They offer a roadmap to get more women to the top
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"I ask women: Are you married yet? Who is your partner?
Liang: In hospital healthcare in Hawaii, roughly 75 percent of the employees are women, and in the No. 2 spot more than 50 percent are women, but at the top level, about 20 percent of the hospital CEOs in Hawaii are women. Nationally, its 10 percent. Getting to the next level is not necessarily about the leadership hard skills, but some of the soft skills: presence; being able to build community relationships; in healthcare, it’s working with medical groups, which tend to have male leaders, and the specialists tend to be male.
Chang: In the tourism workforce, women dominate, but in the upper-level positions, other than the family-owned companies, you don’t see women at the very top very often.
Pacarro: I like to view the glass ceiling as, “OK how do we get through it? How do we get through and around it, rather than feel it is impenetrable?”
Enay: Do you think women have to work harder than men to get to the top?
Inouye: Way back in another company, I was told by my immediate supervisor, that to get ahead, “You’ll have to work twice as hard as anybody in this office.” I looked around and thought, “That’s not going to be too hard.” (Laughter.) But I would say that for anyone, male or female, to get ahead you have to work hard to be recognized.
Liang: For some reason, there is more criticism of women, so women often get feedback about behaviors, how you use your power, or how you show up emotionally at work, whereas for men there is more of a free pass. That’s just part of reality, but I’m not pessimistic about that. Partly, you have to have the capacity to take it in stride, with some humility and laughter. How many times has somebody thought I was the secretary and handed me things to copy? (Laughter.)
"Whenever people are talking about why something is so hard that
Enay: What characteristics gave you an edge?
Chang: Confidence 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 women’s biggest challenges in our industry is skills that are admired in men – perseverance, directness, 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.
Pacarro: 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.
Mailer: Find ways that you can do vs. you can’t. Whenever people are talking about why something is so hard that it can’t happen, be the one who figures out a solution. That will set you up to be a leader in the next round.
Liang: Women have a hard time promoting themselves, but you have to. If you do good work, people need to know. If someone describes you as a workhorse, team player, great person, those compliments typically 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, especially in large corporations.
"A leader must have the ability to make a decision. Sometimes it’s a
Bronster: What are the traits leaders have? 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. Women who have all of those leadership traits can make it.
Inouye: One thing that is critical in any leader is being an effective communicator, whether you’re dealing with bureaucrats or antidevelopment groups or children or engineers or financiers. You can’t take your stock speech with all audiences. Also, listen well and respond creatively to people’s concerns. Some people say, “I’m not good at speaking in public.” No one’s born being able to speak up – it’s a skill that’s learned over time and with practice.
Enay: What is the difference between being assertive and being aggressive?
Inouye: It’s how the message is delivered. In Hawaii – male or female – you can’t come across like a bulldozer. It is usually someone from the Mainland who comes across as, “I’m going to tell you guys how it’s done.” You have to feel your audience out and come across with a sense of humor.
Pacarro: I think the assertive person takes into consideration what is around them and asserting their message, whereas the aggressive person has got their ears closed.
Bronster: A leader must have the ability to make a decision. Sometimes it’s a hard decision or not completely agreed to by everybody, and that’s where I see a lot of young women faltering, and men, too. 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.
Inouye: It’s important to be persistent in the face of challenges and criticism, because you know what needs to be done and how.
Enay: Does anybody have lessons that other women could learn from?
Mailer: Two are important to me. One is not getting the job. Your career’s going gangbusters and so you apply for a CEO position. You feel really good about your interview and they say, “Sorry, we’ve picked someone else.” It’s a defining moment. Do you relegate yourself to other things or just look for the next opportunity? Lesson two: 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 and you won’t be at your best.
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