Power Players – Extended Version
They offer a roadmap to get more women to the top
(page 6 of 6)
Enay: Do you women think that you’ve gotten to your positions because of skill, because of support, because of your own tactics, because of luck, or is it a combination of everything?
Bronster: Do we think that or do other people think that? (Laughter.)
Enay: To what do you attribute your success?
Bronster: I think all the things you mentioned and more. (Several say, “Timing.”)
Mailer: A passion for what you do.
Chang: Being open.
Enay: Does luck have a lot to do with it?
Bronster: Taking advantage of the opportunities that luck may bring you.
Inouye: I don’t think luck would make my top 10.
Liang: Knowing yourself.
Lau: Risk taking.
Enay: What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
Lau: Probably going into a job that I knew nothing about. You often see that happen within corporations. If corporations are going to develop their young talent oftentimes, we’ll move people to jobs that they have no background in, but we believe in them and their leadership skills, their management skills, and so we believe that they can learn a substantive new area. It’s like job swapping and that can be a very scary thing because you don’t know that area. You aren’t going to be the expert; you’re really being moved there because you’re a great manager, you’re a great leader. That’s your opportunity to actually prove yourself, so you have to be willing to do those kinds of things. I think women tend to want to do that less I think than guys do.
Bronster: You need to step outside your comfort zone. When you said you took a job that you didn’t know anything about, I did that once too. (Laughter.) When Governor Cayetano asked me to be attorney general, I was literally reading the Constitution to see what that job entails. I definitely stepped outside of my comfort zone, but it was a great opportunity.
Lau: People wouldn’t have asked you if they didn’t have confidence that you could get the job done. Hopefully, you want to prove them right.
Chang: I had the unfortunate opportunity once of being asked to compromise my integrity and I walked out of that company. I loved my job, but I just thought, “I’m not going to go there.” I remember going home that night and talking to my family, and I told them, “Don’t you ever do something just for money. Don’t you ever do that.” Then they asked, “Mom, what are you going to do?” And I said, “I’m going to get another job. I’m not going to compromise my reputation for someone else.” I think that’s a tough thing that people sometimes do face – difficult challenges like that – but they have to take the risk and move on, because if you have the confidence in yourself, you will continue to survive and do well.
Liang: I was in a company for 15 years. I was in the No. 2 spot and decided that it was time for me to do something else. I was ready to be a president and I have my own vision on how I want to do things. So I moved to Hawaii with my family, and it was fairly risky, and there’s nobody here that I knew. It was the top job in a market that was challenging and at the same time I was new to the company. You have to take those risks if you want that top job.
Pacarro: A mistake that a lot of young people make: They think there’s a class that provides you with a curriculum for every job. There are some things that are specific, although it changes over time. But you don’t really school yourself for a certain job. It’s not like they give you a manual and you sit down, study and go to work. (Laughter.) What (those that hire you) recognize is that your life is your entire experience toward that job. When you get that job, it’s because people believe in you. It’s because they think with all the background you have, you will excel in that job, and you have to learn it on the job. OJT is what the world is about. You jump in and you say, “OK, now what’s next?”
Lau: And it’s not only that Gwen, because even if you are in a job, the world around you is changing constantly and great leaders have to be able to adapt to those changes, to be able to guide your corporation through those situations, and so life never stops. You never have all the skills that you could learn. Think about technology, how quickly technology is changing the world. You have to be able to continually learn new things and put them to use.
Pacarro: That’s another thing to add to success in leadership: Being able to adapt to change and to continue being a life-long learner, because you’re constantly back at school in your own way.
Mailer: And it’s not all about you, which should be comforting as well, because if you’re entering an area that you haven’t experienced it, you got to look at the people around you and know that they may have experienced a lot more than you have and you’ve got to depend on them. I have no problem saying thank you to the team for doing this because it’s true. And that audience, the people, the staff around you, love to be honored in that way. So you know it’s not all about you, and the moment you think it is, is the moment you fail.
Enay: For young people trying to rise up the ranks, how do you know when it’s time to take the next step? How do you know when you’re ready?
Lau: You’re never ready. (Agreement and laughter.)
Enay: I interviewed someone who said that they were not qualified for every single promotion they’ve ever received, that they just sort of winged it and made it happen. (General agreement.)
Mailer: It’s like parenting.
Bronster: But usually if you have the confidence that you can try and that you’ll do your best, I think that’s what makes the difference between someone who does go up the ranks and someone who stays in their complacency.
Enay: A lot of you are on community and corporate boards. Is that a good steppingstone for women who want to develop their careers? And at what stage should they be looking at joining boards? Their 30s, 40s, 50s?
Bronster: Always. (General agreement.)
Liang: Sooner. In your 20s.
Lau: Being on boards is really great particularly because you get a broad view of the organization and you get to talk about the strategy of the organization, how the world around it is changing, how would you position that organization and those are all very useful skills in your own job. For really good boards, sometimes you have to be asked, so you want to be able to sit on boards as soon as you can, but then you also have to develop your reputation so that you will be asked to join the right boards.
Enay: How do you choose which boards to give your time to?
Pacarro: In the nonprofit sector, you should have a passion about your cause and your vision, just like you do for the organization you work for. The reality is that if you’re on a nonprofit board, you probably have to help fundraise. That is what you do on a board. A lot of people don’t realize it, but that is the heart of what you do. And if you have to ask, then you best believe in the organization. Don’t do it just because you want to meet the people on the board and because you want to get exposed, because your heart won’t be coming through when you have to do the asking.
Lau: That actually applies on for-profit boards as well. You have to believe in what that organization is doing, otherwise it’s very hard to sit on the board.
Bronster: When you choose an organization, you have to ask yourself: Are you going to make sure you attend that meeting and meaningfully participate?
Pacarro: Boards are a great way to pick up skills that you’re not getting elsewhere. When I was in my 20s, I joined organizations that were primarily women-related simply to have that safety net and then to develop onto other boards. But it allowed me a chance to try out the different positions – whether it be secretary, treasurer, vice president, or president –to see what that felt like and to take the risk to learn.
Lau: It’s also a great networking opportunity because the people on boards are usually very diverse, so you have an opportunity to learn what other people do in their jobs and how they might approach problems.
Liang: And you can experiment. If you want to hone your finance skills, sit on the finance committee. There’s ways you can do that are not as threatening as in your job, so it’s a great place to learn and to experiment.
Mailer: In fact, it can be harder sometimes sitting on a board where you don’t have a relationship, necessarily, with the people around you. If you take a leadership position that is a big challenge to get people that don’t know you to follow a path, but it’s a great experience.
Enay: Any specific boards that you would recommend for women? It is women’s organizations like the YWCA.
Pacarro: I don’t think that women should limit themselves. I think that is certainly a great way to go, if that’s a comfort zone to begin. But I wouldn’t limit yourself to that.
Mailer: You could think strategically about how is our society changing and where are the focal points of change. For instance, education in this state is going to change – it has to change – so look for opportunities to sit in that arena because there is going to be a lot of action there. Healthcare is going to change tremendously. Healthcare reform is hitting us and we don’t even know how it’s going to hit us. Sit there. Sit on boards where there’s entrepreneurial things going on, because that’s going to change. If you want to think strategically, be in focal points of change for this community.
Lau: What I look at sitting on boards, one of the most important things for me is who is the CEO, because you want to have your contribution count and it will count more if it is an organization that is in change, that is moving forward, and usually you need a good strong CEO to move that change forward. So look to get behind a great leader. Most of the time, they’re young leaders, which is kind of the fun part. As part of the board, you can help that CEO to build that organization. Some of the more fun boards that I’ve sat on are when it is a relatively new organization and you’re helping build it. Those are great.
Inouye: I look at who the other members are on the boards and I talk to them to see what they like about sitting on that board. I always want to make sure that my name is just not another on the letterhead. I always tell them I don’t have the time, so if you just want to put my name on a letterhead, I don’t want to sit on that board. I want to sit on the board if I can make a meaningful contribution, so it’s something you have to have a meaningful passion for as well.
Mailer: And ask them why they want you? Because if they can’t answer that or if the answer is something that doesn’t fit with what you want, then it’s OK to say, “Thank you. I was honored to be asked, but no thank you.”
Chang: I was involved with a young group that didn’t want to be a part of a bigger organization. So they started their own younger, entrepreneurial way of raising funds for the same group, but they just didn’t want to be a part of that organization because in their minds it was almost a typecast organization, yet they believed in the mission. I thought that was very cool that they did that. They had very different ways of meeting, they had wine meetings, very different from what we’re use to, but it was a very clever way of getting younger people more involved. You could see that there were people in that younger group who eventually would probably migrate onto the major committees on the big board, so I thought that was pretty interesting way of tackling it.
Enay: I’d like to close by going around the table and asking if you have any specific advice for women who are on a leadership track. What can they do to get ahead? Maybe this is a summary of what you said earlier. Just some closing thoughts.
Pacarro: The main thing that women on a leadership track should think about is being certain that they’re in the appropriate industry, they’re in the appropriate job, they’re aligned with the organization they’re with, and for them to really allow themselves to become who they are naturally. I think that really is a key to success and I think they need to make sure that they’re willing to work hard. If they’re fortunate to have a partner, be certain that they cultivate that relationship along the way because there’s more to live than work, and be certain that they have that fulfillment as well.
Mailer: Find your passion first. After that always say you can, and walk through every door that is opened for you.
Chang: Don’t limit yourself and don’t let other people limit you. I think that’s important that you don’t accept that you can’t have it all whether it’s family and a career, things like that. I think you can and you just have to be willing to go for it.
Lau: I would just add seek out the opportunities where you think you can make a contribution.
Bronster: And when the opportunity is handed to you, don’t be afraid of failing and just take the risk.
Liang: You guys covered all of it. (Laughter.) What I would say to my daughter: Deliver what you said you’re going to do and also manage yourself, be responsible for how you show up, your attitude, and what happens as a result of what you choose to do and don’t do.
Inouye: If you’re on the leadership or a management track already, you’re almost there. It’s a matter of how you get to that point, right? So if somebody is already on the management or leadership track it’s not long before they will get noticed. I think the key is, again, don’t wait too long. It’s going to take you a year or two or five or 10. If it’s going to take you too long, I think it’s time to move on and look elsewhere. If you love what you’re doing, look for it in another company, because sometimes you’re looking up above you and saying, “The only way I’m going to get promoted is if these guys retire,” and sometimes it is not realistic. So if you’re going to have to look for it somewhere else, so you need to know when the time is to move on. I always impress upon people: Make the move early, because time is precious, and if women wait later to have children, we don’t have all that much time to develop a career after that if you choose to stay home and raise children first.
Bronster: And have fun. Enjoy what you’re doing and enjoy the people around you.
Inouye: Enjoy life. Work is not your life.
Enay: Thank you all very much. That was a great conversation.
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