DeDe Lea

Chief Communications Officer, Arconic

In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?

I think a woman who is confident yet caring, who’s determined and who has perseverance.

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?

You know, I think just as a general matter for women, I just think it’s economic empowerment. With economic empowerment, you’re able to change so many things, whether it is helping either women succeed, or helping other people succeed, whether it be in your own communities, or around the world. That, to me, is it.

If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?

I have no idea because that was the one that stumped me the most. I love what I do. So, I don’t know that I would want anyone else’s job. I think what would be cool to be someone like Melinda Gates, to be able to be a philanthropist and be able to use your wealth to change people’s lives for the better. So, I think anyone in that space…that would be an interesting difference. To change other people’s lives for the good. I think that would be a great job to have for more than a day.

Why do you think women's reproductive rights are under attack? Globally it seems women's health and security are under such attack; from religion, to cultural attitudes, to lax government protection, women are more vulnerable than ever. What policies would you propose that he US government pursue (or change) to alter this.

You know, here’s the deal: governments can and only will do so much to help on this issue. I think, as women, we are going to have to take it upon ourselves—-not just in the U.S., but worldwide. And those of us who have, like in the U.S., need to make sure that other women will have the same access to education, the same ability to vote, and economic empowerment. Because until we are in the position of power to make the changes, whatever the rights are—-be it education, be it reproductive rights, whatever it is—-until we’re in that position, we will consistently be at the mercy of what other people think. We have to stop hoping and waiting for other people, like Gandhi said, “be the change you’re hoping to see.” We’re just going to have to do it ourselves, city by city, neighborhood by neighborhood, and country by country. And then, you begin to see real change. But, we could be waiting forever, right?

Are you involved in politics at the local or national level? No Why or why not?

I don’t know if there’s one specific thing. I think it’s everything. I did this program at the Harvard Kennedy School. It was like a women empowerment seminar years ago and I’m going to totally butcher this story, but they had women, I want to say, from Liberia who were in the Liberian government after Charles (and I forget his last name), a horrible man who had the child soldiers and all that. But, they talked about how they would say “women, you have to do something,” and then they realized they had to say “women, you have to do something good,” and then they realized they had to say “women, you have to do something good with the men.” And it was essentially that this is not a man versus a woman issue. We’ve all got to come together to figure this out. And maybe the one thing is that the men who have daughters, for them to start thinking: is it really fair that your daughter will be making less than the boy down the street for the same job? I think if we start putting these issues on a more practical level, and a more real level–speaking directly to people–maybe that would make the difference. And most men would say, “no, that’s not fair.” We’re beginning to see more women in sports and more girls in sports, and dads making sure their daughters play sports. I don’t think it’s just one thing. But whatever it is, we’ve got to start doing something. It’s been a long time. We’ve got to stop just talking about it. And maybe it’s just person-by-person, getting people to understand the importance of this.

What issues in the workplace contribute most to the gender pay gap: accessibility? unconscious biast (including questions about previous salary requirements)? economic? reproductive? or some other nefarious reason. Why do you think these are still challenges we face?

What contributes most, I think it’s history and unconscious bias. I think, from a historical perspective, we fought for the right to work, but I don’t think we fought for pay equality. I think it’s historical and it’s bias and it’s unconscious bias.

Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block in the work place and what you did about it?

I actually don’t. I’ve never felt like I’ve had a block. I’ve been blessed to have worked for great men and great women who always made sure that there was a path for me. So, I really don’t. I actually don’t.

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 don’t know. I honestly don’t have a thought on that one. And, people say it contributes to the pay gap because women say I made $25,000, so they can only go up to $40,000, and men say they made $40,000, so they can go up to $50,000? I think that whatever we do, it doesn’t help with the pay gap. Maybe it does? We need to see what happens with New York. What I don’t want to see, because I do lobby, is practices being put into place that are window-dressing that makes it seem like it’s making a difference but doesn’t. I don’t like feel-good legislation. But, whatever we do, it actually has to make a difference. Otherwise people will say, “we did the blah blah blah act,” but it actually didn’t address the problem.

Have you seen any changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? If so, what are they?

Absolutely. We definitely have more women in office. There are more women in office around the world. I think, obviously, there needs to be more, but I do think that it’s changed and it’s been a very good change. And, in Congress when you have more women, for example in the Armed Services Committee, they begin to talk about things, like PTSD and the mental health of the soldiers, that hadn’t really been discussed until women got on those committees. There are really real and practical differences from having women in office and serve on these committees.

Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?

That’s an interesting one. There’ve been lots of defining moments in my life. I think deciding to leave my career and go to law school, making that leap of faith, clearly set me on this path to do what I’m doing now. When I was 14, my father died suddenly, so that certainly changes your outlook on things and makes you persevere. And, tomorrow will come and you have to be ready regardless. Things can happen, and things do happen, and it’s how you react to them and get up and keep moving that matters.

Do you believe that open access to porn (including violent video games, social media etc.) contributes to gender inequality and violence against women?

There has been violence against women for centuries. I think that people who are violent towards women are going to be violent towards women, regardless if they have access to porn or access to video games. There are places in the world where porn is not available, and those are places where women can be oppressed. I think porn is disgusting, but I think if a person is pre-disposed to being violent towards women, they are going to be regardless of access. You and I could look at the same show and it could have no impact on us. But, other people could see it and have a different reaction. I think what we have to deal with is why there is violence against women. Why has it been going on for centuries? We’ve got to get to the underlying reason why there is violence against women.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

My mother used to always say whenever we didn’t know or didn’t understand something, “now is a good time to learn.” It was sort of that just because you’re in unfamiliar territory, or just because you don’t know something, doesn’t mean you stop. Just figure it out. And when you come up against something that you’re not sure, you figure it out.

There are many studies that support the idea that a female presence in the board room increases the bottom line and leads to healthier work environments. What can we do to continue to support and enhance the growth and presence of women in high profile positions.

I think having women on boards is critical. I think it would be helpful if corporations would talk about it more so other companies in this environment can see the benefit that other companies are having by having women on their board. I think it’s so critical to the company. And, we talk about economic empowerment and equal pay, I think having more women on the board is really going to move the needle on that.

Whom do you most admire? Why?

You know, I can’t point to one person. We always ask women how do you juggle both, working and kids. I admire these women who don’t have what I call the “first-world problem,” these women we are living in third world countries who may or may not have access to healthcare—-even in the U.S., actually—-or may or may not have access to money, but who are getting up every day and taking care of their family and doing what they can do. I feel like sometimes in the U.S. we get so caught up in our own lives. I went to the U.K. embassy and someone asked me, “how do you juggle being a mother,” in a conference. And I said, “that’s a first world problem.” You know, right now there’s a woman having a baby in an unsanitary environment who, in a couple of days, is going to strap that baby on her back and go back to work. No one is asking her how she juggles it. We’ve kind of got to stop it. There are other worlds out there of women who are doing a lot under very, very oppressive circumstances. So, it’s not a single person. I say that, I have two sons, I’m married, I have a nanny, and I just think “how do these single mothers do it?” I just admire these women who don’t have access to all that we have access to and who are working really hard and raising their children and doing what they can. I think we get too caught up in celebrity and our self-obsessed greed. I think women are amazing.

What is your favorite book (fiction or non-fiction)?

Again, I can’t give a specific, but I can tell you the authors who I love. Anything by Toni Morrison, anything by Edwidge Danticat, who is a Haitian-American writer. And one–it’s a series of books just that always stick out in mind-—is The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz. They’re all fiction, but they just capture the human spirit. There’s just something about their writing that just always sticks with me. So, I can’t say I have one book that I just love. It’s just these writers who are just so gifted in their craft. So, I guess if there was any job I could do, it would be to be one of these writers! I just think that is a gift. Beloved by Toni Morrison is amazing, Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat is great, Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz. I don’t have one favorite book.

What is your favorite place on earth? Why?

My home is my favorite place. It’s where my children are, it’s where my husband is. Look, there are beautiful places around the world. But candidly, it’s wherever we are as a family, and that can me at our home. My youngest son and I went to Brazil and that was beautiful. My oldest son and I went to Italy and that was beautiful. But, it’s not the place, but more so how I’m with. And, as long as I’m with my children and my husband, I’m happy.

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