Joan K Woodward
President of Travelers Institute & EVP of Public Policy for Travelers
In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?
I really thought a lot about this because I think it’s really critically important in terms of being a leader, more importantly a woman leader. The qualities—again, hugely important and I hope some day to get there with all of the qualities–I would say is having a vision, a purpose for what your business or organization is doing. Right beneath that has to be inspirational. You have to be inspirational with your vision. You can’t just set out a course of execution for your plan. You have to be inspiring. You want people to follow you. So along with being inspiring and a visionary, you need to take charge of your organization, you have to be a risk-taker, but also–I really wake up every day and tell myself this, I’m a confident person no doubt but I am very self-aware. You have to have a humble purpose and humility. A humble leader is someone that everyone can relate to. So being a humble leader with humility is something I work on every day.
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?
I’ve been in the workforce for 30 years, which just sounds incredible. When you start out in your career, it’s hard to believe it goes by so fast. Gender equality and pay equality, I think is a social or a human rights issue. For me, it is much more of a human rights issue, being treated fairly and equitable regardless of your gender or race, etc. While the focus in the United States tends to be about pay equity, salary equity, other countries still aren’t providing women and girls access to education, healthcare, decent work conditions, and being represented in the political process. I view it as a human rights issue and a foundation of society versus just about equal pay, which is of course hugely important in a corporate or government career or any career. You want to be paid what you’re worth. But in terms of the global approach for the specific issue I’m passionate about, I would say it’s human rights and social rights.
If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?
I’m going to answer this very personally. It’s not really a job, but a passion. I love to cook, so having a goal for a job for a day would just to be a chef alongside a master chef in France or Italy. And being able to eat whatever we cook under their direction! I have really a terrific job honestly. t’s hard to think of another type of corporate job. Maybe in another industry? Insurance is not as sexy as people working in Silicon Valley, for example. But it’s an incredibly important role to have an insured product in people’s lives so they can do all the things they want to do and live the life they want to live and business doing what they want to do. I’m very happy in my current job, and my dream job would be a chef.
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.
Insurance, just like banking or most financial services, is more of a male world. I don’t think any legislation is going to change. First of all, I think it’s very sad when you talk about reproductive rights being under attack—this is a personal opinion. I have never felt like I’ve been under attack. I have four children, I worked every single day while having children and taking short maternity leave because I wanted to get back to work. I think men are jealous that women are able to keep the human being life going. Off the record, in some ways I sort of want to skip the question. I guess my answer is that it’s a very sad outcome that we’re still having this conversation in the U.S. and globally. And I personally have never felt personally, and I know many others have felt, under attack. I think it’s a very fragile issue. I think it’s sad in terms of what has happened on this issue.
Are you involved in politics at the local or national level? No Why or why not?
This is the easiest question for me to answer. I was in government. I worked on Capitol Hill for twelve long years, both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. So I saw firsthand and experienced firsthand being a woman in a senior role and running committees in the House and Senate, running legislation that became law. The senators will tell you they write it but the staff really does it. Being in the signing room at the White House…this is a hugely important, probably one of the most important questions on the page to me. In my time in the Senate and the House, women have come a long way. So when I started in 1988, there were very, very few women in office. And today we have 20% in office, which is not nearly enough. So let me give you an example. When I was working in the Senate in 1993, women could not wear pants on the Senate floor. No senator, no staff, no administrative person could walk on the Senate floor in pants. So in 1993, Barbara Mikulski, a Senator from Maryland, decided that she would just ignore…it was a rule, it was a written-down rule, and she wore a pantsuit on the senate floor, paving the way for a rules change. And that wasn’t so long ago, 1993. In 2011, just six years ago, Speaker John Bainer installed bathrooms for females right by the House chamber. They didn’t have a bathroom to get to quickly during votes until 2011. I would say that was a male speaker, not a female Speaker of the House—and we have had one—who made this happen. And you think of these simple things like going to the bathroom or what to wear on the Senate floor that day and these things changed so recently. You think about lots of other policies and opportunities that women get, and these are the basics of life. When you talk about progress in poltiics, and I know these are silly examples, but in terms of government and thinking about legislation in terms of women and they don’t anywhere to go to the bathroom and can’t wear what they want to wear on the Senate floor, these are small but important anecdotes to remind people of.
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?
This is a really important question too. Let me just start with first there are a number of factors, I think, that contribute to the pay gap between men and women. First, field of study, decisions to take leaves of absence for having and raising children. Women have a child and go back to the workforce and they earn less than their male counterparts because they have achieved different titles, they’ve moved on in the organization. There’s a concern women might not come back into the workforce. Some women lack the confidence to request—certainly at the lower levels, younger women entering the workforce or maybe 10 years into a job—some women really don’t demand equal pay so they’re of course not going to get it. Family friendly policies also contribute to these pay differences. It’s a difficult nut to crack for lots of reasons I think. If you’re a driven and hardworking person and you’re just killing it next to somebody who is a male and who is not killing it, it’s embarrassing if you’re not going to be paid equal and or more. And I think those bosses who ignore female productivity…it’s sad, it happens, but I think most managers and most organizations will reward quality work. And if you have a quality work product in whatever industry you’re in, I believe you get rewarded. But we’re not asking for it. We’re not asking for the reward as much as we should be, or at least not as much as men tend to.
Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block in the work place and what you did about it?
So I have a quick answer for you: yes. Many times I have experienced a career block. My best example for this was I was working on the House Budget Committee in the House of Representatives and Leon Panetta was the chairman. I was working for the Republican ranking member, who was the top Republican on the committee. And the defense budget as a sector of the U.S. government came up. Someone had left that committee and of course I raised my hand and said I would like to be considered to cover this sector of the government, the defense budget. And I was pregnant at the time, and the defense budget expects you to travel and inspect bases around the world. And I was first kind of passed by and was told I wasn’t going to get it. And I protested and said I was qualified and I know the topic very well. I got the job, so I covered the defense budget for a number of years. So at five months pregnant I traveled to the Philippines right after Mt. Manatoobo erupted—one of the most deadly– and I was part of the team that closed down Clark Airforce Base naval air station. And I killed it. I did a great job with the defense budget and they were quite happy that I made the trip and took over this new sector.
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 am familiar with the New York state new law. It’s not clear I think whether we need a nationwide ban. Many factors contribute geographically, locality issues. Again, if you’re sitting in Omaha, Nebraska with a job versus sitting in Silicon Valley with a job, I think businesses will still figure out ways to pay women less. I don’t think necessarily a nationwide ban on it will solve the problem. I honestly think that ultimately that the companies or governments or non-profits or wherever people are working, they have to implement the controls to make sure that pay is equitable and fair. I think raising this discussion in state legislatures and Congress, I think the more we talk about it, the more we raise it as an issue, the more cities and states and legislatures that are passing laws, I think the discussion is more impactful than the laws itself. I don’t think laws can ultimately legislate how people behave in business settings, because they’re not sitting there in an interview for a job making sure that person is going to get equal pay. So it’s about implementation, but the discussion in the public domain is critical to me.
Have you seen any changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? If so, what are they?
More women are certainly running for office and certainly being elected to office. So while it’s still very slow in changing the numbers, we just talked about 20% of females in Congress, that has been a very slow and steady increase. The more engagement with women in the election process over the last couple election cycles is huge because more women are making economic decisions in the household. You go to the U.S. Census Bureau and you look at the projections for a male-female married couple and those family situations are completely changing. So with women making more decisions in the household about buying things—buying houses, retirement security, education decisions—and they’re focused more, to me, on economic issues not just the traditional social issues. So I think the traditional social issues got them to pay attention more to politics but I think it’s the economic issues that are now driving their engagement.
Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?
My defining moment really was being born to my dad, having my dad as my father, telling me to never take no for an answer and to fight and to advocate for yourself and to make your own way. And that has really lived with me and I have maybe ruffled some feathers along the way but I am aggressively advocating for myself, my kids, my employees, and I think that dogged aggressive….being an advocate for what I believe in has shaped how I am in the workplace and probably at home.
Do you believe that open access to porn (including violent video games, social media etc.) contributes to gender inequality and violence against women?
Of course! Of course it does, without a doubt. It’s the Wild West of social media and a lot of the parental controls that potentially are out there….our kids are being exposed to this stuff younger and younger. Unless you tell your kid you can’t have a phone or can’t go on Instagram or Facebook or whatever, any of these access points. I think it’s how you talk to your kids about this stuff and having good judgment.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Actually I have a quick answer for you. It’s about opportunity. Here’s what I tell young people, young women: volunteer and raise your hand for an opportunity. So if they pass over you when you volunteer and they say “no we’re not going to select you,” then you have to put them on the spot and you have to ask for the opportunity. And if they still say no when you’re asking for that opportunity, then you have to go back and create your own opportunity. You have to be creative about finding an opportunity for yourself and making it happen, within the constraints of whatever it is, whatever industry you work in or whatever office setting you work in. But you have to create opportunities for yourself, they’re not just going to show up on your desk someday. You have to show people you are willing to take a risk and an opportunity and create that opportunity for yourself. We call it stretch assignments or things like that. Don’t wait for a stretch assignment; create your own stretch assignment.
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.
Obviously more female presence in the boardroom has been studied and supports the idea of diversity of thought, inclusion, leads to higher revenue in many, many cases. But I think in terms of what we can do is just make sure we have the pipeline in our companies for women to be able to make it to a senior leadership role. Again, I’m lucky to have been able to be on the committee of the company. We’re a DOW 30 company, and I don’t take lightly that I am one of the handful of women on the committee. Those numbers have been increasing with others around the Fortune 100 but you have to make a concerted effort for women to be in those leadership roles which leads to board roles for some. I’ve very proud to have 25% female board representation. That’s critically important.
Whom do you most admire? Why?
I have to go back to my dad. He didn’t say I love you a lot, let me tell you that. He was a guy who didn’t suffer fools and very, very hardworking so it was more of a mentor relationship, honestly. He told me always be early, for example. These are little things. Never make people wait on you to start a meeting. If you’re on time, you’re late, he always told me. So be early. These are little things, you know? It’s a respect issue. It’s a little thing to be on time or be early, but it goes a long way.
What is your favorite book (fiction or non-fiction)?
I’m going to give you a women’s book, let’s say. And this is well before Lean In. I’m going to give you a book called Knowing Your Worth by Mika Brzezinski from MSNBC. She wrote that before Lean In in 2011, and what she had to say more than any other “how to succeed in business for women” book—and I’ve read them all—and I think it’s critically important for women to know your value and to express your value but don’t inflate your value. If you think you’re worth X and your boss thinks you’re worth X minus a certain percentage, you have to show him or show her you’re worth what you’re asking for. Don’t go after a raise if you’re not going to be worth it. It’s a hard message to hear for some people but knowing your value for a man or a woman, that struck a chord for me. And the other one I’ll just throw in because I mentioned it’s important to have a bathroom nearby but have you read Hidden Figures?
What is your favorite place on earth? Why?
So I was going to give you my favorite resorts in Asia and Europe and Hawaii. But my favorite place in the world is our little lake house in Virginia. And just hanging there with my family and friends on a boat and cooking everyone a gourmet dinner, that’s my favorite place. I live and work in Washington, D.C. and our lake house is in Charlottesville, Virginia in the middle of nowhere. But we have good wifi so I can work when I want to work.