"The program gave me a close-up view of political, business and social issues and trends, information that is invaluable to me as an entrepreneur and active participant in the success of our great state. The speakers were incredible� they inspired us and stretched our minds. The opportunity to connect with successful and dynamic California women leaders was a main highlight. Being part of Leadership California is like being part of a powerful sisterhood."

—Ursula C. Mentjes, M.S., ACC
President and Certified Business Coach
Potential Quest, Inc.
"I have enjoyed my involvement with Leadership California. Our trip to the state capitol was most enlightening. As a result I have gotten involved with the Los Angeles African American Women's Political Action Committee. Thank you, Leadership California, for sparking a genuine interest in the political process."

—Shawn Farrar
Director Corporate Diversity
Sempra Energy
"The CIT program brings together successful women from all over California, and gives them the opportunity to build a network with other successful women. It's a way to learn about the important issues in our state, and to get ready to take the next step in your professional life."

—Isela Vilchis Hoenigmann
"Leadership California has provided me a panoramic view of issues, challenges and opportunities for this lovely state that I live in. The program was my introduction to women of unbelievable talent, experience and passion who are set to make a difference. The feeling to want to be more, to accomplish more, is simply contagious. I hope to know these women for the rest of my life."

—Rosario Montes-Arena
Manager, IBM Software Executive Briefing Program
Silicon Valley & Worldwide Briefing Program
"As a young immigrant woman working in the nonprofit sector, it was inspiring to see women leaders in action, to be able to network with them, and talk about the issues that are relevant to our communities and our state. I feel honored and privileged for the opportunity to participate in such an awesome program that weaves women leaders from different sectors and geographies of California to engage in a conversation about the social, political, and economic fabric of California."

—Winnie Hui-Min Yu
Development Associate
Asian Law Caucus
San Francisco
"I've spent half of my work life in the corporate world, and the past ten years in the nonprofit world, but neither taught me how to be who I am at work�the whole pastiche of talent and spirit. I found role models who excited me, the true state of our state of California (which frustrated me), work partners continually learning like me, and friends."

—Peta G. Penson, Ed. D.
Oakland Unified School District
"Leadership California sessions feature influential speakers and lively discussion on timely issues shaping the economy and workforce. The session on work-life balance struck a chord with me, where key leaders advised us to map out a personal career plan. Networking with other women was invaluable. Leadership California is an engaging and downright fun experience."

—Roberta Tinajero-Frankel
Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit Dept.
Healthy Eating, Active Living Project Manager
"Simply put, Leadership California is time well spent that will benefit me personally and professionally for years to come. I've not only kept in contact with my fellow classmates on a social level, but have had opportunities to work with some of them on business projects as our professional paths crossed. The sessions gave in-depth looks at the critical social issues that many Californians face, inspiring me to get more involved in my community�s outreach programs."

—Teena Massingill
Manager of Corporate Public Affairs
Safeway Inc.

Leadership California’s diversity thought leader, Kay Iwata, filed this report from the People’s Republic of China. Kay has served on the Leadership California Board of Directors and is chair of its Executive Advisory Council.


Beijing: Reflections from My Rice Bowl

by Kay Iwata

Nov. 15, 2010
As we landed at Beijing Airport (11.5 hr. flight from SFO) I was flooded with memories of my first trip to Beijing in 2004. I was anxious to see what had changed since then, especially for the women living and working in one of the biggest and most vibrant economic zones in the world. My 2004 assignment had been to deliver training sessions on diversity fundamentals to an audience of Chinese employees of a U.S.-based company. They wanted to understand this thing called “diversity” and how it might impact them. Women employees in those sessions were well-educated and hugely interested in how women in the U.S. get into leadership positions.

My current assignment would be to once again bring my experience as an industry leader in the diversity and inclusion field to Chinese businesswomen and businessmen at a series of conferences and symposiums hosted by American companies. My task was to inform and inspire audiences and facilitate robust dialogue. But I especially looked forward to the conversations I would have with women business leaders. In my leadership role, I would have a lot to explore, learn and share. I was excited when the plane finally touched down.

“They wanted to understand this thing called ‘diversity’ and how it might impact them.”  

There was a little hiccup getting to my hotel, as my taxi driver had not heard of it. I later learned the hotel was a well-known one that had recently changed its name, so that’s why he was confused. Our immediate common bond was that neither one of us spoke nor understood anything beyond “Ni hao” (hello) and “Xie xie” (thank you) in each other’s language. Eventually we somehow came to an understanding that he should call the hotel and get directions. Never underestimate the power to problem-solve when both parties are highly motivated.

During the ride from the airport, I noticed the improvements in infrastructure as we headed downtown. In ’04 these were in the planning stages for the Olympics. Yet in spite of the upgrades, there was still bumper-to-bumper traffic eight lanes wide, reminding me that 9 million people reside in Beijing. Downtown Beijing is like NYC on steroids: looming office complexes, upscale stores, shopping malls, bright lights and people. The air was chilly and crisp, but without any wind, the smog was evident even in the evening.

The hotel was lovely and the customer service outstanding. With a motivated labor force, obviously well-trained, my requests were often taken care of before I had a chance to ask. I was able to adjust to the 16-hour time difference and got a good night’s rest, having followed advice on minimizing jet lag from an article supposedly written by an airline pilot. (Read it HERE.) Now that I am back on PST, I can attest to the effectiveness of the advice going east and west.

Attendees at Motorola's Asian Women's Business Council annual leadership conference in Beijing  

While in Beijing I had the pleasure of:
• Delivering a keynote and serving on a panel for the Motorola Asian Women’s Business Council’s annual leadership conference. There was good attendance by both women and men.
• Moderating and facilitating the Global Diversity and Inclusion Symposium for internal diversity and HR professionals working in China. This was orchestrated by Diversity Best Practices and hosted by CISCO.
• Attending the Global Advancement of Women Symposium by Working Mother Media with a group of mostly corporate Chinese women from the Beijing area hosted by Intel.
• Enjoying a Cultural Immersion Day with colleagues, revisiting some amazing sights including the Forbidden City, a Hutong Village, the Drum Tower and of course the Pearl Market.

Being a third generation Japanese American (Sansei), a baby boomer, and a woman, going to Beijing to do diversity work is an interesting experience. Being a Japanese American gives the relationship a different twist, as there is a long, ongoing history of tension between Japan and China. Sensitivity to this underlying issue is important to establishing credibility and trust. I opened each of my sessions by mentioning this history as part of my introduction, and it helped break the ice. 
  All the attention on one child often results in the creation of little emperors and sometimes empresses.”

Most exciting and interesting were my dialogues with Chinese women. Many were either Gen Xers or Gen Ys. I made an effort to talk with a very diverse group in terms of their jobs and levels. The dialogues were freestyle and hence the following observations are only “reflections from my rice bowl” but in many cases backed up by the research others have done on China.

Ambition, Opportunity and Excitement!

Young generations of Chinese women are “X-tremely” ambitious. (How ambitious? Read more HERE.) Long hours are the norm and considered just part of the job. Women are highly motivated by the economic rewards and standard of living their jobs allow. They feel there is much opportunity all around them. The economic zones, like Beijing, exemplify China’s “state capitalism” structure: a capitalistic economy functioning under government control, in which political goals are instrumental. Here in the U.S., we may not agree with many things about this structure, but we can all admire the speed at which they get things done.

Most women in this age cohort have seen only a bit of their country’s transition from developing nation to economic powerhouse. They’ve grown up in an environment of economic security afforded by state-run capitalism. They feel great pride in the return of China to prominence. One woman manager talked about her own aspirations but referenced her husband’s experience as well. She said he formerly worked for Microsoft, but quit to join a start-up. This was surprising given that in China, your status is often linked to the company you work for, and Microsoft is at the top of the status list. She was very excited about his success with the start-up and expressed the desire to pursue the same path. She wanted to be her “own boss” and have greater opportunity for wealth-building.

I think we are in for difficult times ahead as more college students from China and India get their education in the United States and then go back home to a land of “opportunity”. Combine this with the recent PISA test score comparisons in which children in Shanghai ranked number one, and the United States fourteenth, in reading, science and math. Chinese students now also rank high in creative thinking and problem solving, so these results are not about rote learning.

The One-Child Policy: Upsides and Downsides

In 1978, the Chinese government officially restricted the number of children that married urban couples can have to one. The one-child policy has been a successful effort to control China’s massive overpopulation. In Beijing’s economic zone, the policy has certain exceptions, so that couples can have two children if each parent is an only child of a family line, or if the first child is a girl. Otherwise, hefty fines are charged to couples who have more than one child. An upside of the policy for the women I spoke with is childcare. Since extended families living together are the norm, you may have your parents, your spouse’s parents and even grandparents residing with you and providing built-in childcare. Even if you do not have the support of an extended family, domestic care is very inexpensive and very good in China. 

For women, the downside of the one-child policy is the pressure of having only one child. A mother might feel guilty for not spending as much time as possible with her only child. Employers often assume that once you have your child, you are not as committed to your career and may bypass you. All the attention on one child often results in the creation of “little emperors” and sometimes “empresses”. Since boys are coddled much more than girls, eventually when young men enter the workforce, they may have more problems adjusting, though young women seem to do much better. The historical cultural norm that values the male child above the female child, combined with the one-child policy and the availability of other means to remove the female child from the family headcount, has resulted in a serious and growing imbalance of more males than females in the population.

A huge related problem now looming is a lack of official government policy and a lack of resources for elder care. Couples often face the daunting task of supporting and providing care to aged parents and grandparents as they themselves age.

The lasting reflection of the women I met in Beijing is their high level of energy, ambition, optimism and determination.”  

Regardless of these challenges, the lasting reflection of the women I met in Beijing is their high level of energy, ambition, optimism and determination. I don’t think you can grasp how powerful this is until you’ve had the opportunity to listen to the hopes, concerns and expectations for the future voiced by these up-and-coming women in China.

It remains to be seen how China brings the rest of the country the same level of opportunity and increased standard of living as in the Beijing economic zone. In the USA, we experience that same challenge in different regions, and even within the State of California. For a deeper understanding of the issues, I suggest that you read The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope are Reshaping the World, by Dominique Moisi. Americans fall into the category of the cultures of fear, says Moisi. What I saw in the spirit and optimism in Chinese working women is what we need here: a spirit of optimism and ambition to tackle and solve these disparities.

On that parting note I have reflected on the last grains of rice in my bowl.

KayIwata is an industry leader in the diversity field, where she brings an organizational development approach to the diversity change process. Her clients include: Dell Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Chevron-Texaco, Bank One, Honeywell and Abbott Labs. Her background has been in education, finance and management. Kay is a charter member of the Diversity Collegium, a national diversity think tank, and is Program Chair for the Board of Trustees for the Asian Pacific American Women’s Leadership Institute. Her book, “The POWER of Diversity: 5 Essential Competencies for Leading a Diverse Workforce” is based upon a first-of-its-kind field study to understand the "what, why and how" of diversity competence for managers and leaders.




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