President, Global Supply Chain, Electrocomponents PLC
“…it’s not about assimilating it’s about exuding your own essence and what are the qualities that we have as a woman that makes us special and different and thus enables a better solution and better decision…”
What in your opinion are the qualities of a power woman?
Well I’ll tell you what, there are a lot of them. First of all, I think a power woman needs to make sure that they allow other women to grow – and that’s their mission right? They’ve got to have the leadership and the influencing skills to be able to get that done, but the courageousness to stand up and to stand out and make a difference, and not be someone who’s just gonna stand back and watch stuff happen. They should be the one that has courage, that will have a voice, and that will make sure that they differentiate themselves so that they can make a difference to others, and then, certainly, help other women – which I’ve devoted a good chunk of my career to – by mentoring, providing guidance, and advocating for others and, in some cases, leading by example and paving the way for others. Standing up for what they believe in, which, in my personal opinion, women tend to do better than men, is the nobility and trustworthiness and kind of authenticity which I think is important to come together. To have that leadership and powerful position, but to be real and true to oneself and exude that as well.
Do you believe that there is any gender specific role for women to play in COVID-19 pandemic? Do you think the response in the pandemic highlights the natural resilience of women?
Sure, well it’s funny because you’re speaking with someone that runs a global supply chain and ran that – and continues to run that – through a global pandemic. So whether it is women or men, COVID brought a significant focus to what we do. My mother even understands what the heck a supply chain is after 20-30 years of me doing it and has highlighted the importance of how you source your products, how you bring your products, how you sell the product, and certainly business continuity plans as it relates to women. Certainly, in my line of work that could be run by women or men, but women have the extra burden of having to run a business, run a global supply chain, and in many cases, not my personal case, but in many cases also go home or come back into the living room. They have their children who are now being homeschooled because they couldn’t go to school, or they might live in a small flat in London and have four people in the same room, or in a couple of rooms, all of which made the need for resilience evermore important. Women have had to do it most of their careers regardless of whether it’s COVID or not. COVID has just extenuated the point that they’ve got to run those supply chains and still get dinner on the table, and still make sure their 8 year olds are being schooled effectively. I think, certainly in our business, I have a couple thousand people in my organization, and first and foremost the number one priority for me personally and of our company is keeping people safe through the pandemic, and we continue to do so. I have 12 distribution centers and that is physical movement of goods. In plants and distribution centers, people don’t have the luxury of working from home offices. So how are you going to keep the business running? How are you going to enable your people to come to work where it is physically important that they’re there, but still keep them safe?
How do you balance your pursuits in the efforts for gender equality? And is it a global approach for yourself?
I’ll tell you what, I stand for equality and have been working on it for a bunch of years, at least a couple of decades, and I – just by the fact that I am female – I have focused quite a bit on gender equality, but I don’t only need gender equality. So, now at work for example, I am the sponsor of our diversity and inclusion efforts, and that does include gender, but also includes LGBTQ wellbeing and disabled people as well as race. Those aren’t mutually exclusive, but those are the four places that we’re really focusing on within our company, and I’m very proud of my company and what we’ve done in that area because it does matter. Diversity of thought, diversity of idea. Each individual has unique capabilities because they’re different. Their differences are critically important to celebrate and bring together. This is something that I’ve been very passionate about, and it’s in support of other individuals, but frankly it’s better business.
Can you share a short story of when you encountered a block due to gender in your career?
I, yeah, it actually makes me giggle a little bit – I’ve never really experienced what I thought was purposeful discrimination, I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of support in my career. So I’ve been doing this for a long time. I started my career in the mid 80’s, don’t put that in writing, but anyway, it’s significantly better than it was back then, but I remember in the late 80’s and going into the late 90’s there were activities and unconscious bias that people weren’t aware of. My story is golf. So, again, it’s less so now, but back then a lot of business took place on the golf course. I was never excluded, but I’ll tell you what, I was praying every moment I was out there that I would simply make contact with that ball because everyone else around me were guys and they’re being real competitive, and it would go 300 yards, and all of that kind of stuff, and I’m just praying that I hit the darn thing. But maybe when I retire I’ll get back to it. Golf is something that you’ve got to keep at and you have to practice. When my children were born in the late 90’s, the last thing I was going to do was spend four or five hours on a Saturday morning when I was gone all week long. Anyway, my point is I don’t think back then, again this is 20-30 years ago, I don’t think anybody back then intended to exclude me, they wanted me to be there, but just the simple fact that a lot of discussions happened on the course I felt like I had to be there. The difference was I wasn’t feeling all that wonderful and comfortable while I was doing it, I was definitely the only woman. I let them all laugh at me when I was lucky enough to hit the ball and it went in the woods or something, but I didn’t really care.
Do you think that asking previous salaries in the job interview contributes to the pay gap and should we push for a nationwide ban on that question?
I think in most companies, at least in my experience, there’s structure around positions so salary is related to grades of positions and those salaries are not published externally but are pretty structured. I think it relates more to the position versus the individual. Now, in the pursuit of mentoring and providing guidance to other women, just don’t tell them your previous salary. Tell them your forward looking salary requirements, and actually, frankly as soon as they do some kind of reference there’s going to be a salary cut anyway so it doesn’t really matter, but okay fine. Tell them your salary requirements. The advice that I give any women, which I do to this day, is don’t undercut yourself. Women have a habit of not asking, and I’ll include myself in that bucket, because we’ve been nurtured to be more humble and polite and quite possibly we should think of ourselves a little more boldly. That’s my advice for the day.
I would say women have got each other’s backs more than they have in the past?
I would say so, I have certainly dedicated my career to that and I will do anything to support others regardless of whether they’re male or female. But I take that little extra step for women.
There are many studies that support that a female presence in the boardroom increases the bottom line and leads to a healthier work environment? What can we do to continue to support women’s growth in high profile positions?
I think it’s just what we said before, it starts from the bottom up. So the first thing you need to do is hire that woman so that she even gets into the workplace. Then, what can we do to help her move her career so that she can get into more senior roles, executive roles, and board positions eventually? That’s a little bit of somebody like myself, that tries really hard to pave the way for others and kind of break hop over some barriers and break some ceilings. But it’s also about mentoring them, giving them the confidence so that they do find their voice, and reminding people that they should speak up even if you’re gonna be a little more uncomfortable, and even though you might have been groomed to do it otherwise, because actually, you’re not gonna be selected to be on an executive team or in a board if you’re not. It’s all about contribution, it’s all about strategy, and it’s all about finding that voice and providing that input. So it’s very important, I think, specifically on the board. Yes, I am as they call them ‘nonexecutive directors’ in the UK, but I am board director in the US, and I’m very proud. There are now three of us, three women on that board, and the chairman has made a point of that. I can tell you from my own experience that, because we have diversity, and not only gender diversity, we also have very very broad backgrounds on the customer, ‘quote unquote.’ We have the sale’s marketing person on the board, there’s another woman coming out of big investment houses, and there’s another one that’s a marketing and retailer. There’s a couple guys that are in other things, but my point is that it’s not only diversity of gender, there’s also some race in there as well, but most importantly you need diversity of thought and diversity of experience. So what a smart thing to do is when you’re trying to get a more holistic strategic answer when you’re trying to figure out something, or when you’ve got to make decisions, get diversity of thought there, it is critically important. Overall, we need to keep plowing ahead and paving the way to get over there.
What is a defining moment for yourself in your experience?
I’ve had many defining moments, but the one I want to pick is probably the most defining and that was when I was asked to become Expatriate and move abroad, it actually wasn’t this time, I’ve actually done it other times. The very first time, I was living in Chicago. Having grown up in New Jersey, I moved to Chicago, and my company asked me to run supply chains for their European operations and I was moved to work and live in Switzerland. At the time, my daughters were eight and ten, my husband had to give up his job, and we went. It was really scary. I had travelled a lot, my husband used to work for an airline so I had travelled a lot, but I had never lived in a foreign country outside of the United States. I moved to Zurich, which is where they speak German, and we didn’t speak a lick so it was quite a big leap not only from a personal side, but I had to be a better leader and think about diversity. I had tons of people within different countries reporting to me. I had a guy, I had a 5/10 team from France, I had a supply chain in Eastern Germany, I had a supply chain from the UK, etcetera, etcetera, eight or nine of them, and learning how to adjust my own leadership style in a diverse way in order to connect with them was a huge learning experience. That versus ‘ I’m just some lady over on journey from New York’ they’d be like yikes, go hide under the table! I had to think about what it was about them that I could identify with to enable us to make a connection in a boss-employee relationship, and it is a huge development in situational leadership. The other thing is, being female, once again the only female in the room at this day and time. Also, learning about diversity in other countries, how you break through that, and how you find your voice when history and norms and culture are completely different than what you’re used to, was quite impactful. Then, with an added benefit, my language was still long gone, but both of those daughters in New York speak German because they were in their very formative years. They’re not fluent, but they could get by pretty well. It wasn’t easy, they left their friends, they went to a new school, learning math was completely different, they were behind in some things, ahead in other things, but the development that it gave them, it almost makes me teary when I talk about it, but they themselves are now young women that have been brought up internationally and are very diverse and just have such a larger breadth of thought than most of their peers. The other thing that I would be remiss in mentioning is that I had my husband supporting us, so this isn’t a conversation around only women. I have a hugely supportive husband who has given up a whole bunch of stuff for me and my career and our family and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without that support.
Who would you choose if you could do somebody else’s job for a day?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is just such an inspiration, her death was such a huge loss to the United States. Justice Linnon Shelly, I don’t even know if you guys know who that is, but she was the second Chief Justice of the United States. She was appointed by the President and she just died last week at age 87. It’s the same thing, she is just so phenomenal to me. She became a lawyer in a time where women weren’t anything else but housewives. She went to Harvard Law School, I think there were only two women in her class, and she was number one in the class. She graduated, but wasn’t allowed to be a lawyer because she was a woman, and she not only got to be a lawyer after a whole bunch of very trying times, there were barriers all over the place, she got to be a Chief Justice, only the second woman in the history of the United States. She isn’t obnoxious, she’s actually quite soft spoken and very poised but brilliant. She has that teeny tiny pointed voice that really made a difference, and she made a huge difference for the United States, for women in the United States, and probably around the world. She is a huge inspiration to me personally.
Have you seen changes in the political landscape for women over the past years and if so what are those changes?
I think there’s been opportunities for women, and it’s been proved certainly across the board, across all sectors, and certainly since my starting out in the mid 80’s, so I wouldn’t talk about politics per-se, but I think, across the board, there’s been more opportunities. Certainly, our job isn’t done, we have to continue all of the things that we’ve already talked about. We have to pave the way, we have to continue to celebrate diversity, we have to continue to get rid of unconscious biases on women, we have to make sure that we’re inclusive and not exclusive, and we’ve got to do that across all sectors whether it be government or private business or whatever. And just a note cause it makes sense to do it in this question, my own team in business when I arrived at Electrocomponents three years ago was 100% white me, and it’s now 60% women. I obviously am proud of that, but that was on purpose, that was going through a whole bunch of interviews and being patient and waiting for that right person that also happened to be female.
Education is one of the top three responsibilities of civilized society, if so why is it so expensive?
So ‘education,’ ‘education,’ ‘education.’ Education is absolutely critically important. I think we can speak to education in multiple ways. So my company, simply, I’m sure you’re not that familiar with it, we sell parts and solutions and services which tend to our customers, and designers tend to be engineers, so talk about education – they went through maths and sciences and certainly had been very well-educated to bring them through to where they are. They are both customers and employees of ours, but a couple aspects that I want to talk about are women and girls in STEM, and actually women and girls in STEAM. You probably know the extra A means art. So how do we promote that in education, and how do we encourage young girls to be proud of the fact that they’re studying STEM and STEAM? In so many places, not only in the US, younger girls pretend that they’re not as great as they really are because it’s not cool or whatever to be in STEM and STEAM programs. So how do we make it cool, and encourage those young girls, and boys for that matter, to focus on school, particularly maths and sciences? So we’re doing a lot in that area. I actually also own our sustainability and social responsibility, I’m a sponsor of that for my company, and a big focus there is education embedded in the strategy of our business. We try to have education interwoven into everything that we do, we had a STEM fest, we have competitions where students, sometimes focusing in younger age, but sometimes focusing on University students, or recent graduates, they’re given problems they need to solve, very large societal problems like ‘How does wearable technology help solve problems like COVID, or help the elderly?’ or those sorts of things. We’ve also done things like lego leagues, going into the younger grades and helping them build structures and stuff, and we also have students, we call it ‘tightened trust,’ what they really are are refurbished trailers that open up, and they’re innovation labs where we have 3D things and robots, all kinds of really cool stuff, the Virtual Reality goggles, all sort of things. All of those things we make time for, and we drive to schools, and they use them as science labs and that kind of thing. It’s something as a company that we’re very focused on, not only giving back to the community, but also, frankly, hopefully developing those young girls, developing those young boys, so that they can grow into bright business and engineer folks that may be future employees or customers someday. It’s all about growing and developing and hopefully that never stops. We always talk about that, but certainly having a learning organization and fostering that environment to enable your employees to learn is an important thing too.
What is one of the best pieces of advice that you’ve ever been given?
I’ll tell you what, that is such an easy question for me, and I’m not making this up, it truly happened. So I had a mentor once that put her hands on the sides of my two shoulders and shook me and said ‘Debbie stop trying to act like a man.’ This was probably 10-20 years ago, and I kind of looked at her funny like ‘what is she talking about?’ and then I finally got it. So here it was, it was 20 years ago, and I’m in a profession that is largely male-dominated, and I just was assimilating to my environment and never really noticed it. But out of that assimilating to my environment, when my environment is all men, I started acting like a man, playing golf and all of that sense. I use her advice to this day to mentor others. It’s about leveraging your specialness, it’s not about assimilating. It’s about exuding your own essence and the qualities that we have as a woman that makes us special and different, and thus enables a better solution and a better decision. It was just a huge significant lightbulb moment for me since I had spent the 20 years before that, 10 or 15 whatever it was, doing just the opposite.
And do you come from a big family or have very liberated parents?
No, well I am the eldest, so I suppose I had the advantage of having both of my parents encouraging me to be bolder because I was the first child. Regardless of if I was a girl or a boy, both of them really pushed me, and maybe it’s the relationship I had with my father as well, but he really pushed me, andI think it was less about being a daughter and more about being the eldest.
What is your favorite book?
Don’t have one. I actually giggled a little bit on that question. I am so busy. I am so busy, I don’t really make the time, but I really don’t make the time to truly read for pleasure. Now I’ve done an awful lot of reading on environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and those sorts of things. First of all, there’s a lot of reports that has come out lately, surely in the UK, it’s probably less so in the US even though it’s more important in the US. In the UK there is annual report within the company, it’s a very important thing to focus on as the company grows and it’s an expectation from investors, so I actually I spent the weekend reading a ton of materials on who are the companies that are best in class out there, what are we doing versus what they’re doing, and what are some of the plans that we should put in place to get there. We have an aspiration to be number one in our sector and to be best in class across the board in the environmental and social space but we’ve still got work to do, so anyway, I’m boring, but that’s what I’ve been spending my time doing.
What do you most value in friendship?
I don’t think I’ve got one thing but a number of things that I could say was certainly clear support I’ve got a number of friends that are mentors to me whether you really wanna call it that but support me and love me but when I’m going array slap me upside the head and tell me and because that relationship is full of trust that’s not taken negatively they know me so well ‘ah Debbie maybe you gotta think about this’ sort of thing and that loyalty and trust goes with that and the support the feedback the trust and loyalty and certainly the empathy having a shoulder to cry on if you need it usually I don’t have it that often but always there for you type of thing. I whack them on the side of the head every so often too.
What trait are you most uncomfortable about in yourself and in others?
It’s probably two different things. For myself, I’ll listen to some feedback that I’ve given as I try to develop and grow, and I’ve been told a number of times that I have to be more patient. It’s probably a little bit to do with what I do for a living, I mean you’re in an operating environment, you’ve gotta make decisions very quickly, you’ve got to be courageous and bold and ask and just get stuff done, and so I’ve been told ‘ugh, settle down a little bit!’ So I would say that’s something that I reflect on, I try real hard to make sure that I am patient. I think in others what drives me crazy are the real self-centred egotistical people, and when you’re an executive, you see a lot of that. For me, it’s not about the individual, it’s about what’s best for the business and what’s best for the people around you. I’m there to remove barriers and serve and help and mentor the people that work for me, versus ‘oh I’m God I’m on the top of the mountain and it’s all about me,’ it’s not about me, it’s about them, and so it drives me crazy when I see that, but unfortunately in executive ranks, you see it.
What do you feel is the most overrated virtue?
Performance, and it goes back to assimilating to men and not exuding your essence I think. It took me a bit to learn, and maybe it did work for me for a while, but it’s about celebrating differences, leveraging your uniqueness, finding your own voice, and exuding your essence.