Dianne Lee is breaking barriers and glass ceilings, hear from this 21st century Asian immigrant and her journey and success in America

Have you ever heard the famous saying “a woman’s work is never done?” Well, it is in fact very true: women take on three times more unpaid care and domestic work than men. So that means that’s energy and time taken away from women advancing in their own careers, earning more money and enjoying less leisure activities. Ahh, but we didn’t add being a minority woman on top of all of that!

Dianne Lee conquered these social and gender stereotypes in the working world by standing up and setting an example for the next generation of all minority women by creating a path that will leave a lasting impression.

At a tumultuous time, an Industry Insider finds herself advocating for her community and industry.

Who Is Dianne Lee?

As a young Chinese girl growing up in predominately Muslim Malaysia, Dianne Lee never imagined that one day she would immigrate to America and earn her seat as a Board of Director on four prestigious industry boards. Building a successful career amidst challenging stereotypical perceptions and in predominantly male industries, she shares her inspirational life experiences of overcoming the adversities of negative stereotypes to achieve positive outcomes. In Leveraging Stereotypes to Your Advantage, Dianne includes her insights on how negative stereotypes, biases, and situations can be transformed into positive growth and general well-being, both personally and professionally.

“Mom always said, if it gets too hot in the kitchen, it’s not because the kitchen is too small, it’s because you have a recipe that’s about to leave a lasting impression.”

Dianne Lee

Dianne Lee is a tireless advocate and respected professional in the male-dominated Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industries. With more than 15+ years of experience, she has been credited for multiple billion-dollar contract awards both nationally and internationally. Her success is based on her personal belief in empowering individuals regardless of gender, age, race or status. All the recent negativity directed towards minority and, in particular Asian, communities coupled with her passion for supporting all women, motivated her to write Leveraging Stereotypes to Your Advantage.

The book comes at a tumultuous time when prejudice and attacks on the Asian community have grown and spread all over the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Dianne wants to use her voice and platform to address misconceptions by highlighting the positive contributions of the Asian community in America.

About the book: Leveraging Stereotypes to Your Advantage is an invitation for women to go on a journey of self-discovery and self-confidence to identify and find their voice, core values and platform so collectively we can all pay it forward. Through her inspirational story, Dianne shows how to capitalize on every opportunity to design a limitless life, by turning society’s views on stereotypes into advantages.

Her goal is to inspire, ignite, empower and unite minority women to turn obstacles into life changing and impactful opportunities and move to transform corporate culture into a more inclusive workspace.

Dianne with her entourage
Asian American Architects and Engineers Association Annual Banquet 2021

“Each time a minority woman stands up, adds value and is present in a conversation, unknowingly she is representing the next generation of all minority women because she is creating a path that will leave a lasting impression. The domino effect is priceless.”

Dianne Lee

After reading Dianne Lee’s book, we wanted to delve in deeper on a more personal level:

SHE: Being from such a multi-faceted background, do you feel that has helped you even more in battling gender and cultural biases and stereotypes?

Dianne Lee: Yes, I do believe it has supported my growth and has allowed me to adapt and pivot when and where I needed to. My upbringing in Malaysia and transition to America and in the professional environment has exposed me to a myriad of obstacles, challenges, opportunities, and platforms. These experiences have taught me how to address certain issues, how to walk away when needed and how to navigate and manage things head on.    

SHE: Do you think companies should train their employees on being more culturally competent?

Dianne Lee: No, I don’t think it is the responsibility of the company. I do think it should lie on the responsibility of the individual.  We are all responsible for the person we are today and we’d like to become.  Being culturally accepting and competent starts with us. Our genuine care for others, respect for each other, curiosity for what makes us unique, our patience to establish and learn more about each other and kindness that we extend in and out of the office environment, all starts with us. Companies can however, intentionally hire, promote, and create a diverse workplace that is inclusive and welcoming in support of all people.  Companies can also create a respectable and safe environment for everyone to have a voice. 

SHE: You have broken glass ceilings not only in the United States but abroad as well (i.e., UAE), did you find it more difficult to work in a predominately male driven industry in the US or overseas?


Dianne Lee: That’s a tough and complex question to answer, there were varying degrees of stereotypes and cultural challenges.  Both environments were just as complicated.  But the challenges were the same. The ability to have a voice and to be taken seriously as a woman presented universal challenges in both the United States and in the United Arab Emirates.  

SHE: How did you learn to leverage your yin and turn it into a yang?


Dianne Lee:Great question, I am not an individual who likes to waste time. So, whenever anything bad or less than favorable happens, I am always the first to ask the question. What am I supposed to learn from this experience and how can I leverage this and turn it into a positive outcome?  I am a firm believer that where there is chaos, there is opportunity that’s just waiting to be discovered.  I also find that if we are not learning from negative experiences, then we are not capitalizing on what the universe is trying to teach us and that’s a missed opportunity.  And as a professional Business Developer, I hate missing out on a great opportunity to be better. 

SHE: You mention Kamala Harris in your book as someone who “embodies the future of a country that is growing more racially diverse and inclusive.” How can we implement “Kamala Harris” type qualities in our day-to-day work life?


Dianne Lee: I frequently observe other highly successful women in leadership positions and one of the main traits they have in common is they never lose sight of how they got to where they are today.  They share their struggles, and they are grateful for all the women who have paved the way for them.  When you listen to and watch the Vice President, she frequently reminds us of all the women who came before us, those who fought so hard for us to have a voice.  She thanks them and she acknowledges their sacrifices.  My success today is a direct reflection of my gratitude. Gratitude towards my parents, mentors, disruptors, and supporters.  Another characteristic we can embody from the Vice President is how she is utilizing her platform to promote, elevate and highlight the contributions of other women.  Women who are making real life miracles happen and earth-shattering advancements for our communities. I absolutely love that about her. Within the construction industry I am actively featuring, empowering, and giving women in a highly male dominated industry the respect and credit they deserve by giving them a platform to share their stories and the positive contributions they are making in the industry. 

SHE: You mentioned your Dad was “stifled in his trajectory and that for the same reason he was never taken seriously…but his work ethic was never wavered.” Would you say you learned your work ethic from your Dad, and what have you done different to have been at the position you are today.


Dianne Lee: Most definitely, my father kept his eye on the ball and despite many setbacks he chose to continue thriving in his environment. He chose to continue supporting his team, even when he wasn’t given the credit or promotion.  He chose to always do the right thing, even when no one was watching, he chose to fight the good fight because he knew that they could be successful as a team even if his hard work and performance was being ignored because of the color of his skin. I learned a lot by watching him persevere.  He taught me to think beyond the initial objective and to focus on the broader goal and vision and for that I am eternally grateful to have him as such an amazing role model. I am however, doing things differently. I am more proactive in ensuring that my voice, value and contributions are being heard by everyone that matters.  As a woman in a highly male dominated industry, I have to be able to share my accomplishments without being arrogant, I must be brave enough to speak up when there is a better solution to things and I must do all this without jeopardizing my integrity, reputation and self-esteem. 

SHE: What moment in your career was a game changer for you?


Dianne Lee: I can’t say I had one moment or instance that was a game changer for me. It was more of an accumulation of many moments of continued success when I started to realize more and more people, both men and women, asking me for my strategies and solutions and seeing them get adopted for successful outcomes.  It occurred to me that I was being invited and included on more and more meetings because what I had to say mattered, and I was being recognized for my out of the box thinking and approach. That was when I realized how others perceived and valued my knowledge of the industry, client relationships and my ability to win multiple key contracts on behalf of the firm I represented.  I continue to evolve today as a business developer and am excited about my future as I continue to pave the way for other up and coming women.

SHE: Do you think women can have it all?

Dianne Lee: Yes, I do but it doesn’t come with a lot of sacrifice, hard work, determination, and passion.  Which is why I am encouraging more women to be supportive of each other.  Which is why in both Chapter 10 and 12, I write about the advantages of being a woman, the unique perspective we bring to every conversation and how we can find our seat at the table while supporting other women. I am an example of how we can be unafraid to have a voice in a room full of men.  I also remind all women – It’s a beautiful thing when you can design and construct your career…. It’s sexier when you can help someone shape theirs, be the person that makes a difference! Choose to want to Inspire – Ignite – Empower and Unite all women! We are truly stronger together.

SHE: What do you want women and young females to take-away from your book?

Dianne Lee: That everything starts with respect and kindness, respect, and kindness for yourself and for others. Why is this important? Its important because being respectful and kind is the best way to start a relationship and when relationships are built on mutual respect and care for each other it becomes less challenging and confrontational and more meaningful and fruitful.  Even when disagreements occur, those conversations will be conducted with an open mind and in a professional manner.  In addition, you can choose to help anyone at any time and you don’t need a title to do that. Don’t wait to be someone’s mentor or ally. Contribute now in a meaningful way and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how that can help you shape and grow as a person. And I want to encourage more women to say yes to opportunities.  Yes to positions with the potential of you growing into.  Yes to new and exciting adventures to volunteer and participate in.  Yes to making new friends even if its outside of your business interest. As a business developer your network is your biggest asset. In addition, saying yes means you allow yourself to learn from your mistakes and when you do that you are encouraging personal growth. Remember – Your greatest adversities are opportunities to shine. Use them to propel you forward and don’t place a limit on your potential. In chapter 12, I share staggering statistics from a report, based on perceptions imposed on us, Asian women are the least likely to get promoted, with only one in 285 likely to hold an executive position. If this does not provide food for thought and does not trigger the need for change and unification as minority women, I am not sure what will.  Data such as this, gets me fired up and want to do more in support of other women.   Join me in this movement by Leveraging Stereotypes to your Advantage.

“I can’t change the color of my skin, my slanted eyes, or the country where I was born, not should I have to. Therefore, my lifeline is my ability to be tenacious and that tenacity has helped me to endure hardships that come in the form of unproductive relationships.”

Dianne Lee

USC President Carol Folt

Book: Leveraging Stereotypes to Your Advantage Author: Dianne Lee
Publishing Company: Performance Publishing Group Launch: May 21, 2021
Pre-Order: diannelee88.com Contact: [email protected]
Location: The historic Shakespeare Club, Pasadena, California
Picture credit: Charles Ng, Time on Film Photography

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The USA edition launched in 2018. SHE USA appeals to the upper echelons in the fashion world between ages 20-65. 

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