Being the only man on a panel about Women’s Leadership
This morning I had the honor and pleasure to be the only man to sit on a panel discussing Women’s Leadership at the #GoogleMarketingNext conference. It was a wonderful experience. I could have honestly been there for another hour discussing such an important topic — but alas, it was over before we knew it. I learned a lot and hopefully added something to the group, but I thought it was worth sharing some thoughts.
As an aside, I want to be clear that my points, opinions and ideas come from a place of allyship for women. I cannot pretend to understand what women experience, but hope to offer some perspective and thoughts.
On the lack of women in leadership…
Like anything, you have to start off by acknowledging the problem. Then, if you want to fix it, you have to actively do something about it in a measurable way. Just talking about it and wishing it to be better will not get us very far. Clearly the talent is out there at all levels, but practices like overly hiring from within your company or tapping into existing networks can often create a negative reinforcement cycle of sameness. The hiring managers and leaders need to not take an easier path and consciously explore the full spectrum of possible candidates across gender and also race and international diversity.
What can we learn from other parts of the world…
Clearly nobody is perfect out there. Even Singapore with 15% of CEOs as women is only ranked 3rd in the world. As the son of Chinese immigrants, I’m fascinated by the stature of female leadership in China. Companies like Alibaba have really been a beacon in that market. Evan Osnos does an interesting breakdown of this dynamic in his book, “Age of Ambition”. He essentially attributes the rise of female leadership in China to three factors:
- 30–50 years ago, Politics was the center of power and pretty much a man-only game. This forced women to pursue other opportunities, such as business. The shift of China from predominantly a communist country to one that embraces capitalism has been beneficial to these women.
- The shameless pursuit of wealth in the country has given women a measurable focus of success. While in many countries wealth is a byproduct of success, for many in China status or position was more the byproduct of the pursuit of wealth.
- The one child policy. Just as the one child policy benefitted many boys, it equally gave girls a tremendous support network. Two parents and 4 grandparents were 100% invested in making their one female daughter a success.
So with the opportunity, the drive and the support — women in China have ironically taken a stronger position of leadership.
The Confidence Gap
This has been a widely documented thing — and one that exists in everyone to some degree in my opinion. As the only Asian in many meetings, I too have felt it in my own way. Either way, overcoming it is key. Catherine Courage said, “If you never ask, the answer is always no” and I couldn’t agree more. In whatever authentic way, I believe that women should feel empowered to ask — to speak up — for mentorship, for support or advice. Nobody at the panel had ever been turned down, so your odds are good.
At the same time, it’s critical for male leaders to also ask. To call on women to step up into growth opportunities and to be mentored. I believe in mentoring the future stars of business, particularly women, and I make it my priority to connect, support and keep in touch with extraordinary women I meet both at Google and beyond. I learn something in every interaction and I hope I’m doing a small part to add to their success. This is a great way for men to get involved in the movement. And by modeling this behavior from the top, hopefully it will be standard practice for all.
Role Models and Mentorship…
Part of my passion for this movement is a result of being exposed to so many strong and inspiring females over my 20 years in marketing. From my first boss Brenda Goodell, to other #badasswomen like Pam Kaufman, Jeanne Jackson, FeiFei Lee, Ruth Porat, Regina Dugan as well as my current boss Lorraine Twohill and my best friend Ginny McCormick — they have inspired me and shaped how I look at my job and the world. Part of my passion stems from raising two, amazing young daughters, Polaire and Ceboline. Regardless of why, the importance and impact of mentorship is well documented.
Everyone on the panel and in the audience benefited from mentorship— so please, if you don’t have one, just ask. At Google, I had to opportunity to be the Executive Sponsor of the marketing associate program for 3 years and met so many wonderful people, particularly extraordinary young women. This is a group of the most talented stars with amazing stories who often come out of the best universities. When I engage with them, their ideas and their confidence, I am strongly encouraged about the future.
On the future…
It can feel discouraging to focus too much on the current state of gender disparity. The predominantly male leaders we see are factors of where feminism was 40–50 years. Of course role models are important. Millennial women have grown up seeing other women in leadership positions from CEOs to Supreme Court justices to world leaders. They were the first generation to grow up with Title IX which paved the way for women to own the right of equality and the notion that girls can do whatever boys can.
Beyond seeing 5–10 more women CEOs, the importance that leaders at every level play in developing the future workforce is huge. Inspiring and accessible “middle management” that is paving the way for the next generation is what will unlock the next wave of female leadership and create more equality in the workforce at every level.
My focus is on making progress towards better gender equality today for the future. I see more positive indicators of what’s to come in the next 20 years and hope it results in more leaders from the women of today and future generations.