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Chasing Dreams: The Women Engineering Vietnam’s Future

Part 1: Le Thi Thu Hang of GE Healthcare

Chasing dreams is never easy. But for the women helping to engineer Vietnam’s future, chasing dreams has offered both challenge, and hard-earned reward.

Vietnam is a nation with a strong record of promoting gender equality, with one of the most engaged female labour forces in the world. Yet women persistently face challenges and as a nation we must come together to address.

With GE’s commitment to local development of talent and expansion of social opportunity in Vietnam, we’re dedicated to playing our own part in helping tear down those barriers. For the first part of our Chasing Dreams series, we present the story of Le Thi Thu Hang, of GE Healthcare.

I’m the youngest of seven siblings. My parents are old now, they’re seventy five this year. My family is originally from Quang Tri, but they later moved to Dong Nai, where I was born.

Our family had many children, so we were considered to be one of the poorest in the village. My parents were both farmers, but by the time I had grown up they could no longer work. My brothers and sisters had to work to support each other, and help me with my studies. The village we lived in was very remote, and at that time only my parents and two of my sisters lived at home. Three of my siblings were away, studying in Ho Chi Minh City.

I was aware of our poverty from a young age. I remember, when I was eight years old, our family were invited to a wedding. All the girls in the village had their nicest dresses on. I didn’t even own a single dress, and for that I was laughed at. That memory really stuck with me.

We often didn’t have enough rice to eat. We had to mix it with corns and other beans. When I studied, I only had an old oil lamp with me. My parents encouraged me to study very hard, and go to Ho Chi Minh City. I knew that I had to go. I couldn’t live like that anymore, and I didn’t want to see my kids going through the same difficulties I did. I told myself I’d do everything I could to break free of poverty.

Back then, my parents went to work very early in the morning. My sisters and I had to work hard as well, every day after school. We had to do the harvesting, and even the hard work normally done by men. My mum worked continuously from early in the morning to late in the evening.

We were too poor to dream. My parents’ only advice was not to become a farmer like them. For me studying was the only way to escape poverty. That’s why I was always top of the class in school. When I got to high school, my brother persuaded me to pursue a career in medicine. He pointed out nobody he knew who studied medicine had ever been without work.

That made my mind up. I attended the University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Ho Chi Minh City, to study for a Bachelor Degree in Dynamic Imaging. After I graduated, I went to work for a local hospital, where I worked for five years. I even met my husband there. Like me, he now works for GE.

Meeting the experts at GE in my role at the hospital was a huge motivator. They impressed me so much that I started to invest in learning fluent English. Even though I didn’t earn much, I used all my spare money to fund English lessons. Later, I was lucky enough to work with an expert from GE who recognised my English language skills and convinced me to apply for GE. And here I am now!

Challenge and opportunity.

My first role at GE was as an Application Specialist. I worked in that role for four years, before changing to my current position. Now I work for GE Healthcare, based in Ho Chi Minh City, as a Product Sales Specialist in CT equipment.

One of the first challenges I faced in joining GE was adapting to the culture. The working environment was so different from working in a national hospital. GE wants employees to be independent and manage their workload.

When I started working here I was shy, not confident in my communication. I’d feel anxious before meetings. But working in the professional environment at GE, alongside the courses they’ve enabled me to attend, has supported me to become a better communicator. GE helped me change the way I think to become stronger, more confident and professional.

Of course whether you’re a man or a woman, striking that balance between work and life is hugely important. I’m lucky to get a lot of support from my family, especially my husband, which has made that much simpler.

It wasn’t always an easy path. As the first batch of female technicians in this specialty in Vietnam, there were a lot of incorrect assumptions we had to overcome. There was particular gossip around the problems with X-rays and how the  y might impact women’s fertility. Of course they weren’t true, but it was still challenging. One of my friends sadly dropped out because of this.

Even when I got the job of Application Specialist, I had to challenge other people’s perceptions. Often customers were surprised to see me, expecting someone in my role to be a man. They quickly came to understand as I worked with them that I could carry out my role equally as well as a man.

The role I’m in now is the first such position in Vietnam, and I’m the first woman to take it on. My direct boss is in Malaysia, so I had to learn a lot on my own. But I’ve proven that I’m able to adapt and deliver great work. One thing that’s important to remember in a company like GE, is they always offer fair opportunity for success whether you’re male or female.

Advice.

Now five years on, I’ve visited nearly fifty provinces and cities in Vietnam. I’ve had the chance to visit Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia for training. I’ve managed to visit Australia on business. In 2014 I even received an award from the CEO of GE Healthcare ASEAN. It’s amazing how proud I am of this position. You just need to work hard and do your best to achieve your dreams.

During my studies at university, everyone was shocked, seeing a female student studying Dynamic Imaging. They would ask me why? My response? “Why not. Is there a reason can men do this, but not women?” Just remember – nothing is impossible.

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