1. In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?
You’ll hear me talk about this later about overused virtues and humbleness I think is one that I think is overused so it’s hard for me to talk about what a Power Woman is, but for me, what I love about people I look up to are people who are just comfortable in their own skin and own unapologetically who they are. It is someone who is courageous and they own their words. So someone in the face of adversity still has the courage to speak and have a dissenting view and to own that and be unapologetic about that. I would also say, people who are just passionate and determined so even if you fail, you get back up and you brush yourself off and do that again. I see that a lot in a lot of qualities in some women I truly admire. I would also say someone who is authentic too. You can have someone that’s powerful but if they’re not authentically who they are, then I want someone to be very very real and own flaws and all. I think I would also say someone who has a vision or a North Star of where they’re going, and I think that changes. Once you hit one milestone, you continue to look for a new vision and that’s what I consider to be powerful. But basically standing in their skin and being comfortable in who they are are the biggest qualities that make a Power Woman.
2. With all the different issues one could focus on, how do you balance your efforts in pursuit of gender equality? is it a global approach or a specific issue that you are passionate about?
So I’m passionate about all women, let me say that first. So I do think it’s global but my role models are why I get up, is my two daughters. When I see this next generation of women in Congress just doing powerful things or just young women standing up here sharing their voices, one thing that drives me is I wanted my girls to not be afraid of their voice and to feel powerful in who they were. I try to be a role model of that. When I first started to work, I didn’t always feel that way. I balance the pursuit in the role that I play, in any other diversity role. It is always about me making sure that in my deeds or even when I speak on behalf of other women, that they’re voices are amplified. My job is to amplify that voice and make sure that it’s at the table and to use whatever platforms I have to be able to do that. So at Riot, one of the things that was important to me in doing the diversity things I do was that I was at the table. Typically this role will be reporting into someone that is not the CEO or you’ll have to kind of fight your way to be heard, but at Riot, I’m at that table. I think it’s 3 women and maybe 8 men. And one thing that I’ve always have said is we contract with each other to say “if you feel spoken over, I’m going to make sure that you’re heard.” So we contract before we go into any setting to make sure we are amplifying each other because unconscious bias raises its head wherever you’re are, so being able to sit next to someone and know they’re making sure that you’re heard, when I start to see that, something interesting happens. We’ll speak up and say “hey, that was a good point.” And then you start to see the men model that behavior as well, so I think it’s super important for women to be at the table. I’ve been doing this work for a long period of time.
I have loved seeing over the past few years more women be CEOs and leading things because I do see a difference when I talk to a female CEO. I think in my pursuit of gender equality, I have to be the role model of it. I have a position that allows me to speak up for that, and I think it’s a global issue so I talk about it ad nauseam like all the time. And more importantly, for young women who can’t find their voice, I spend a lot of time making sure that they feel power in the room. Sometimes when I talk to young women, they don’t have the words. I talk about being older, I’ve gone through some of the experiences that they haven’t. I give them words. If someone talks over them, I give them words to say. They get to a point when they’re in a jam, I tell them to say things like “well let me process that and get back to them.” I spend a lot of time giving people the words to express without being deemed the bitchy woman or the aggressive woman, which are these crazy labels that we sometimes get, but I spend a lot of time saying “here’s a word you should use so you can be heard.” I think we all should do that. I think it’s our responsibility to do that for other women. That’s one of the few joys I get, when I can develop and help women. I think we all have to think of that of our obligation. I’ve been reading articles lately of women not helping other women. It’s not because…I understand what it’s like to be in those shoes so I do think we have to pay it forward and amplify and I have to be unapologetic if we hire other women and not have to talk about why I did or feel like someone is going to ding me because I hired one who looks like me. It’s crazy. But I still think that still exists.
Let’s do it together. Let’s be unapologetic about it. It’s sad when I see…I’m in a position–I do recognize that–my job is to call these things out, and I call them out not to make people feel broken but to enlighten people on how to work together. It’s men and women, we both have to be in this together. I think that again in the role that I play, I get to voice that. I keep half joking but I also think up until, I feel just more confident and comfortable and I don’t think I’ve always felt that way, and once you get comfortable in your skin, you’ll be amazed. At the end of the day, the words…I’m not afraid of my thoughts or what I think because they’re my thoughts and I own those unapologetically but I also try to do it in a way for people not to feel broken and do it in a way that is more collaborative or isolating– unless I have to be. Sometimes you need to let people know who you are.
You know it’s funny, on the other side of that, me speaking out hasn’t always worked in my favor, or me having a view that’s different hasn’t always worked out for me. And at the end of the day, I also know there’s something better along the path and I’d rather be who I am and be true to me, and it has cost me. I’ve cried about it. Should I have not said anything? Should I not have said anything and then still be in that position? But I look back and go, “but you wouldn’t have liked that. You wouldn’t have been who you were. Is that more important than fitting in?”
3. Do you believe that there is any gender specific role for women to play in the Climate Change debate?
I do. I think climate change–it’s two separate prongs in my mind. It’s the planet that we need to preserve, and it’s education. And I do think that women…I would love to see more women in Congress. I would love to see more women that are at the table because when I think of marginalized groups or underserved communities either in the U.S. or globally, we are impacted me. And not just women, people who are poor. It makes our costs go up. If you don’t have access to health care, this climate change impacts health and I think women are disproportionately impacted by that and bring a different perspective. When you think about third world countries, who goes out and gets the water? We have to make sure that we’re at the table and that our voices or our experiences, we experience it differently, and in this intersection of gender and race, I would say women of color might be even more impacted by climate change so we have to be at the table to make the changes that we need to. I do think there is a role– I think it’s in government, in industries in gas and oil, you would think about things differently, or even Walmart, because we’ve got one planet and in the pursuit of all things not plant related, like the pursuit of money, we’re harming our planet and someone has to take a look at that. We don’t call her Mother Nature for nothing. I think we have to have those experiences and be able to show that perspective. I do think we play a role and if government and industry are making these decisions, then we have to be more fairly represented, and women of color as well.
4. Do you believe industry and commerce (and government) should factor into a ten year plan the costs involved in mitigating the effects of Climate Change? According to an Oxford University supported survey, the total global economic cost would be €200-350 billion per year by 2030. This is less than one percent of the forecasted global GDP in 2030.
I look at this question and I want to say that it’s an issue. I think there are still people who downplay climate change. They see the hurricanes and tsunamis and all these things that are happening and they still don’t think that climate change is an issue. I think I want us to start there. I want us to declare this happenstance, this is happening in the climate. If you just think about it being hotter, or the tsunami was my wake up call like “how does that happen?”, I want us to declare that it is real. I think there are different points of view that don’t even acknowledge it, and I want to see them acknowledge it. Once we do that, then we can put in resources. This is why we need women at the table with a different perspective and not the pursuit of the dollar but in the pursuit of what’s happening to our planet and what’s happening to my children and their children. I would just love for us to say it is real and then have leadership to put money behind it. So I think the answer is obviously yes but before then, I’d love for us to address it as a real issue and not just keep talking about it and debating whether it is or not. I still see people debating it and I find it strange.
5. If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?
So I have like 2 answers for that and I don’t know which is the better answer, but of course I want Oprah’s job. You know why? Because when I think about powerful women, and all the descriptors are her being comfortable in her skin, her being vulnerable with shared experiences, her being undeterred in driving her passion– everything she works on is about what she is passionate about, and just to be that smart, I would love to just shadow her and do her talk show but also the way she inspires other people to act and influence, that is a big passion of mine. So I would love her job for the day. And the second–I’ve been thinking about this because the debates are happening– I would like to be the Chairman of the Democratic Party. I want to sit down and talk about what our strategy is and focus on our 10 year plan or our 5 year plan. So those are the 2 jobs I would do for a day.
To be able to inspire and touch people in a way that causes them to better themselves is so powerful and by using your own experiences is super powerful. From a strategy perspective, I just want us to– and I’m an Independent– whatever your affiliation, I just want you to have a strategy regardless of your political party, to your question, make climate change an issue we can address and homelessness, which I moved to California and it blows my mind. Those are real things for me.
6. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
There’s two. One I think is Rosa Parks. I had the opportunity to meet her– I was a kid and the silent power…she wasn’t a Martin Luther King but what she did to start a movement starts with something small, and that one insistence where she did not move and she refused to get up even though it was planned and she was trained, was powerful and it started a movement. And that had to be so scary. This is what I talk about courageous– you had to have so much courage because she didn’t know how it would go. So that’s one, and then Gloria Steinhem. And as a kid, I grew up in the 70s watching her speak and she was what I thought what a woman should be, again speaking out and still being a woman. She’s this really classic femininity and power and even at 10, I just said “man, I want to be like her.” She taught me not to be afraid and that you had a voice, and I just thought that was really cool.
7. In what way do you work for women’s power and equality? What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take (e.g. affirmative action)?
I think one, when we have a universe that is 50% women and I don’t think that the power is distributed the way it should be. For 50% women, we should have 50% female CEOs, 50% of all jobs, 50% of Congress, we should be 50% of power players, and I think we have 3-5% women are CEOs and we’ve been doing this for a while. It doesn’t mean women are not capable. It still tells me that there is something that is stopping us from moving through the ranks, so I would love to see more women in leadership roles, again I’ve talked about in Congress. I think it takes us to be courageous to push ourselves through that. I don’t know if I think it’s affirmative action because there are women here. I think what we’re talking about is systemic change within how women move and talk about distributing, making sure that women are not just in entry level roles and we see some representation as women move through. So I think it’s not getting women in, it’s moving women through and getting them to parts of the organization that allows our voices to be heard. That’s incumbent upon organization. I love the U.S. women’s soccer team. They are kind of my sheroes in standing up. We just need to have more voices that are unafraid to speak. I would say this as my own opinion but if we’re not speaking up and saying things about how to get more women into places of power, and if we’re not being unapologetic for asking for that and for demanding for that, I don’t know if I can depend on others to do it. I am loving the women in Congress, the young women who are unapologetic and are holding people accountable. I want us to be held accountable for the brilliant people that they’re bringing in and not overlooking women in key roles and when people are saying “I can’t find talent,” I’m right there saying “yeah you can.” No should not be an option. I’ve been doing this role for 20 years and I thought my job would be done in 5. At least I thought I’d see more women in high positions, so I’m loving this new generation of women who feel much more empowered than I think we did. So getting us to do more in Congress, to aspire, to do more things in senior roles, but also if you’re not in that role, just recognizing your voice wherever you are.
The saddest thing for me is when I say women are still pioneers in corporate. Really? In 2019, I’m still saying you’re a pioneer in engineering. That is sad.
8. Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block in the workplace and what you did about it?
There’s so many. There’s 2 times that I can really speak to. There was one when I was pregnant with my second child and I was working and I had to tell one of the leaders that I was going to have a baby and he said to me “oh that’s a shame, we had such high hopes for you and now you’re on the mommy track.” And I’m like “what’s the mommy track?” And I had never heard of it, and I asked him to explain what that was because I didn’t think I applied to be on the mommy track and he said it like it was a compliment and yet I just blew my career because I decided to have a baby. I had my daughter. I thought I had a choice: I could go back and prove this person wrong, or I could say “yep, you’re not really ready.” So I said to that manager at the time, “what is this mommy track that you speak of? I’ve never heard of it.” And he couldn’t really articulate what it was: “oh you know, you want to spend more time with your child.” And I said, “I do, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do the job.” That was a moment when I had to educate. And I did go back and I remember working, trying to prove that person wrong, and getting blocked for a promotion, and now being on the other side of that, I get to sit in these discussions where we’re talking about promotions. Fast forward and I remember going back and asking why I did get the promotion, and that was a big thing for me. I was in my 30s and I went “ok, why didn’t I get the promotion?” And they said “you know, maybe next year,” they never really talked about it. And I ended up leaving but I really wish I stayed. I was so frustrated that I ended up leaving– I got a better job–but that’s when I realized I was blocked. Somebody was in the other room having discussions about me and said “she can’t do this next job because she has a baby” and that was just flooring for me, and I remember not telling people I had kids at work because I didn’t want that to be a blocker. I look back at it now and realize how ridiculous that is. My kids are such a big part of my life that I decided not to talk about them so it wouldn’t block me. It wasn’t until men started talking about their kids that I felt comfortable talking about mine which was really interesting.
9. Do you think that asking previous salary requirements in job interviews contributes to the pay gap between women and men? NY State recently outlawed this practice. Should we push for a nationwide ban?
I’m saying this as a human resources professional that I think that’s a good start but it’s deeper than that. It’s systemic. Even if you stop asking now, the fact that when I come into the workforce, I’m probably at a disadvantage to men. At my first job I maybe made $18 and they made $30–I’m just making this up–so it starts from that first job. So even if you didn’t ask me, my salary is probably less because my trajectory, historically I’ve just been paid less. But even if you don’t ask me, I want to make sure you pay me equitably, regardless of my past salary was. So I think that’s a start but I also think companies need to make sure they’re paying equally men and women, and promotions, at some point in that life cycle you have to make sure promotions and pay are fair, you have to make sure that you’re doing audits to make sure there isn’t a group that has been adversely impacted. I think you have to continue to do that throughout the life cycle. Even if I said today, we are paying people equally, next year I may not, so this is something companies will have to continue and challenge and put in processes systemically to avoid these things. And it takes about job roles, you have to put women in roles that are going to pay higher. I do think it is a great first step and signal. I think now we have to make sure in promotions we’re paying the same, that in every life cycle of an employee life cycle that we are checking and making sure we are still doing that. It’s not a one and done, it’s a continual process that you’ve got to put checks and balances in, but I do think it’s a good first step.
10. Have you seen changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? If so, what are they?
I do and I love it. I love their energy and I love their power and I love how unapologetic and their courageousness. I think we need it. I feel in politics you get stagnant in some ways and the voice of the people start to diminish and I’m seeing that now, so to see more women in Congress and showing that to other young women is incredibly powerful. I want them not to diminish their voice. I like they were grassroots and didn’t have a lot of money backing them. I like this was their passion, and so I feel much more encouraged– and I hope the trend continues with the women who are stepping in. I also think it’s tough to encourage people to run for Congress. What would make someone do that? So I’m also just admiring them anyway because the amount of connection to your community is so cool. But I would love to see…I thought about why would I ever go into that line of work, because I imagine it’s tough, but I’m so encouraged by the people who are doing it because I imagine it’s not always fair and equal but man, they’re sticking together and I love it. I want them to keep doing it. And I want the older generation to embrace this younger generation because I think sometimes you see a contention between baby boomers and millennials, and I want them to embrace each other to support the change because we need everybody to do it and allies. It has to happen collectively.
11.Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?
I think there’s a lot of defining moments, the one I talked about being told I was on the mommy track. I would say early on, I grew up in Chicago in an inner city and I’m the first to go to college. My sister was pregnant when she was 17 and my brother was incarcerated so I was the youngest child. When you grow up in an inner city, you are taught to be tough and not to show vulnerability. I remember in high school, I always suspected I was smart but because I was such a child who probably had anger issues, probably was very hair-triggered anger thing, no one took stock in me. I was just labelled the bad kid. I had a principal and was my math teacher– I was very good in math– tell me I was smart, the only person to tell me I was smart in my life at that point and I think I was 16. You grow up in this place where nobody gives you encouragement and where in your 2 mile radius, everything you needed was there: the store, your friends. I didn’t go downtown into Chicago until I was maybe in high school because I didn’t need to. So for someone to tell me I was smart, that changed me because I thought “maybe I am.” So I went from middle of the pack in my class to top 10 in my class, and she encouraged me to take this college entrance test, and I thought I did well and I did better than the average of African Americans, I looked it up. She told me I could be better. My biggest regret is I never said thank you to this woman who told me I was smart, and she was also my principal and my math teacher. She changed how I thought about myself, and that was truly defining. I grew up thinking what I didn’t want my life to be. I never thought about what I wanted my life to be. So I had this woman who in one word encouraged me to be smart and that kind of changed who I was at that point.
12. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I have so many mentors but the one that came to mind, when I first started getting into corporate, I remember saying “I’m not going to get into this political game, I’m not going to do it, I’m not going to get into politics at work,” and I remember my first mentor said, “Angela, you’re in the game whether you want to or not. You have to decide how you want to play it.” And that was profound for me. That was just like “oh, ok. So you don’t opt out of it. You just decide.” I still people that today. That was the best piece of advice because I was so anti-politics at work, I’m going to do it my way, but he said “you’re in it so you might as well decide and choose.” It helped me navigate, it helped me understand there were times I needed to be forceful and times where I needed to be soft, be compromising, and I could still be authentic to who I was. So he empowered me– and in this case a man– he empowered me, and I was in my 20s. It’s something I still think about today.
I think men approach it differently. Sometimes I take it personally but we just have a different approach to things and I don’t know if I would get away with it if I went at it the same way. When I started to get into diversity and I was trying to be more empowering of women and people of color, he said to me once–and he’s still my mentor to this day– “how did women get the right to vote?” And he asked me how African Americans got civil rights. He said “white men had to vote and make that happen. It’s not either-or, we’re both in this together to make it happen.” It’s weird but it’s true. He said “Congress did that, and who was in Congress?” So that told me that we have to be in this. We don’t move unless we’re all in it.
13. There are many studies that support the idea that a female presence in the boardroom increases the bottom line and leads to healthier work environments. What can we do to continue to support and enhance the presence of women in high profile positions?
I think California– and I think the UK–is talking about women on boards and I think that has done a lot to open the conversation. I think that’s starting to raise the level of discussion and people can argue whether it’s the right or wrong thing, and I think it’s the right thing, it’s kind of equalizing things, but I think that’s a good start. I love that. I’ve seen more women get tasked on boards and not because they’re a woman, because they’re great. That’s the other part of this that you have to balance. They’re women and I think that’s awesome but they make boards greater because they bring a different perspective, a different nuance, to balance it. When people say like “you got it because…”, these are highly qualified people! These are highly accomplished people that now boards get to see and experience their brilliance in a way that they may not formerly had to. They bring a different perspective and a different angle and approach to things that helps companies be better, so I hope people get that part of it and understand that the statistics about the percentage of women on boards is how to make the company better and not just being on a board because you’re a woman, because no one wants to feel that way. You get on a board because you’re highly accomplished.
14. Is “Education, education and education” one of the top three responsibilities of a civilized society? If so why is it prohibitively expensive? If not why not?
My husband’s an educator. I think education should be a sacred cow that you cannot touch, you can only invest in. It’s the one equalizing thing that we have. I also think it’s interesting you pay entertainers more than you pay teachers, the people who are responsible for shaping the next minds. I would love to see teachers be highly paid for the work that they do. I would love to see education not take cuts and have it available to everybody. Coming from a person from the inner city, it is the one equalizing thing that I had that allowed me to see at that table. It’s the one thing that people couldn’t take away from me that I earned. But I had to go to school part time because I had to pay for it myself, but you can never take that away. I think if you want to succeed as a country, as a nation, as a world, you have to have people who are educated and it should be accessible to people who want it and need it. I don’t subscribe that everybody needs to go to college. You’ve got to do what you’re passion is, but I do think it should be available to everybody because it’s the thing that allows you to be equal. For me, it was such a self-esteem thing. When you grow up and feel like you’re in a marginalized community– and I was always intimidated by people by the school they went to– and now I can have a conversation about art. I’m not deep in anything but I’m broad in a lot of things, and it’s that education that allows me to just have simple conversations that I would have been too embarrassed or just felt I wasn’t good enough to have. Education to me was an equalizer and I would love to see everybody feel like they belong and I think education is that way.
15. What is your favorite book (fiction or nonfiction)?
“Book of Joy.”
16. What do you most value in your friends?
17. Which trait do you most deplore in yourself? In others?
I think if it was one thing, it would be disorganization. I’m not organized. I wish I was a little bit more organized.
18. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Humbleness. I love humbleness but I think sometimes particularly as a woman, we’re taught to be so humble that we don’t always talk about our accomplishments. It’s become taboo to talk about what you’ve done well.