Independent Board Director, Kellog
“I think we may believe that we can demand equality, but it cannot be directed and, therefore, it has to be part of the fabric of everything that we do and every institute that we operate. But, I think the number one action is attitude and education. The reason I say so is really a need to instill in girls, at a very young age, that anything is possible, that they can break down any barriers, they should not believe in ‘cannot.'”
In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?
Given so many I think there are so many angles that one can come from. I have never written down what I think is resilient, and the reason I’m saying so is because, if you work through a career–or any choices that you have in life–you have to walk into obstacles and anything can be good in what you are doing, it could be justice. But, I think the ability to bounce back and to ensure that you stay on the course is really critical. The more I thought about it, the more I thought: “If you demonstrate yourself, if you work harder than those around you, if you maintain empathy, and you believe in yourself, then I think it’s really inevitable,” and therefore, it takes what it takes.
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?
My approach has been more of being an activist. I think, personally, it has to do with your form of advocacy and that has to be authentic, people smell it a mile away if your not being genuine about it; so, I’ve worked very hard in companies that I’ve been at, assuring that work practices and culture is conducive to making it into a good place and making sure there are things like pay equality. But, I think most of all, if you’re a leader in the company people watch what you do very closely, so your actions really matter, and I think that’s how you change your attitude in a work place, overall, and eventually, you make a sustainable, positive impact, so you get cultural change and it becomes institutionalized. I personally really think that being a role model is far more important.
If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?
I want to be a Formula one driver. The reason is I’m an absolute adrenaline junkie. I guess having raised two boys you learn to grab things that you didn’t engage in before, so I’m an adrenaline junkie. I love fast cars. I’m a fan of really nice engines, and I think, besides the speed, you need a hell of a lot of skills to be a really good Formula one driver. You have to be fit, you need to have a fast reaction, you have to a lot of patience, which I don’t have and discipline.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
A lot of people don’t remember that I started my career in a lab, so I love science and the one person that I really admire, and absolutely respect, is Marie Curie. She was so dedicated to science and humanity and she broke through all inequality, if you think about it. She was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize for Physics, alongside her husband. I think that was in 1933, and then a couple of years later, she got another Nobel Prize for Chemistry, so she was not only the first woman, but the first person ever to win a second Nobel Prize award in two distinctive fields–one in Physics and one in Chemistry. So, I think she’s a huge inspiration for me and I particularly like one quote of hers: “One never notices what has been done, one can only see what remains to be done.”
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 am not directly involved in politics. I think there are many ways to be influenced, and I think direct political activism is an intimate challenge that has been changed, but I think pervasive change will be through leadership, in such things as policy and society broadly, and I think we may believe that we can demand equality, but it cannot be directed–it has to be part of the fabric of everything that we do and every institute that we operate. So, if I look back at my career, I think business leadership has the supportive ability to drive persistent and culture over equality within my own speech, one that I was controlling and influencing by modeling behaviors, mentoring, and helping thought processes. But, I think the number one action is attitude and education. The reason I say so is that I really need to instill in girls, at a very young age, that anything is possible, that they can break down any barriers and they should not believe in “cannot.” For me, these are issues, almost as the bowl and roll. If you look at gender inequality, it’s a structure that shouldn’t exist, and the Berlin Wall should have not existed–it started as an idea, and then an idea became a movement, and not everyone contributed with a sledgehammer because some stared at the wall and watched and smiled, while others helped in political activism. I think as we break down this wall of gender inequality, we will make progress. But, I think the most important thing is building self-confidence and to support women overall.
What issues in the workplace contribute most to the gender pay gap: Accessibility? Unconscious bias (including questions about previous salary requirements)? Economic? Reproductive? Or some other nefarious reason. Why do you think these are still challenges we face?
I think some people will say to you that gender bias is a conspiracy. Some places told me that’s right and others just say it’s an unconscious bias, and I have had experiences that proved both to be true. I’ll tell you a story about it. I do think we need more sophisticated research to identify work-based factors that can be changed because I think, sometimes, it’s just not that evident. I think arguments, like unconscious bias, maybe one such factor, standardized paid practices, making sure that there are places and other important things, but I think leaders in organizations also have the biggest influence because they are the only ones who can make a go at it.
Can you tell us a short story in which you faced a block in the workplace and what you did about it?
Many, many years ago in Australia as a woman leader, who had a 60-40 men in the organization, the gender equality commission came indoors just to make sure everything was in order, and one year the lady said to me, in the early 90s, “Have you done a Tiger Assessment?” I said, “No. Why would I do that? I treat people fairly, we have standard pay ranges, I assumed the salary would be done in a systematic, civil, and fair way.” She said, “For your own sake, just do an assessment,” which she did. Then, horror on horror–we found out that the woman in the company, where I was the lead, was being paid systematically less than the men. I immediately went back and directed everything–still aware of it. In every position that I hold, the first thing I do is say, “Give me the pay rate. Just show me the male and female rates to make sure the equality is there.” Here I was, as a woman, aware of this, but I think there is a lot more work that needs to be done around it, and I just think about it and ensure that people are aware of it, so they look for things and fix it. The company was Wise–they have existed longer, they have done advisor work in Australia. It’s a good example because, as a woman, you would not let that happen. I was completely freaked out when I saw the steps. I think you have to look for it.
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 think it should be banned, not only nationwide, but globally and I think if the U.S. takes the lead on this, it will affect policy in many other parts of the world. I think it’s absolutely wrong and disgraceful that people are asked about previous salaries. They use all that information to pick the next salary, so they can see the list you can increase whatever it may be and do that instead of paying you at the level that they have already graded. I absolutely disagree with the fact that you ask for people’s previous salaries. I think you automatically know what the job is worth, if you have determined that grade and you say that. It made me really mad, up until recently I cam across. It’s far more relevant to businesses in Europe than in the U.S.
Have you seen any changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? If so, what are they?
I think it’s a shame, a real shame, and I think, obviously, not just in politics, but in business as well, more work needs to be done and if you look across different countries. If you look at Great Britain, New Zealand, or Germany, the women are not just accomplished and substantial, they are masterful. They are not being reported on what their style is or what they wish, which so often happens, they are not just women, they are national leaders. We need more of those examples, and I still think we have a hell of a long way to go. If you go back to the elections with Hillary, very often the reports are on what she was wearing, it just doesn’t make sense to me. And, then there was a Prime Minister with an Australian name, Julia Gillard, she was compelled to make a formal speech in the House of Representatives, highlighting the rampant misogyny in the country, and it’s unbelievable that we still have to talk about this in this day and age. You still see this and the shock and horror comes from very well advanced spiritual countries. There’s more work to be done, not just in the political world, but the business landscape as well.
Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?
It goes back to very early on in my career. First of all, I should start with my dad, who always said to me, “Don’t make excuses. If you don’t want to do something, say you don’t want to do it, don’t say you can’t do it,” and he would get quite mad at me if I would say “I can’t do this,” and he would go, “No, do you want to or don’t you want to?” So, I guess that stayed with me through life and this attitude of “can” is something that is really important. But, I think what helped me a lot was only having male bosses throughout my career. I have never worked for another woman and it is those men that have helped me, and one of them very early on my career said to me, “Erica, if you ever gonna go on an international career path, know that your life will be very complex, know that you can never go back to your home country and do a job there because jobs will be increasing scales and sizes when you move out, and I suggest you think about that very closely.” You choose a country or a city or a place that you call home, so this has been some of the best advice I’d ever been given. I now realize that I am retiring and I’ve kept my home in Sydney, so I’ve kept my relationship nurtured–friendships, family, etc.–over there, so that was incredibly good advice and I now reflect on that going home. I lived on four continents: in Africa, Australia, the U.S., and now in Europe, so you almost become a road warrior in a way. It’s been incredibly fulfilling to learn so much about the world and you have some solid judgemental years opened to experience and you learn a lot of new things and learn to appreciate and share all the goods that other countries have to offer.
Do you believe that open access to porn (including violent video games, social media etc.) contributes to gender inequality and violence against women?
I kind of struggle with this because I don’t know where the truth lies, and it goes back to almost nearly every experience that I had in inequalities. However, I do think it really wears down towards the attitude that people, in general, have towards women, decency, and human respect. I think those are the core processes of socialization, and therefore, I believe relationships you have with your mother, sister, or female role models–and the way you affect male perspective, or role models preach women–have a long-lasting effect on equality on gender inequality on violence against women. It could be that video games, porn, etc. show that it’s okay to do that. I’m not sure if that’s a different environment, I would rather say that it’s a woman thing and it’s a societal issue because we all have a role to play and modeling the right behavior. I think if you have young kids, suppose a man that you know treats his wife in a bad way, then the kids will assume that’s the way it should be or that is acceptable…I think role modeling is very critical.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I think I’ve already answered that in the previous question. At the very start of my career a boss of mine said to me that you have to have a place to be called home because if you’re going to be an international expert, you can’t move from country to country and not belong because, eventually, you’re going to feel you don’t belong and nurturing those relationships, starting roots, and having a place you can return to and call home no matter what country you are in is important.
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 growth and presence of women in high profile positions?
The thing that really annoys me is the quota system because no one wants to be a quota. In European economics, everybody is struggling to meet some criteria of 30% female representation on the board, and that I think is what you need to provide unambiguous support to women, and you really need to know who they are. If you ever try to be on a board for a job and you need to provide a person’s select ability, then I think implementing on-going investments in leadership is needed. And, at the same time, there needs to be openness to the same management styles, and above all, they need to come back and ensure equal pay. Now in board situations, because it’s published and everybody gets paid the same rate, I happen to really notice a big difference and I do think there needs to be a genuine effort to make a difference because men operate differently the way women operate–men network differently than the way women network, and that flexibility opens different views and isreally critical.
Who do you most admire? Why?
I’m an absolute Nelson Mandela fan. I was living in South Africa and I was lucky enough to meet him and to join him on the trip to the carry on an expedition and an investment into South Africa. I’ll tell you what, if somebody locked me away for 26 years I would not be the most pleasant person, and he was the most amazing person. He had an enormous ability to give, his compassion for all people was inspiring, and then, he had this extraordinary ability–which to this day brings a shiver down my spine–to unify and not divide people in society. He use to start to forgive, when the sufferings has been satisfied, he used his determination. Now, for me, that’s statesmanship, not leadership. He’s one of the most amazing people.
What is your favorite book (fiction or non-fiction)?
The Hobbit. I remember it like yesterday. I read it when I was a young girl and was fascinated by youth tales of various characters and the fantasies of land and the themes created. But, I think above all, if you reflect on the book, it is really about personal growth and heroes and that’s quite inspiring, so I really like that book.
What do you most value in your friends?
Kindness. If you have two friends who are not judgmental and they accept you for who you are and they’re there for you 24/7–regardless of whether you just saw them yesterday or six months ago–it makes no difference.
Which trait do you most deplore in yourself? In others?
Being judgemental. I think it’s such a natural reaction that we look at things without thinking about that person’s experience. So, I constantly remind myself that I haven’t walked in anybody shoes for 40 days and 40 nights and it’s not easy.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Dignity. It may seem like a little weird of an answer because, in a spirit form, it’s probably a virtue. But, if I take it back into the corporate world, dignity can be seen as arrogance, egotistical, and I’ve seen that. So, in that context, I think dignity is often the enemy of openness, approachability, and accountability.