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Finding my own voice

May 10, 2023
Linda Tai
Linda Tai

Fannie Mae

As the Chief Technology Officer at Fannie Mae, part of my job is to ask the hard questions and celebrate our achievements. But speaking up didn’t come naturally at first, it’s a skill I’ve grown into as I’ve grown my career.

Growing up in Taiwan, I was raised in a culture that emphasized humility and respect for authority. We learned to be seen, but not heard, to be humble and work hard, and good things will come our way. It was common to downplay our achievements, strive for harmony, avoid confrontation, and follow the rules.

When I came to the U.S. for college, I quickly realized that the societal norms here were quite different from those I grew up with. People were vocal about their achievements, often promoting themselves, and were not afraid to ask hard questions, even to authority figures. Those behaviors seemed to be rewarded, and I found it challenging to adapt.

As I entered the workforce, I had more encounters with this new-to-me culture. After I started leading people, my manager noticed some very useful functions built by my team; he was very impressed with the quality of work. He coached and advised me that I should highlight such great work. This moment cemented my understanding of how giving credit was an important way to bring visibility to my teams, enable them to grow their careers, and recognize their capabilities and accomplishments.

In that moment, I understood as a leader that I had to be more vocal and more direct than I was used to. I had to find my voice and use it to support and elevate my team members and the quality work they produced.

There was another instance early in my career when I was in a meeting where everyone around me seemed lost. I finally asked, “What are we trying to achieve?” — something I would never have done previously to avoid major confrontation. Everyone was very appreciative that I spoke up. At that point, it became obvious that I was doing a disservice to myself and those around me if I didn’t speak up, offer my perspective, and ask direct questions without fear of offending others.

I have observed that good leaders want to be questioned, they welcome being challenged — as directly and openly, yet respectfully as possible. And that’s the environment we have established here at Fannie Mae.

I encourage my teams – and us all – to accept ourselves and find our own voices. Finding your identity in the workplace requires self-awareness, confidence, and a willingness to take risks. You can have a positive impact by keeping your values and cultural identity, while taking the best from other cultures, and offering these learnings to your teammates, and beyond.

Over time, I have learned to strike a balance between my upbringing and U.S culture. I still believe strongly in humility and respect, but I also know that I have a responsibility to my peers, team, and myself to celebrate achievements, ask important and hard questions, and make sure my opinions are part of the conversation, in order to get the best outcomes for our business.

We are looking for teammates who will use their voices to help us support a secure, sustainable and equitable housing industry. Come explore a career at Fannie Mae.

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