#iumienwomenmoversandshakers: Fam Saeliaw-Chao

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

-I think the most significant barrier to female leadership is the glass ceiling that exist between living and working in a patriarchal society, in which women who strive to obtain leadership roles are usually last choice in comparison to their male counterparts and if they are chosen to fulfill a leadership role, there is an unspoken sense of doubt towards women in being capable to carry out the role. Nevertheless, there has been a slight shift in opening doors for female leadership roles, but there is  more work to be done in creating and increasing equitable opportunities for women in breaking through the glass ceiling.

What is one event that helped shape your life?

At a very young age when my family and I immigrated here to the United States , I started helping my parents and relatives, and folks in the Iu Mien community complete their applications due to language and cultural barriers. I have always been involved and stayed connected with the Iu Mien community by volunteering and helping out others in need, in order to support them in grasping a more sustainable livelihood. By doing this, I found a sense of purpose and fulfillment in helping others and decided to pursue higher education by attaining a Master's degree in Social Work so that I could continue to help and serve the community on a greater scale.

What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life? 

One of the toughest decisions I have had to make was getting married and starting a family at a very young age while pursuing my career at the same time. As it was culturally and traditonally expected for Iu Mien women during that time to get married, start a family, and work. As a daughter in-law in a traditional Iu Mien household,  you are expected to follow traditional gender roles such as coming home after work to cook and take care of your family. I couldn’t hang out with my college friends after class and was expected to come home to my family as it was seen as culturally dismissive to break traditional gender roles. With all that being said, I do not regret the choice I made because if  it wasn't for this bump in the road I wouldn’t be the person that I am proud to be today.

What is an accomplishment you are proud of?

I was the first person in my family to obtain a college degree and probably very few in the community that obtained a degree back in the 90's. After receiving my BA , I worked for three years so that I could gain the experience I needed to apply for and pursue a Master’s degree in Social Work. Since I graduated, I started working immediately for Alameda County Social Service Agency as a Social Worker III and was later promoted as Deputy Public Guardian  Conservator/Investigator. At the same time, I worked and raised my two children, I didn’t give up my dream despite the hardship and the challenges along the way in being a full time college student, worker, mother, and wife.  After I graduated from my Master's degree in Social Work and worked for a couple years, I decided to have another child to complete the last puzzle piece to my family, in which I put on hold to accomplish my career.

If there was a young girl out there who wanted to do what you did, what would you tell her?


I would tell her to never get married too young and get your education and establish yourself first before starting a family. Once you set your mind to something, go for it and never give up.  Also, communicating, networking, and getting yourself known in the community are the key for success. As success isn't just obtained through a college degree, but also though your experience and network, and social support.

How can people get a hold of you? i.e., social media, phone number

They can FB message me or email Famching510 @gmail.com.

you can email the response to saciumienassociation@gmail.com along with a picture.

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