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Power Players – Extended Version

They offer a roadmap to get more women to the top

(page 4 of 6)

Lau: You have to treat the glass ceiling like any challenge. It’s no different than any challenge. You just have to look through it, take the risk and blast through it. In a way, I’m in Dee Jay’s camp. You don’t even want to think of it as a special kind of challenge, it’s just another challenge to take on whether it is gender-based, whether it is ethnic-based, age-based, whatever it is.

Mailer: There may be a more important ceiling now, which is a class ceiling vs. a gender ceiling. Socioeconomic class, where you start out in life, tends to be a ceiling for many people. So when you look around the table about who you can give opportunities to, it’s people who have taken on that challenge as well. It’s kids who come out of poverty, who tend to get labeled very early, and giving them the chance to succeed early on. I think that ceiling is one that I am really concerned about, especially in Hawaii.

Enay: What is the role of educators at the grade school or college level to help women advance in their careers and realize their potential?

Lau: You went up the scale. I would have gone down the scale to Dee Jay’s favorite area: early education. It starts when kids are born and you start encouraging them dream that there are no boundaries – that they can do whatever they want to do. That’s frankly where innovation comes from in our society, from people who feel that there aren’t any boundaries, even though somebody tells them there’s a challenge or there’s some blockage to getting somewhere. You just don’t let it bother you and you just keep going. Those are the people who can vision, who can actually see the future, can see a difference, can break paradigms, and that’s what you’re looking for in great leadership.

Bronster: And to give children, whether they be boys or girls, the tools to get there. One of the things that all leaders have is self-confidence. You’re not going to be able to lead a group of people unless you are confident and many of our young women lack that self-confidence, and it leads to risk aversion and not taking the leadership role. Those are things that we have to overcome at an early age.

Pacarro: When we are talking about education, I also think sports have a really important role. It is the competition, the ability to get up when you fall down, to understand what it’s like to lose, to be on a team. So much can be learned from sports and as we look at leaders within the community, typically the women have had some sports experience. I think if we look at ways that we can encourage girls, I think we need to encourage the girls to be sports-minded and to develop leadership skills that way. I think Title IX is the greatest that ever happened to encourage women in sports.

Mailer: If not sports, if you’re like me, I’m was such a klutz. (Laughter.) Speech and debate or anything that sets you up for your self confidence and allows you to compete at your best early on. Some of us were at a conference where we were talking about creativity. We were talking about when we lose creativity and when the boundaries start forming and there have been studies on it. I will misquote the statistics but it’s dramatic: When you’re young, about 3 or 4 years of age, your creativity index is really high, 80 percent creativity, and then by the time you enter elementary school, you’re down to about 50 percent. By the time you get to middle school, you’re about down to 40 percent or 30 percent. All of your creativity or your willingness to step out and do things because you’re not afraid greatly dwindles by that time, so starting early to keep those boundaries open for people is really critical.

Lau: That goes back to education because a lot of what takes away that creative element is the structure and the rigidity of the educational system.

Inouye: I have a kid story to tell that’s education-related. I was invited to speak to the third grade at Mililani Mauka Elementary School, the entire third grade, and they wanted me to talk about development for three hours. (Laughter.) What I did was I recruited different people in the industry and I said, “Remember, you’re talking to 9 year olds.” I had a master plan of various communities that we simplified and was more cartoon-like. We explained to them, “This is where the houses are and this is where the golf course is” and so on. After we gave the initial presentation, we asked the children to comment on these master plans and it was amazing. You talk about getting kids out of their shells. I told all of these people that came with me, “I want you to pick on kids who aren’t talking and ask them for their ideas.” We could not get these kids to shut up. They were so excited.

One little girl was following me around as we changed classrooms and she asked, “How much money do you make?” (Laughter.) At $300, she’d go “Wow!” She didn’t have any frame of reference or insecurity. I said, “The question you should ask me is, ‘What kind of car do I drive?’ ” because kids can relate to that. So she asked, “What kind of car do you drive?” I said, “A Mercedes,” and she went “Wow!” Then she asked, “Were you good at math?” And I said, “Yes. Are you good at math?”  She answered, “Not very.” I said, “Study math.”

Pacarro: One time I was asked to do a shadowing program for Girl Scouts and the young woman I was assigned probably hadn’t been told what the kind of position I had. I asked her, “How are your math skills?” She said, “Oh, I stopped taking math in the 8th grade.” How can people have a choice to stop taking math in the 8th grade? We need to develop math skills – math, sciences, engineering skills – in women because you need those skill sets no matter what job you’re in.

Enay: Dee Jay, you are in education. What is the role of educators in developing women leaders?

Mailer: Exactly what I said earlier, but it’s not only working with students, it’s working with the people who surround students – families. Because sometimes families and your community that set your goal before you even know what it is. So as educators, we have to, No. 1, make sure that we offer every opportunity for students to be creative, to do critical thinking skills. I said speech and debate, but I wasn’t kidding. People need to be able to articulate what they feel and what they think and they need to be able to go one-on-one with another human being who is sharing their opinions, too. So there are very generic skills and the schools are getting better at teaching, so it’s not just content like geography or math or English or French. It’s actually behavioral skills that need to be taught and then helping families understand that they have a role in supporting that. That is really key, because we have children in our hands for a certain amount of the day, but then they go back to homes, and they go back to communities, and their roles are set there. It’s very hard then to turn that around.

Enay: What about government? What role does it have in developing women leaders?

Bronster: If you look at Hawaii, either at the county level or at the state level, we’ve had a history of having a lot of women at high levels. So government does give an opportunity for a lot of women to take leadership roles, but I don’t think that government should be in the business of promoting women. When laws are broken, there is a role for the HCRC (Hawaii Civil Rights Commission) and other organizations to enforce the laws against discrimination, but I do not see the government as having a responsibility to say “We think that women are underrepresented at the CEO level and we should do something about it.” I don’t think that’s the role of government.

Inouye: If definitely shouldn’t be legislated. (Several voices agree.)

Mailer: Yes, but we could look for policies or old laws that might be discriminatory and take care of those at least.

Bronster: I think we have a very good set of laws on the books. The question is whether or not we actually have the resources to enforce those laws. Because a lot of women say, “I’m not getting equal pay for equal work” or “I am getting those questions that are probably not appropriate questions” or “I’m not getting the opportunities,” and there are not a lot of resources to enforce those laws. That may be more of a problem.

Enay: What about other programs like those that give advantages to women-led small companies? Do you agree with those? Should we have more?

Bronster: I think we actually have quite a few that are up and running, if you look at various preferences either in the federal programs or in small business. There are a lot of opportunities. I think that a lot of our young women aren’t taught to take advantage of them.

Enay: I’m curious to know what skills or characteristics you think have given you a competitive edge in your fields?

Chang: One of the things they’ve all said is confidence, and that certainly helps, but also learning how to face some battles and not back down too fast. You sometimes have to compromise, but if you back down too fast, you’re just going to be run over. One of the biggest challenges for women that I see on a very consistent basis in our industry is skills that are admired in men – perseverance, being direct, being a hard-charger – are construed in women as being combative, not a team player. (Others agree). We face that constantly and have to get people beyond those feelings that it’s different for women, because it’s not different. I always reminded my kids that they didn’t have brothers, but I had three brothers and learned to fight very early, and I did survive. My mom always reminded me, though, “Make sure you choose ones where the goal is worth it, because you’re going to have a rough time when you battle with three brothers and make sure the goal is worth it.” I think that relates to business: Pick your battles.

Pacarro: If you look at the words we’ve used before – collaboration, cooperation, bringing the community together – I think those are important traits that women tend to have. Seeing the best in others, trying to bring out the skill sets of those around you, finding out who to develop. We tend to look for that more because we do that in our children. I’m not saying men don’t do that, but we tend to have more of a knack for it, so those things are important to us.

Mailer: Find ways that you can do vs. you can’t. Whenever there is a moment of silence, or people are talking about why something is so hard that it can’t happen, be the one who figures out a way to do it, because everybody likes to move forward and no one likes to stay in the same place. If you can be a part of that, then that will set you up to be a leader in the next round.

Liang: You also have to manage your own brand to remind people. You need to check in on what people think of you, people who you respect, people in leadership positions, their feedback. Women have a hard time promoting themselves, but you have to. If you do good work, people need to know that you did good work. If someone describes you as a workhorse, team player, great person, those are typically the compliments that come before, “Not a leader. Workhorse but not a leader.” You don’t want to get trapped in the mentality of “If I just work really hard, somebody will recognize me.” Women have to take control of their recognition and their interaction, especially in large corporations. You are constantly managing your own brand in large corporations.

Bronster: In one of the questions you sent before the forum, you asked about traits that are typically female. I would like to really look at it from a different framework: What are the traits that leaders have? Not female leaders or male leaders, but just leaders. I came up with a list: Integrity, dedication, humility, openness, creativity, fairness, assertiveness – not to be confused with aggressiveness – and a sense of humor. None of those strike me as particularly male-based. I think that women who have all of those leadership traits can make it.

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