Xu Simon: I hope to give women permission to follow their own passions,
Instead of giving advice, I hope to give women permission to follow their own passions, to do it their own way, and to make mistakes along the way.
I have always had a passion for science, and so I studied hard and had planned to become a professor. But two things happened to change my plans. First, I took a professional risk after earning my PhD. I switched to a job outside of academia so I could accompany my husband to a new city, where he was starting his career.
The second change was a direct result of my starting this new job. My new career path paid off in a big way by illustrating clearly for me the ways science and business both support and need each other. Since then, I’ve worked tirelessly on helping get the best science out to the public, where it can do the most good for the people who benefit from scientific discovery.
What does the cleaning industry need?
What the cleaning industry most needs now are visibility and respect. Cleaning is still considered “women’s work.” And women’s work is often undervalued, underfunded, and overlooked. However, cleaning is very fundamental to every industry. It promotes health, safety, and maintenance. It requires technical expertise in chemistry, materials science, environmental science, design, psychology, and any number of other specialized fields. Cleaning is far from trivial! I’d like to see a transition within the cleaning industry that mirrors the transition that cooking underwent in the 1990’s. At that point, chefs started to elevate in the public consciousness from invisible background technicians to well-respected artists showcasing their unique talents. It’s time now for the cleaning industry to showcase its strength as a foundation of every other industry and to insist on high-quality cleaning products that won’t harm the environment or the humans that work with and around these products.
What advice would you give to other women?
I shy away from giving advice because I think women are already surrounded by people who are trying to tell them what to do. This can take the form of “mentoring” and is certainly a well-meaning attempt at trying to solve the gender discrimination problem. However, I believe that relying on mentorship perpetuates a power imbalance in which women are rewarded for implementing someone else’s ideas but not for having and following their own.Instead of giving advice, I hope to give women permission to follow their own passions, to do it their own way, and to make mistakes along the way. Making mistakes is essential for deep learning, and people who own their mistakes own their power. I hope more women feel free to try something out, to make mistakes, to learn from them, and to use them to make their work better going forward.