Ali Leung, the latest subject of our #WomenInspiringWomen series is accomplished. She has an MBA, she sits on the boards of Canada Learning Code and Royal St. George’s College, she is a wife and mother. She is also the VP of Marketing of WW Canada. There are certainly women in senior leadership roles across the country, but we are still under-represented and are trying to get our seat at the table. We wanted to find out what this busy mother of two attributes her success to, still finds time for wellness and how WW as a company embraces body positivity, something that Leung is familiar with spearheading in her own career. Her messages about the company that she works for walking the walk and the way she sees success will inspire you.
You have spearheaded body positivity in your career even before you joined WW. How have your own views around body positivity changed over the years? Why has this become a growing issue, particularly over the last decade?
Having “grown up” at Unilever, I saw the positive impact of portraying real women first-hand, in our Dove work. It only made sense when I came to WW that we continued to hero our incredibly strong, determined and beautiful members. My views on body positivity have only strengthened over the past decade. I love that embracing real people in marketing has gone far beyond Dove. And I probably love it even more because now I’m a middle-aged mom of teenagers!
As marketers, we have a responsibility to portray authentic and relatable images of women. The body positivity movement continues to gain momentum and credibility, fueled largely by real women who are fed up with unrealistic and unattainable representation in social media and advertising. I commend all the real women, the influencers and the brands who are keeping it real and showing that being strong and beautiful doesn’t look a specific way or come in a specific size.
You have seen firsthand the role that social media plays both in business and in everyday life. How important is social in helping women feel more informed about their health and have a more positive relationship with their body?
There’s no question that social media can affect body image. Fortunately, there are so many positive forces on social media that help us see ourselves in a more positive light. WW has partnered with inspiring and relatable ambassadors like Cat & Nat and Daphne Oz, because they are the real deal, can laugh at themselves, and at life. For Cat & Nat, their wellness message to their social followers (mostly moms) centers on finding the right fit for YOU, and that healthier choices can make you FEEL better, and not just look better. In the case of chef and TV personality Daphne Oz, her message to her followers is that eating healthy should also taste good, and she is dedicated to sharing delicious AND healthy recipe ideas with her followers. We empower and encourage our WW ambassadors to create social content that is personal, authentic and unscripted.
How has WW evolved as technology has evolved?
WW has been focusing a lot of attention on our award-winning app. The app makes keeping track of your meals and exercise simple. There’s a barcode scanner, thousands of recipes, and you can meditate anytime through Headspace, and exercise with Aaptiv. Members can get advice from a coach 24/7 and find daily inspiration on Connect, our members-only community. The WW digital experience has really evolved so our members have the support they need, in the palms of their hands! To respond to the current need for social distancing, our in-person workshops have moved online with Live Virtual Workshops. With the need for connection also being so big right now, our community is sticking together online to maintain overall health and well-being with the unique personal connection a WW workshop provides.
Wellness means so many things to so many people. What does it mean to you? How do you incorporate it into your busy life?
For me, wellness is when you feel strong and healthy, and you have a positive way about you that others can sense. Not long ago, I hit my heaviest weight ever – this was just before I started working at WW. Fortunately, I embraced the WW program, lost 25 lbs, and haven’t looked back. Not feeling great about myself preoccupied my thoughts for a couple years. It was more than my clothes not fitting – my imposter syndrome was at its peak. No executive coach could do for me, what WW ultimately did.
As for how I incorporate wellness into my life, fortunately, WW walks the talk as a wellness company. We have a great gym in the office with a personal trainer that comes in a couple times a week, and a kitchen filled with healthy snacks – and I am so grateful my work enables me to incorporate wellness into my life. And recently, like so many Canadians, I’ve been working from home. The WW app has enabled me to stay on track with my wellness goals. With thousands of healthy recipes, and built-in access to Aaptiv and Headspace, I’m able to maintain a wholesome approach to my well-being from the comfort of my home. I also know that when I take better care of myself, I can give more to those I care about.
There is a tendency for women to seek a quick fix when it comes to health and wellness and ultimately, weight loss. Many go on WW and find long term success. How do you get your message to resonate with people that want immediate results?
With 50 years of behaviour-change research, WW knows how to help members develop healthy habits. We know that in the long-run, deprivation is not a sustainable strategy. Nothing makes me happier than hearing our lifetime members say, “WW is a lifestyle, not a diet” and hearing how the program ultimately shifted their behaviour.
When the finish line feels so far away, the advice we give our members is to break down the goals into bite-size pieces. For example, just focus on the first 5 lb milestone. We also encourage our members to focus on the non-scale victories – like being able to walk more steps or having more energy because they made healthier food choices.
You are quoted as saying the following: “We’re seeing that what resonates most, is when we invite others to tell their story. The more we relinquish the narrative, the more relevant we become. You can call it diversity, authenticity, credibility… all we know is that when we invite ‘non-custodians’ to tell their story, the magic continues.” We see many companies who don’t allow authenticity in their messaging, and even try to control the message. This seems to be something that you have found important throughout your career. How do you invite ‘non-custodians’ to tell their story?
At WW we’re so fortunate. Our members love sharing their stories – they are deservedly proud of their achievements and want to help others succeed on the same journey. I’ve never seen such a supportive and generous bunch. I only wish we could hero all our members, as their stories are incredible!
Women have come a long way in the business world, yet it is men that we see in senior roles. What advice would you give to a young woman fresh out of school getting her start in the business world?
I agree with Sheryl Sandberg that one of the most important career decisions you will ever make is who you choose to marry (or partner with). It can be tricky when there are 2 careers in a family. I didn’t know this when I married him, so I really lucked out with my husband. He has assumed equal responsibility for kid-related activities, we do equal amounts of work at home, and he is completely capable of caring for our family when I’m travelling. There’s no question that I have a 50/50 partner, and he’s a big reason I’ve been able to achieve what I have in my career. And by the way, having a husband who knows how to cook makes life better, in general!
People find it inspirational to see women in senior leadership roles. Over the years, who has inspired you?
I have been so fortunate to have several inspiring models in my career – both women and men. What they all had in common, was that they cared deeply, and had ridiculously high expectations! But I would do everything humanly possible to avoid disappointing them, because they put so much faith in me.
What does success look like now versus when you got your start in the business?
Success now is much more intrinsically motivated, vs. when I first started working, and it was more extrinsic. Today, knowing I can help make a difference and have impact on people’s lives is about as good as it gets. I hope eyes aren’t rolling because this probably sounds so cheesy, but I guess it must come with age!