world and the community? What can we do to help? It could be through our products and services – it could even be through being a better citizen in this world.”
For more information about Michelle Yingyi Zou, visit here: Pacific Technologies Consulting Group
For more from Women Love Tech about how we can encourage more women in the tech industry, visit here.