Los Angeles, CA – On July 21st, 2017, CAUSE hosted the 2017 inaugural Women in Power Annual Leadership Conference at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel.
The Women in Power Leadership Conference kicked off with opening remarks from Kim Yamasaki, Executive Director of CAUSE; Nita Song, President & COO of IW Group; and Trisha Muse, Director of Community Relations at SoCalGas.
Kim welcomed the attendees and explained the purpose of the Women in Power program:
“It’s really about sustaining and creating bonds and mentorships, and just sharing ideas and getting to meet one another; it’s about those connections and relationships and building them up and helping and supporting each other. Once we have more women in leadership positions, we want to make sure we’re supporting each other and keeping each other there as viable leaders.”
Nita Song followed up with a personal story that underscored the importance of the Women in Power program and encouraged the audience to spend the day engaged in thoughtful discussion with the speakers and with each other.
Trisha Muse tied SoCalGas’s mission with that of CAUSE, stating “SoCalGas has had a longstanding relationship with CAUSE and we really applaud efforts to advance the political and civic empowerment of the APA community through outreach, education, training, and leadership development programs like today. It’s critical that we educate current and future leaders about complex issues, like energy, so that they can help make the right decisions for our community.”
Shelly Kapoor Collins, General Partner of the Shatter Fund and Sachi Hamai, CEO of LA County discussed leadership styles and what it takes to succeed in male-dominated industry during the “Women Leading & Influencing” panel, moderated by Nita Song, President & COO of IW Group.
Shelly shared the internal and external barriers she faced in her professional career, stating “In terms of barriers for women in general, sometimes we’re not aware of what’s possible — we don’t know the things we can do. I made my way into venture capital; it was not a pathway. I think that’s the barrier, it’s not knowing what the path could be to get into that male-dominated industry.”
Sachi described the difficulties she encountered as a woman in her early professional life:
“Back when I started, women could not wear pants. We were told we had to have a dress or skirt on, and also had to had a change of clothes in case we weren’t appropriately dressed that day. I always found that fascinating. I always found that I was challenged, and if you were intimidated, you were challenged even more. You have to develop a thick skin pretty quick in order to survive and make it through rank and file.”
Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, Executive Director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, hosted a Leadership Breakout Session and gave a talk about how biases can affect our workplace experiences through the language we use. She brought up an example centered on how resumes are viewed differently between male and female candidates, stating that hiring managers will often question the credentials of female candidates:
“‘I would need to see that she had gotten those grants and publications on her own’. He can list that he has them, but she has to prove she got them on her own. In hiring meetings, you can start to hear this: ‘Yeah, she can code, but can she convince others that she’s good?’ You can start to hear this higher bar happening.”
As a result of these biases, she concluded that “Some people are getting the higher bar, while others are getting leniency; neither of which are getting a fair evaluation, or the right evaluation.”
She then challenged the audience, “We’re not all one or the other. I’m not always just a woman, or a man. And I’m not always just a mother, or a non-mother. I have many different dimensions of who I am […] How do we think about these intersections?”
Angeline Vuong, Director of Strategy & Marketing at Open Listings and Actress, Dancer, and Producer – Youtube Creative Julie Zhan participated in a fireside chat moderated by Mariko Carpenter, VP for Strategic Community Alliances at Nielsen on “Technology & Next Generation Leadership”.
Julie conveyed the influence of media, stating “The media dictates how people see races and people that are different from themselves […] There’s so many stereotypes around being Asian American and being women and really it’s the media that can change that.”
She enthusiastically described the opportunities created by new technology platforms:
“With new media and the fact that there’s a freedom to express ourselves however we feel like, we’re able to see Asian Americans as human beings now, which is great.”
Angeline Vuong followed up with a work observation: “I do a lot of user research and qualitative and quantitative studies, and one of the things that I’ve done a lot is speak to kids. And just try to understand what the next generation’s media habit looks like. […] They are so obsessed with Youtube, and what that has really done is […] it’s democratized everything.”
She brought up popularity rankings and shared “What you see consistently is that it’s always YouTube stars […] They don’t care about traditional celebrities; they want to connect with people that interest them, and it’s so exciting and inspiring because that person may be an Asian person; it doesn’t matter nearly as much. And I think the more it becomes normalized and a part of culture, the more that we have an opportunity to really step up and have our voice be seen and be more multidimensional, like a character in media, for the first time ever.”
During the luncheon portion of the conference, CAUSE honored Ming Chen Hsu, Director at the JT Tai & Company Foundation and former FMC Commissioner, with a 2017 Women in Power Changemaker Award. As she accepted the award, Ming shared with the audience how she felt as an early immigrant to the US: “I came to this country some 75 years ago […] I have to tell you at that time, there were almost no Chinese students; there were some Chinese-American students who were born and raised here, but even then it was very few. To be a foreign student back then, especially from Asia, a female foreign student, was quite lonely.”
She continued, “But I was always optimistic. I always felt that things will get better, that more will come here, once the war was over, that […] we will welcome and clearly inspire Asian American women. So I am very honored today to be the recipient of this prize, which I really accept on behalf of all of you. Because it’s just like a dream to me, after 70-some years, that I would be standing before such a distinguished group of women.”
We thank her for all her contributions to the Asian American community and her invaluable support of CAUSE.
Maria Contreras-Sweet, 24th Administrator of the Small Business Administration, was honored with a 2017 Women in Power Changemaker Award and delivered a powerful keynote about her career path as a Mexican immigrant and her vision for women as changemakers.
Maria began her keynote by highlighting the importance of small businesses, many of which are built through the labor of women. She continued, “Lamentably however, what we find is that today, we all know that for entrepreneurship, no matter how grand your idea is, that if you don’t have the fuel to be able to grow your idea, which is capital, that it just sits as an idea. And then later on you see some guy starting up that business and you say ‘I had that idea.’ and the difference is capital.”
With capital being essential to the empowerment of women leaders, she asked, “So why is it that for the United States, the most powerful nation on earth, today only 5% of venture capital is going to women? For women of color, it’s even less.”
Maria closed her keynote by encouraging audience members to exercise their voices and make changes in spaces where they have influence: “You are changemakers. Use your power.”
Emily Wang, Senior Vice President & Director of Marketing and Community Development at East West Bank, delivered a few remarks regarding East West Bank’s support of the Women in Power program and how invaluable it is to recognize women as capable leaders in the corporate space.
Kim Delevett, Community Affairs & Grassroots Regional Leader at Southwest, surprised the audience by offering two select conference attendees with 20,000 Rapid Reward points.
Faye Washington, President & CEO at YWCA Greater Los Angeles; Taz Ahmed of 18 Million Rising & #GoodMuslimBadMuslim; and Betty Yee, CA State Controller, shared their paths to leadership and the causes they utilize their platforms for during the “Power with a Purpose” panel, moderated by Kimberly Freeman, Assistant Dean for Diversity Initiatives & Community Relations at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
Taz Ahmed shared her personal journey of starting a nonprofit at age 24 and conveyed her motivation for finding ways to empower her community. She expressed the plight of Muslim Americans in today’s political climate: “This is still happening today; the government is still figuring out ways to get into people’s homes. My mom told me ‘it doesn’t matter how long I’ve been here; I’ll always be a second-class citizen.’ That’s something I take to work with me. I want to figure out how to create a political voice for South Asians, Muslims, Asian Americans, how do we figure out what the date is for our community so we can have community power.”
The Honorable Betty Yee continued the discussion by sharing her roots: “Our personal journeys play a big role in how we’re formed as leaders. My parents are from China. There was a time in my life where I wasn’t comfortable with talking about my parents as immigrants; I felt very embarrassed about it. But I hope we can talk about it now; this is what our country and nation is about. As immigrants, you can only become economically sufficient with limited options. My dad didn’t have much of an education and spoke little English, so he chose the laundry business. I managed the books for my parents as a kid, and to this day I say it’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. It so informed who I am and who I’ve become; advocating for my parents and minding the store for my family made me become a voice for someone. As I like to say, fondly, just as I minded the store for my family’s business, I now have the privilege of minding the store for the great state of California.”
Faye Washington shared her early experiences with discrimination when applying for work as a woman and motivated the audience to believe in and empower themselves: “Trust yourself. You can do it best. And I don’t care how many times you’ve been told you can’t, and we’ve heard that a lot of times up here, you can do it best. Trust yourself enough to trust every other woman in this room. And if you trust everyone like that, you can’t help but succeed, because everyone will hold each other up. And that’s all it takes: to be held up and to be believed that you can. And then you will.”