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Power Players – Extended Version

They offer a roadmap to get more women to the top

(page 1 of 6)

Click here to go to the abbreviated version of this discussion.


Participants in this discussion:

Margery Bronster: Partner, Bronster Hoshibata and former state attorney general
Shari Chang: Senior VP, marketing and revenue management, Aston Hotels and Resorts.
Kathy Inouye: COO, Kobayashi Group.
Constance Lau: President and CEO, Hawaiian Electric Industries.
Janet Liang: President, Hawaii Region, Kaiser Permanente.
Dee Jay Mailer: CEO, Kamehameha Schools.
Gwen Pacarro: Senior Vice President, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney.
Shara Enay, moderator: writer, Hawaii Business Magazine.

Enay: The first question is really the reason why we’re here: How do we get more women in Hawaii to the C-suite – that is the CEO, CFO, COO positions for nonprofits, businesses and corporations – and what steps women should take to get there. So, Kathy, go ahead. Set the tone.

Inouye: In the not-for-profit sector it is probably a little bit easier for women because they tend to gravitate to social work types of fields. I think the challenges are in for-profit businesses. I have been in this business for 30 years and it’s transitioning. The workforce is about 50-50 men and women, but there are a much smaller percentage of women in the C-suite. There’s definitely a lot that needs to be done.
I think it starts with education. The education field again tends to be predominantly female and those females have never been in business or in high-level positions, so it’s difficult for them to relate to students at that level. So there probably has to be more encouragement to women and to girls to pursue more ambitious fields and if these educators are not familiar with people in those fields, they have to seek them out to bring in mentors. That’s really pushing young girls to look for something different.

Mailer: As women already in positions of influence, we have an opportunity to bring women who are growing up in the industry – whatever industry it happens to be – to make them visible because there is incredible talent there, but sometimes a woman doesn’t get the chance to be a visible person in the organization. So it’s our kuleana to do that. The other thing is women in any industry need to understand that they have a tremendous number of traits that they need to exercise on an active basis. So, the first step in a woman getting to the C-level is to step up, step out with every opportunity they can, and not to worry about the fact that they may not have all the credentials or all the experience or all the knowledge behind that stepping up, but step up, and bank on your generic traits that you have to be collaborative, to be intuitive, to be a galvanizer, a synthesizer. All those generic traits that if you’re courageous enough to step forward when an opportunity exists or create that opportunity when you see it arise, then all of a sudden you’re in a position of being visible and also influential, and so there’s two things we can do as women.

Lau: I like what Kathy said about encouragement because I think that’s the key: You have to encourage young women to take on jobs that they might not otherwise take on. A lot of them for personal reasons don’t want to accept promotions. That may fit at a certain point in your life, but, later on, when you have more time and maybe your kids are grown up, then you’ve got to, as Dee Jay says, step up. I think the most important thing to get them to the C-suite is that women have to be willing to take risks. If you’re not willing to take risks, you aren’t going to get that promotion, you aren’t going to get the visibility.

Pacarro: One of the things that we’ve heard, too, is that women tend not to speak up and that their voices are not heard. We have to encourage other women to speak up and that is something that we can help foster over time.

Mailer: I don’t think you’re going to have that problem with this group. (Laughter.)

Lau: The trend to empowered leadership is helping, because you’re moving away from dictatorial leadership that doesn’t listen. Today’s empowered leadership is supposed to listen to people around them and that plays more into the traits of women.

Liang: I agree with taking on extra assignments outside your role to become visible, but women should seek projects or jobs where there is operational accountability or accountability for their bottom line. Often women take planning roles, chief-of-staff roles, process, organizing, and the reality is that those aren’t career-track positions unless you’re really accountable for results in many organizations. So, it’s a trap. You have to be visible, but you also need to be very careful about the assignments you choose.

Lau: Yes. The other way they say it is, “You have to go to the line.”

Liang: Women will fall into staff roles more quickly either because they’re suited for it or they want to be helpful, but you’ll tend to see men get promoted to or invited to a developmental capacity and take a line role that they have never done before.

Chang: One other thing I see a lot in my industry is that the women don’t have the equivalent of a good-old-boy network and, good or bad, that’s a fact. So when women are looking for other opportunities in transitioning and doing different things, there’s really no support system like you see in that network. So I think it’s really important for us to step up and provide that support system for women during their transition time or as we’re mentoring them as they’re trying to move up whether it’s in a new organization or not.
The second thing is social networking is a lot easier for men. They have a lot of time whereas many women go out of work and into their second career, the family situation, and so they don’t have as much time to do social networking. So, we need to find this way of allowing them to build these relationships and develop connectivity, which will give them the same results as the social networking of men.

Bronster: To follow up on what others have said is that young women have to learn that they cannot be risk averse. So many young women fear failure to the extent that they are not even willing to step up and do the job.

Liang: One of the things I ask women: Are you married yet? Who is your partner? Because when they talk to me, they want to be a president, they want to be a chief executive, and one of the secrets is what kind of support do you have at home? Quite honestly. Let me tell you about the kind of guy you need in your life (laughter), so that you can have it all, so that you can have children and can become a president. Whether we like it or not or accept it, you need time off work to have a child or to go to daycare because the child is sick, and in the work setting, that diminishes your ability be successful. That is a sad statement and I’m not endorsing it, but there’s truth to it and you have to sort of accept it and manage your own affairs at home so that it doesn’t become an issue for your employer.

Inouye: I’m looking at what I was like when I was raising children and I would encourage women not to wait. If they really desire a professional career and want to get into the management level or executive suite, I encourage them not to take a lot of time off. You have to make a choice, but the difficulty is that, traditionally, even if the husband and wife are both working, the woman still had the brunt of the responsibility for the household chores and childrearing activities. I think what is happening now is that there is more of a balance because men are choosing not to be like their fathers. They want to be more involved in childrearing and, because women are becoming more assertive, they are demanding that their husbands take on the work of the household chores (laughter). Because there tends to be more balance, women have more time to do the late hours or the flexible hours or the business dinners. Those are all requirements if you want to move up. Where companies can help, whether it’s formal and informal, is to adapt family-friendly policies. I think it’s good for men and women because it allows that flexibility of time so both men and women can take off when the children are sick or to go to the May Day program. It provides for happy and more loyal employees and higher productivity because you’re not worrying about your elderly parents or your children.

Enay: You folks talk a lot about mentoring. Would you challenge all women who want to rise to the C-suite to find a good mentor and, if so, how should they select that person or where should they look.

Inouye: This magazine (laughter).

Chang: I think it starts in your own company – certainly we all have the opportunity to develop younger people – but also outside of your company, if you have any charitable o other organizations that you work with. I have a lady who called me up just today, who worked with us years ago, but I’ve been following her career and she knows I’m very interested in it. She has always considered me a mentor and she asked, “Could we have lunch because I have a big career move to make and I want to get your opinion on it.” We have to keep that kind of relationship and be available to meet even if we’re busy. That means so much to them if you can give them some of your advice, whether it’s what she wants to hear or not.

Pacarro: There are different levels of mentoring. I think of an advisor level, someone who is not necessarily in the same industry, but who understands your life. The advice may go beyond what’s happening in the office, but more of where your life is going, and that may be a dear friend, male or female. I think the mentor relationship really becomes someone who is probably in the industry or at least understands your industry, understands the politics, understands what you’re up against, and I think it’s essential that you have at least one person that you depend on or at least can call on. And then I think there is even a level beyond that where you’re actually getting a workplace advocate. If you’re in a corporation like mine and you want to make a move, you have to have someone who behind closed doors would be your advocate to make the next move. If you don’t have that you won’t succeed.

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