Power Players

They offer a roadmap to get more women to the top

(page 1 of 3)

     From left: Gwen Pacarro, Dee Jay Mailer, Shari Chang,
     Constance Lau, Margery Bronster, Janet Liang and
     Kathryn Inouye. Back to camera: Shara Enay.
     Photos: David Croxford

Click here to read Extended Version.


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
Kathryn 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 
Complex Manager for Hawaii, 
Morgan Stanley Smith Barney
Shara Enay 
Moderator, writer, 
Hawaii Business Magazine


The first question is 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 should women take to get there?

Inouye: In the not-for-profit sector it is probably a little bit easier. The challenges are in for-profit businesses. Today, the workforce is about 50-50 men and women, but there is a much smaller percentage of women in the C-suite. There’s a lot that needs to be done. I think it starts with education – more encouragement to women and to girls to pursue more ambitious fields and if educators are not familiar with people in those fields, they have to bring in mentors.

Mailer: The best way for women to get to the C-level is to step up to every opportunity and not worry whether they have all the credentials, experience or knowledge. Bank on your generic traits such as being collaborative, intuitive, a galvanizer, a synthesizer. If you’re courageous enough to step forward when an opportunity exists or create that opportunity, then suddenly you’re visible and influential.

Lau: A lot of women 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 your kids are grown, then you’ve got to step up. Women have to be willing to take risks. If you’re not willing to take risks, you aren’t going to get that promotion.

Liang: Take on extra assignments to become visible, but seek jobs and projects where there is operational accountability or accountability for the bottom line. Often, women take planning roles, chief-of-staff roles, process, organizing, and those aren’t career-track positions.

    "In my industry, women don’t have the equivalent of an
     old-boy network. So it’s important for us to provide
     that support system.” —Shari Chang

Chang: In my industry, women don’t have the equivalent of an old-boy network. So it’s important for us to provide that support system. Also, men have time for social networking, whereas many women go out of work and into their second career, the family. So, we need to find ways for them to build connectivity.

Liang: I ask women: Are you married yet? Who is your partner? If you want to be a chief executive, let me tell 
you about the kind of guy you need in your life (laughter by others), so you can have it all. You will need time off work to have a child or because the child is sick, and at work, that diminishes your ability to be successful. You have to manage your own affairs at home so it doesn’t become an issue for your employer.

Inouye: Traditionally, if husband and wife were both working, the woman did most of the household chores and childrearing. Now, there is more 
balance because men want to be involved in childrearing and because women demand their husbands take on some chores (laughter). That gives women more time to do late hours or business dinners. Those are requirements if you want to move up. Companies can help with family-friendly policies so both men and women can take off when the children are sick or to go to the May Day program. It creates happy, loyal employees and higher productivity.

Enay: Should women find a good mentor? If so, how should they select that person?

Inouye: This magazine (laughter).

Chang: It starts in your own company but must also be outside your company. I’ve been following the career of a lady who worked with us years ago and she just called to ask, “Could we have lunch, because I have a big career move and I want to get your opinion.” We have to keep those relationships and be available even if we’re busy. That means so much to them if you can give advice.

Bronster: You’re not limited to women mentors. (General agreement.) Many of us started our careers when there were very few women leaders. I was at a firm of 500 lawyers in New York and there were only two female partners out of a hundred. There were dozens of young female attorneys and the partners didn’t have the time. So you needed to reach out to someone who appreciated what you had to offer and, in my case, a number were men.

Mailer: However, if you’re constantly looking for a mentor, that can play against you. Rather, step up, show what you can do, and people will notice you and want to mentor you. You don’t have to ask. They’ll give you advice because they see potential.

Lau: The point Dee Jay makes is especially relevant if you’re going to be CEO, because in the CEO suite, the buck stops with you. (General agreement.) So, you really aren’t looking for advice. You’ve got to make those decisions.

Enay: A lot of you are on community and corporate boards. Is that a good steppingstone for women who want to develop their careers?

Lau: Being on boards is really great particularly because you get a broad view of an organization and you get to talk about its strategy, how the world around it is changing, how would you position that organization. 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 you also have to develop your reputation so you’ll be asked to join the right boards.

     "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.”
     —Gwen Pacarro

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. That’s a way you can do it that is not as threatening as in your job, so it’s a great place to learn and to experiment.

Enay: Does the glass ceiling still exist?

Lau: I don’t think there is any question that it still exists. (General agreement.) And, particularly, at about age 35, because that’s when women want to have families and, oftentimes, they take themselves voluntarily off of progression, or it happens because you can’t spend the time that you need to do a great job and advance.

Mailer: It’s true that the glass ceiling is still there, but I choose not to care about it, because if you do, it’s there. We’re all sitting in places where we can expose other women to opportunities and one of the best ways is when an organization has a big challenge. Assign a young woman or four or five of them to work out the challenge. Then they become known as the go-to people.

Bronster: Each of us has been very lucky. Each of us has had opportunities, but I think that to deny that the glass ceiling exists is a disservice to young women. About 50 percent of the young lawyers admitted today are female, but there are very few female main partners at law firms. Same in accounting. So, we have to recognize that the glass ceiling still exists, but it’s not impossible to break through.

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