Power Players – Extended Version
They offer a roadmap to get more women to the top
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.
Kathy 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: Senior Vice President, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney.
Shara Enay, moderator: writer, Hawaii Business Magazine.
Enay: The first question is really the reason 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 women should take to get there. So, Kathy, go ahead. Set the tone.
Inouye: In the not-for-profit sector it is probably a little bit easier for women because they tend to gravitate to social work types of fields. I think the challenges are in for-profit businesses. I have been in this business for 30 years and it’s transitioning. The workforce is about 50-50 men and women, but there are a much smaller percentage of women in the C-suite. There’s definitely a lot that needs to be done.
I think it starts with education. The education field again tends to be predominantly female and those females have never been in business or in high-level positions, so it’s difficult for them to relate to students at that level. So there probably has to be more encouragement to women and to girls to pursue more ambitious fields and if these educators are not familiar with people in those fields, they have to seek them out to bring in mentors. That’s really pushing young girls to look for something different.
Mailer: As women already in positions of influence, we have an opportunity to bring women who are growing up in the industry – whatever industry it happens to be – to make them visible because there is incredible talent there, but sometimes a woman doesn’t get the chance to be a visible person in the organization. So it’s our kuleana to do that. The other thing is women in any industry need to understand that they have a tremendous number of traits that they need to exercise on an active basis. So, the first step in a woman getting to the C-level is to step up, step out with every opportunity they can, and not to worry about the fact that they may not have all the credentials or all the experience or all the knowledge behind that stepping up, but step up, and bank on your generic traits that you have to be collaborative, to be intuitive, to be a galvanizer, a synthesizer. All those generic traits that if you’re courageous enough to step forward when an opportunity exists or create that opportunity when you see it arise, then all of a sudden you’re in a position of being visible and also influential, and so there’s two things we can do as women.
Lau: I like what Kathy said about encouragement because I think that’s the key: You have to encourage young women to take on jobs that they might not otherwise take on. A lot of them for personal reasons 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 maybe your kids are grown up, then you’ve got to, as Dee Jay says, step up. I think the most important thing to get them to the C-suite is that women have to be willing to take risks. If you’re not willing to take risks, you aren’t going to get that promotion, you aren’t going to get the visibility.
Pacarro: One of the things that we’ve heard, too, is that women tend not to speak up and that their voices are not heard. We have to encourage other women to speak up and that is something that we can help foster over time.
Mailer: I don’t think you’re going to have that problem with this group. (Laughter.)
Lau: The trend to empowered leadership is helping, because you’re moving away from dictatorial leadership that doesn’t listen. Today’s empowered leadership is supposed to listen to people around them and that plays more into the traits of women.
Liang: I agree with taking on extra assignments outside your role to become visible, but women should seek projects or jobs where there is operational accountability or accountability for their bottom line. Often women take planning roles, chief-of-staff roles, process, organizing, and the reality is that those aren’t career-track positions unless you’re really accountable for results in many organizations. So, it’s a trap. You have to be visible, but you also need to be very careful about the assignments you choose.
Lau: Yes. The other way they say it is, “You have to go to the line.”
Liang: Women will fall into staff roles more quickly either because they’re suited for it or they want to be helpful, but you’ll tend to see men get promoted to or invited to a developmental capacity and take a line role that they have never done before.
Chang: One other thing I see a lot in my industry is that the women don’t have the equivalent of a good-old-boy network and, good or bad, that’s a fact. So when women are looking for other opportunities in transitioning and doing different things, there’s really no support system like you see in that network. So I think it’s really important for us to step up and provide that support system for women during their transition time or as we’re mentoring them as they’re trying to move up whether it’s in a new organization or not.
The second thing is social networking is a lot easier for men. They have a lot of time whereas many women go out of work and into their second career, the family situation, and so they don’t have as much time to do social networking. So, we need to find this way of allowing them to build these relationships and develop connectivity, which will give them the same results as the social networking of men.
Bronster: To follow up on what others have said is that young women have to learn that they cannot be risk averse. So many young women fear failure to the extent that they are not even willing to step up and do the job.
Liang: One of the things I ask women: Are you married yet? Who is your partner? Because when they talk to me, they want to be a president, they want to be a chief executive, and one of the secrets is what kind of support do you have at home? Quite honestly. Let me tell you about the kind of guy you need in your life (laughter), so that you can have it all, so that you can have children and can become a president. Whether we like it or not or accept it, you need time off work to have a child or to go to daycare because the child is sick, and in the work setting, that diminishes your ability be successful. That is a sad statement and I’m not endorsing it, but there’s truth to it and you have to sort of accept it and manage your own affairs at home so that it doesn’t become an issue for your employer.
Inouye: I’m looking at what I was like when I was raising children and I would encourage women not to wait. If they really desire a professional career and want to get into the management level or executive suite, I encourage them not to take a lot of time off. You have to make a choice, but the difficulty is that, traditionally, even if the husband and wife are both working, the woman still had the brunt of the responsibility for the household chores and childrearing activities. I think what is happening now is that there is more of a balance because men are choosing not to be like their fathers. They want to be more involved in childrearing and, because women are becoming more assertive, they are demanding that their husbands take on the work of the household chores (laughter). Because there tends to be more balance, women have more time to do the late hours or the flexible hours or the business dinners. Those are all requirements if you want to move up. Where companies can help, whether it’s formal and informal, is to adapt family-friendly policies. I think it’s good for men and women because it allows that flexibility of time so both men and women can take off when the children are sick or to go to the May Day program. It provides for happy and more loyal employees and higher productivity because you’re not worrying about your elderly parents or your children.
Enay: You folks talk a lot about mentoring. Would you challenge all women who want to rise to the C-suite to find a good mentor and, if so, how should they select that person or where should they look.
Inouye: This magazine (laughter).
Chang: I think it starts in your own company – certainly we all have the opportunity to develop younger people – but also outside of your company, if you have any charitable o other organizations that you work with. I have a lady who called me up just today, who worked with us years ago, but I’ve been following her career and she knows I’m very interested in it. She has always considered me a mentor and she asked, “Could we have lunch because I have a big career move to make and I want to get your opinion on it.” We have to keep that kind of relationship and be available to meet even if we’re busy. That means so much to them if you can give them some of your advice, whether it’s what she wants to hear or not.
Pacarro: There are different levels of mentoring. I think of an advisor level, someone who is not necessarily in the same industry, but who understands your life. The advice may go beyond what’s happening in the office, but more of where your life is going, and that may be a dear friend, male or female. I think the mentor relationship really becomes someone who is probably in the industry or at least understands your industry, understands the politics, understands what you’re up against, and I think it’s essential that you have at least one person that you depend on or at least can call on. And then I think there is even a level beyond that where you’re actually getting a workplace advocate. If you’re in a corporation like mine and you want to make a move, you have to have someone who behind closed doors would be your advocate to make the next move. If you don’t have that you won’t succeed.
Bronster: But I think when you’re looking for a mentor or an advocate, you’re not limited to looking at a woman. (General agreement.) I think many of us started our careers when there were very few women. I remember I was at a firm of 500 lawyers in New York and there were only two female partners out of a hundred.
Inouye: You’re lucky you had two.
Bronster: Yes. But the idea of looking to one of them as my mentor was unrealistic; there were dozens and dozens of young female attorneys and they just didn’t have the time. So you really needed to reach out to someone who appreciated what you had to offer and would give you opportunities, and, in my case, a number of them were men.
Lau: Mentoring is wonderful and, fortunately, things are changing where there are women at the top that can mentor younger women. Margery’s story reminds me of my old law firm where there was no woman partner and the only woman was a senior associate and she wanted to have a family, so she had to take herself off partnership track to have her baby. I am really glad times have changed because in those days there were no people to mentor you. I was in a group of women that are all leaders in the banking field and the commonality that a lot of us had was that we didn’t have a mentor. If you wanted to make it, you just had to make it on your own.
Mailer: That point is really important. I find that if you’re constantly looking for a mentor that, in some ways, plays against you because you’re looking for advice or support. Rather, what I say again is, “Step up.” Show what you can do, because you can do so much, and what happens is people then notice you and they want to mentor you. They step up to you. You don’t have to ask them. They’ll give you advice along the way because they see such potential. In fact, in my career I did what I thought I could “do” and all of a sudden I had lots of people and I didn’t have to ask because they saw that I was clearly motivated to “do.” So I would say first of all “do” and then seek advice along the way. People want to help because they see a shining star.
Pacarro: I agree. I don’t think I ever asked someone to be a mentor. Someone comes alongside and suddenly you realize they’re in the shadows helping you in little ways, giving you feedback. Now it’s our time. We have to recognize how much that meant for us, even from the shadows. Now we have to help others, and we probably do that on a daily basis. We can’t forget how important it was early in our careers.
Lau: The point that Dee Jay makes is especially relevant if you’re going to be in the CEO suite because, at the end of the day, in the CEO suite the buck stops with you. (General agreement.) So, you really aren’t looking for advice or mentoring. You’re actually the person who’s got to make those decisions, so you have to step up and just assume that responsibility.
Mailer: At least people have to see that you have that potential and then you get every piece of help that you could ever imagine.
Enay: A lot of women are carving out successful careers in industries that have been dominated by men, such as financial services or construction, science and technology. Which economic sectors and companies do you folks think are pockets of success for women in Hawaii?
Mailer: Development. It was so cool the other night: We went to the Urban Land Institute for speed mentoring and it was really fun. There were young people were in the development field, all facets, and I would say it was 50-50 women and men. Either all the women showed up or that particular industry is wide open to women.
Inouye: I think it’s just starting out for women in that field because I remember times when I was the only female in the room (at ULI). I remember I went to ULI and I was elected to the council from Hawaii. It’s like a football draft – you have to decide what council you’re going to be on and guys fight to get on certain councils. They actually do political lobbying to get in certain councils. I had no time for any of that. I just showed up and these people were fighting over me because they needed to have a female to balance their numbers. I think part of it today might be that women are looking for networking opportunities because, as it was said earlier, women don’t have access to the informal social networks that men do – you know, golfing, cigar nights, whatever – so they have to make their professional networking work for them. Whether it’s professional networking organizations or whether it’s volunteering for charity and nonprofit work. Now, when you volunteer for charity and nonprofit work, the key is to get on a board, not to do work with mailers and things like that because at the board level you are networking with men and women who are executives and that’s where you get in. Then you have the informal ability to give them a call – “Let’s meet for lunch” – and start talking about the charity or the nonprofit, and then move onto other things.
Lau: And then you want to be in a leadership position, not just on the board. You want to be treasurer or secretary, then vice-president, then president.
Bronster: I don’t know about secretary. (Laughter.)
Lau: Sometimes you have to start someplace.
Bronster: We have to be careful when we look at the number of women in an area. In law, for example, about 50 percent of the young lawyers getting admitted are female. But when you look at the partners at law firms or the managing partner or the main partners, there are very, very few women. So there is this glass ceiling and when you look at a lot of the accountants, the same thing happens. So, we have to recognize that the glass ceiling still exists and (ask): What is causing the equal numbers at the entry level to change so dramatically as you get higher and higher toward the boardroom.
Lau: I agree. We (Hawaiian Electric Industries) have a very unusual combination of companies and, on our financial services side, on the banking side, the workforce is three-quarters female. On the utility side, it is three-quarters male, but if you look within each area, there are some areas where there are a lot more women in the management positions. Thinking back to ULI, ULI is real estate, but the reason ULI never had a lot of females was because ULI really represented the most professional ranks of commercial real estate, whereas if you look at residential real estate, you’ll find the reverse, with a lot of women. You would think that in our utility side, which is three-quarters male, you wouldn’t find a lot of women coming through, but you (Hawaii Business) recently did an article on our company that showed we have a number of young women who are coming through even in an industry that is very male-oriented. So I think that goes back to philosophies about companies and how they encourage their young people, whether they are women or men, to develop their skill sets and become leaders within the company and in our community.
Enay: What about financial services? Is that a good industry for women to carve out paths?
Pacarro: I think it’s a great industry. And we’re starting to see we still have a long ways to go. I believe out of the 120 managers within our system, there are 11 women at the level I’m at. It’s not inconsistent because we don’t have as many financial advisors coming through, too. I think it takes a while to try to build up to upper ranks in the company and I’m just really surprised I don’t see more financial advisor applicants. It’s such a great field and I’m very surprised there are not more women and I think part of it is because it’s not a salary position.
Lau: It is that risk element.
Pacarro: Yes, the risk element, yet women are so well suited for it, their total sense of loyalty and trust and developing relationships. Women counsel well, their consultative approach, yet I’m having a hard time finding more women in the community. So, I’m not sure what the answer is. We’ve tried lots of different things and, nationally as a company, we’re spending a lot of time trying to figure out ways to attract women to the field. If you have any answers for me I’d like to know.
Lau: One of Shara’s questions had to do with how do you develop either the educational levels or skill sets, or what areas lend themselves more to women. Usually, analytical and technical fields that are more merit based – any job that is more merit based – normally will be better for women because you don’t have to have the old-boy networking. You can prove your worth, prove your merit in those analytical, technical, performance-based, merit based-jobs, and, as Gwen says, financial services is one of those that has a lot of positions that are, in essence, on commission. And you can succeed and you can do very well as you (Pacarro) did and you built up a whole group and now your daughter is heading that group as one of the heads of the office.
Pacarro: I think that the skill set is there for women. It’s just a matter of women taking the risk, understanding that during their childrearing years it offers great flexibility, too. I think women miss that somewhere along the line. I’m not sure where they miss it, but we obviously need to do a better job educating.
Lau: I always think of it in the sense that the higher up you go, the more flexibility you have, which means that you can fit your personal life in easier. So you just have to make it through the ranks really fast before you want to have kids.
Pacarro: That’s right.
Liang: In healthcare here in Hawaii, in the hospital side, I would say 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 are women who have become the CEO of hospitals in Hawaii and Hawaii is a little bit better than nationally. Nationally, maybe 10 percent of hospital CEOs are women. So, you definitely have an issue where there are 75 percent women all the way to the No. 2 position. There is something about getting to the next level, which about leadership attributes traits that are not necessarily the 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 still today.
Enay: What about in tourism, Shari?
Chang: Obviously in the 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. It hasn’t gotten there yet.
Enay: Would you folks agree that the glass ceiling does or does not exist?
Lau: I don’t think there is any question that it still exists. (General agreement.) And, particularly, at about age 35, because it’s right when women want to have families and, oftentimes, they may just take themselves voluntarily off of progression, or sometimes it just happens naturally because you just can’t spend the time that you need to spend to really do a great job and be able to advance.
Mailer: It’s true that the glass ceiling is still there, but I choose not to care about the glass ceiling, because if you do and you think that it’s there, all of a sudden it’s there. So, as women, we are all sitting in places where we can expose other women to opportunities and I think one of the best places to do that is when an organization is in crisis or has one of its biggest challenges and to put a young woman or four or five of them on the team to actually work out the crisis or work out the challenge, and have one of them lead it. That’s a huge up for any of the women involved because they get known as the go-to people for solving the problems of the organization and we have a lot of opportunities especially in this environment to put women in those kinds of experiences where they’re seen as the problem-solver or the opportunistic person who has actually taken the company to a next level.
Pacarro: In some ways, the glass ceiling is because of life choices and it’s not necessarily opportunity. So, I think, as we become better at picking mates, then our duties as mother …. (Interjections and laughter: “Someone who cooks.” “You can go out to eat.”
Lau: I have the husband who goes to McDonald’s. He is not a great cook, but he goes to McDonald’s. He tells me, “Don’t worry about it, the kids will be fine.” They’re still living. (Laughter.)
Bronster: Each of us has been very lucky. Each of us has had opportunities, whether thrust upon us or you’ve reached out and gotten, but I think that to deny that the glass ceiling exists is a little bit of a disservice to the women who are struggling, those young women who say, “How can I be one of the those three or four top women?” It’s a very difficult thing for them to address and I think giving them tools to work with is really important. I’m saying: Yes, it does exist, but it’s not impossible.
Mailer: It’s glass; you can see through it.
Pacarro: You can and it’s very clear to envision it and even break it, so I don’t like to think of it as an obstacle. I would like to see it 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 seat?
Inouye: I was told specifically in a job, and I won’t tell you where it was, by my immediate supervisor, that in order to get ahead. “You’ll have to work twice as hard as anybody in this office.” I looked around: “That’s not going to be too hard.” (Laughter.) Many years have past and I ran into one of these guys I worked with and he says, “Kathy, do you remember the kinds of things we used to tell you?” I said, “Yes, I did.” He says, “You know what they call that today? They call it sexual harassment. I remember the challenges we used to give you and you would just do it.” But I would say that for anyone, male or female, to get ahead you have to work hard to be recognized.
Liang: Absolutely, and I think there are more critics and, for some reason, more criticism of women, so women often get feedback about behaviors, how you use your power, or how you show up emotionally at work. They’re can be criticism, whereas for men there is more of a free pass. That’s just part of reality. The second thing I would say is I’m not pessimistic about that. Partly, you have to have the capacity to go with it and take it in stride, with some humility and laughter about the situation. How many times has somebody come in and thought I was the secretary and handed me things to copy? Or say they’re here to meet with me. And I just look at them and let them suffer a little bit. (Laughter.)
Chang: I would go to the copier machine.
Liang: Yes. I would say, “I’m happy to take that for you. Let me introduce myself.” And then they’re just appalled. It’s part of that re-education. You go with it rather than get upset or angry about it.
Enay: Any specific tips on how we can shatter the glass ceiling?
Mailer: I’ve got one and it’s back to education. If the glass ceiling – any ceiling – starts for a human being, it starts way back in middle school when people start defining for you, your life. And you listen to them because you’re very vulnerable in middle school. So both women and men get labeled at that point and I think that it’s really important for teachers and adults around kids at that age to show them all the possibilities and not make it gender specific. Get them to understand that there is no one role for anyone. It’s whatever they have a taste for.
Chang: It even happens in upper education. I could give you a very personal example that happened to my daughter in college. She was a double major and one major was computer science. She wasn’t doing as well in computer science as her other major, so the dean, who happened to be a woman, called her and said, “I think you should drop your computer science major.” I was just furious. There are only two women in the major at the time, so I sent my daughter an article that said if more women don’t become engineers and go into computer science, it’s going to be a very weird industry. I told her, “I don’t care about your grade point, I care about your passion. If your passion is there, continue with it,” and she did. She ended up getting a contract before she graduated, has been with them 10 years now, and is very successful with them. I felt like going back to that dean and saying, “Don’t you stereotype women in these industries just because there are only two in that major right now.” It was very disturbing, because I just didn’t believe at the college level it would still be there, but it was.
Inouye: Tell the student, whomever it is, to take that as a challenge.
Inouye: When I was going to college I had a challenge from one of my business professors and I can’t believe what he said. The first day in class he looked at me and said, “I know your type. You’re going to graduate from college and get married, your boyfriend probably does all the driving and you’ll probably never get a professional job.” I had the only “A.”
Mailer: Are you serious?
Lau: He actually said that?
Inouye: I went to college a long time ago. They can’t say those things now. Anytime I have a challenge – I think anytime anyone is challenged – they should take it on as a challenge and try to conquer it and try to solve the problem instead.
Lau: My daughter has been out working for two years now and she tells me some of the stories and they’re still going on. (Others voice agreement.)
Pacarro: And I think that, in terms of advice to women and men as well, you have to take on challenges and take risks. You have to take it when someone comes in with negative sense towards you. It’s like, “Bring it on. I’ll prove you wrong.” I bet all of us had situations in our careers where someone doubted you and what did you do? You didn’t wallow in it and say, “You’re right, I can’t do that.” You stood up and you said, “OK, I’m going to take this on as a challenge and I’m going to prove them wrong.” I had that happen when I first started at the company I’m at now, which is a long time ago, but the first person – it was not the person who you love so much who passed away – another person who was interviewing me said. “Why would you ever want to be a financial advisor? We’re never had a successful female one and we never will have one. You shouldn’t even waste your time.”
Mailer: And your answer?
Pacarro: “I’ll be your first.” (Laughter).
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.
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.
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.
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.