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Power Players – Extended Version

They offer a roadmap to get more women to the top

(page 5 of 6)

Enay: Don’t you find that in the workplace, if women get a compliment – your boss says, “You did a great job!” – women downplay it and say, “No, we all did it” or “I got help from somebody.” Is that a disservice? Is that a local thing?

Inouye: Maybe so, but if you are responsible for these things, I’d just say, “Thank you. I’m glad you noticed.” I was busting my butt now. (Laughter.)

Liang: Don’t look down on the ground when they say you’re doing a great job.

Inouye: It’s also good to recognize your team. When you recognize your team that’s when you get the best results. (Everyone agrees.) That’s when you get people to put out the best they can. One thing that was mentioned before that is critical in any leader, male or female, is being an effective communicator. It’s being persuasive across all types of audiences, whether you’re dealing with bureaucrats or antidevelopment groups or children or engineers or financiers. They’re all different audiences. In the past year, I have done 29 public meetings for the Cancer Research Center and that didn’t include meetings with the faculty and the staff and everything else. Every audience is very different, so you can’t take your stock speech and your standard approach with all the audiences. It’s understanding your audience and being able to reach whatever your objective is. Part of being able to communicate is being able to listen well and being able to respond creatively to people’s concerns, so don’t promise what you can’t deliver, because that hurts your credibility in the end, but I think that is the way you’ll get by-in from stakeholders. What some people say is, “I’m not good at speaking in public. I can’t do it.” No one’s born being able to speak up – it’s a skill that’s learned and developed over time and with practice.

Mailer: Absolutely.

Inouye: The more you do it, the more you listen to others do it, the better you become, but it’s absolutely essential for any leader.

Pacarro: The main thing you have to do is assess yourself. You have to do a real hard look in the mirror. We have to do it at all times of our life – ask, “Where are we weak, where are we strong?” – and tackle those weaknesses. Not give up and say, “Oh I can’t learn that.” That is really when we start to step up, when you say, “OK this is not something that I’m strong at. I need to work on this part.” How will I work on this? Do I need resources to do that? Is that something I can do on my own? I think that is something that all of us have done at different times in our lives, whether it’s time to go back to school to study something, or whether it was how to learn public speaking.

Mailer: Do it early and do it as many times as you can. I remember I was in a spelling bee and I was so afraid to get up on that stage that I made myself sick so I could stay home that day. That’s how scary it can be at such a young age, but then when you have to step up the next time, be in that spelling bee or give that speech or that debate early on, you figure out that you can do it.

Bronster: And when you fall down, just pick yourself up and keep on going.

Lau: Yes, you have to practice. There is just no other way. It’s like working hard. You don’t get anywhere without working hard, you don’t get anywhere without practicing. You have to identify people who you think are good speakers and study what they do, practice, have yourself videotaped, do it in front of the mirror, whatever. More practice is better than not.

Enay: We touched on this a little while ago, how there’s a double standard when women are assertive and outspoken, they get called the B-word sometimes, dragon lady, but when a man possesses those same characteristics, he is no-nonsense or a take-charge kind of guy, straight shooter. (Laughter.) How do we get around that and what is the difference between being assertive and being aggressive?

Inouye: It really is how the message is delivered, because we have a similar word for men and men will have names for guys that are like that as well. I believe part of it is cultural because in Hawaii you don’t come across like a bulldozer, you have to feel your audience out first and then you come across with a sense of humor or whatever it is. In my industry, we tend to classify people if they don’t know how it’s done here or they don’t understand us here because typically it’s not someone local that comes across that way. It is usually someone from the Mainland who comes across as too strong and “I know everything, you guys don’t know anything” and “I’m going to tell you guys how it’s done.” That’s what I think we find more offensive, so I don’t hear it as much in our industry as a male-vs.-female thing. It’s more how the message is delivered.

Pacarro: When I think of the difference between assertive and aggressive, I think of the assertive person taking into consideration what is around them and asserting their message, whereas the aggressive person has got their ears closed and is just going forward and not listening to what’s around them.

Mailer: And honoring the people that you’re speaking with. You’re asserting your opinion, but you’re honoring them at the same time.

Chang: I still feel there’s a distinct double standard when it comes to the way women are regarded. By the way, I don’t see aggressiveness as being a negative – in my experience it’s a positive. But I think it’s a tough situation because this double standard is very inbred in many corporations. “That’s not being a team, that’s combative,” yet that’s what you are paid to do, you negotiate contracts, you cut deals, you can’t be a wimp, you’ve got to be good at it. So, I think it’s going to take a lot to get that out of the system. It’s a long ways away and I think that the more women you get in the system, the better it will be.

Liang: I agree. It’s not just work harder, but, as I said earlier, there are more critics of women. There’s a different standard. I would also say is I noticed that some men can get away with lack of personal organizational competency – they can’t use their phone or can’t open an Excel spreadsheet (laughter) or can’t use the Xerox machine. It’s endearing, but women better darn well know how to take care of all that stuff. So there are all kinds of strange, unsaid standards and criteria.

Mailer: I feel like we’re getting on the edge of bashing men, and I know we all don’t intend that, but because this conversation is about women. I really believe that some of the positive traits we’re describing are generic. They’re not gender-based, both good and bad. Because there are some women who demand that someone else do the copying. I think it is about leadership and that we should focus on that rather than focusing on the difference between men and women. We won’t waste the energy on the gender issue and we’ll actually be moving towards something that will grow us and grow the companies we work with.

Bronster: I think one of the things that we haven’t touched on that is really critically important in being a leader is having the ability to make a decision. Sometimes it’s a hard decision and sometimes it’s a decision that is not going to be completely agreed to by everybody, but having the ability to go ahead and take that step.

Inouye: And take the responsibility.

Bronster: Exactly. Because I think that’s where I see a lot of young women faltering and young men, too. When we talk about impediments for women, the inability to actually take that step and take that step alone is something that hits a lot of women. Women who want to be collaborative and want a buy in from everybody – that can lead to a decision that is not going to be good for anybody. So stepping forward and making a decision that is consistent with your brand, your plan, your vision, is really important.

Enay: One way to develop more women leaders is to learn from other people’s experiences, so what are some challenges that you faced in your career and how did you overcome them, whether they were related to gender or not?

Inouye: Persistence. Persistence in the face of the challenges and criticism, because you know what needs to be done and how it needs to be done and just getting it done? Whether they have the sufficient resources or not. I think in the end when you prove that you’ve done it, that’s what gets recognized, and again it’s not a gender issue, it’s just a personality trait really.

Lau: Yes. And it’s a frame of mind that really is gender neutral, race neutral, whatever. You just have to think of yourself as any person and as any leader and just do it. When we start talking too much about gender issues or ethnic issues, you get trapped in some of the stereotypes and that’s exactly the opposite of what you want. You want to be able to break out of those bounds and just think of yourself like a leader, exhibit those kinds of traits, produce those kinds of results. We say girls should be good in math or science. At the end of the day, at least for us in the for-profit sector, we’re hired to do a job because we can produce results and we can make money for our shareholders and take care of all our stakeholders. Those are the kinds of things that you actually have to focus on – not all the barriers to getting you there – and figure out creative solutions to actually produce those results.

Enay: I’ve interviewed Connie before about a department in our magazine called Advice from the Top. Does anybody have advice from the top – lessons that other women could learn from?

Mailer: Two lessons. They’re not dramatic, but were really important for me. One is not getting the job. So you’re racing ahead and your career’s just going gangbusters and you think, “Gosh, I’m going to apply for this job” and it’s a CEO position and you walk in and you feel really good about your interview and they say, “Sorry, we’ve picked someone else.” At that point, it’s a defining moment. Do you relegate yourself to other things because you can’t achieve or do you just look for the next opportunity? That’s one. Two is, be clear about the organization you want to work for. If you don’t resonate with the values and mission of that organization, you will find yourself fighting against a storm that is constantly going to be there and you won’t be at your best. But if you find the organization or an industry that you just love, then you are at your best. So I will say that if you’re stuck in a place that you can’t respect or you can’t align yourself with, then move on.

Pacarro: Or if it doesn’t utilize the things that you have to offer. If you have a certain skill set and a way that is your natural self – if you can’t be your natural self in your job, if that can’t come through, you won’t be real and so you won’t succeed at what you’re doing. You’ll be subordinating those things that you like about yourself.

Inouye: Don’t stay in a dead-end job too long. This is what I tell young guys. Every spring, summer and Christmas break, college kids or kids come home from working and living on the Mainland, will just cold call me and ask, “Can I sit down and have coffee with you or lunch” and that’s my advice I give to them. They hate their job, they don’t like the company, they don’t feel like that they’re going to move anywhere in that company. They clearly are very skilled, bright people, highly motivated, but it’s time to go look for something else. Don’t be without a job, but don’t stay too long either just because it’s giving you a paycheck.

Bronster: Be open to the opportunities.

Chang: It’s part of that risk thing we’re talking about. Being willing to walk away from it and take another challenge.

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