Women in Digital: Yuelin Li

Yuelin Li, VP strategy at Onfido reveals how taking risks while younger have paid off, and the challenges today of balancing a career and family

Posted 7 February 2022 by Christine Horton

Did you enjoy school?

I have always loved learning and reading, so I really enjoyed that aspect of school and getting to grips with different topics. Despite moving schools multiple times, I was lucky enough to fall into a kind friendship group each time, which also helped to make the days more fun. 

What qualifications do you have?

In contrast to my current career, my first move after leaving school was actually in medicine. I completed a diploma in Chinese Medicine in Beijing, before heading to the University of Cambridge to finish my first year of medical school. But at some point during that year, I realised that being a doctor for the rest of my life wasn’t for me and made the switch to Economics. After university, I moved to London, where I was sponsored by JPMorgan to complete the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Programme. Since then, the majority of my learning has been on the job, but I am looking forward to doing a Professional Certificate in Executive Coaching later this year. 

Has your career path been a smooth transition, a rocky road or a combination of both?

For me, it has been a combination of both. I took the biggest risks – leaving medicine and finance – relatively early in my career, when the stakes didn’t feel so high. Perhaps it was this willingness to take risks that led me to the world of technology start-ups, which has been a brilliant fit for me. Fast forward to today and I continue to enjoy working in a fast-paced environment that encourages constant innovation. 

What is the best career advice you can give to others?

Early in your career, it’s critical to seek environments where you are supported, championed and mentored, especially by your boss. Ideally, this should be the case for your whole career. It is also very important to find roles where you can keep learning and developing since roles and industries will change so much over the course of a long career.

If you had to pick one mentor that had the biggest influence on you, who would it be?

My most important mentors are my father and my husband. They are both exceptional at dealing with failure and success with equanimity. I knew I wanted to balance a career and family, so having a life partner who respects and supports this has been critical to making it (mostly) manageable – as well as enjoyable, of course!

From where do you draw inspiration?

For a more global view, I read and listen widely from books to long form articles and podcasts. I also love meeting and listening to people’s stories which is a skill I honed while volunteering in cancer hospices and hospitals during my teenage years. 

What is the biggest challenge you have faced to date?

The biggest challenge I have faced is being truly present with my family, after a long and tiring work day. It’s far too easy to scroll mindlessly on a screen rather than being an engaged and present parent and partner. Luckily, I get to face and re-face this challenge every day! 

What qualities do you feel makes a good leader?

For me, being a good leader is about having humility, empathy, integrity and curiosity. As you become more senior in an organisation it is easy to succumb to echo chambers made up of ‘yes’ people, which can make you value your own opinion too highly. I also couldn’t see myself working for someone I didn’t think had integrity – life is too short. 

From a work viewpoint what has the last 12-24 months been like?

At Onfido, we’ve really benefited from the digital transformation that Covid has driven. This is reflected in our extremely strong financial performance in the past two years. We’ve also adopted a remote-first working policy, enabling us to hire in many more locations across the country and world.

On a personal note, the freedom of remote-first work has allowed my partner and I to visit our families for extended periods and enjoy long summers in Croatia. I feel very fortunate on both fronts. 

What would you say are the biggest tech-based challenges we face today?

As digital identity and what it unlocks becomes increasingly ubiquitous, there is the parallel challenge of making sure these products and services are fair, accessible and safe to all citizens. This is something that we’re investing heavily in at Onfido.

I also hope we are able to use technology to positively impact the other existential challenge of our time – climate change. Technology can be so incredibly powerful and transformative when pointed at the right problems – and I’m an optimist! 

Give us a fact about you that most other people wouldn’t know.

I have not really watched TV since I was a teenager but read 50+ books a year and meticulously research and track what I want to read next.