2019 Honoree

Joanne Collins Smee

Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, Xerox

“We should be taxing commerce for any pollution they introduce and providing tax credits for those firms and individuals that are actively limiting carbon emissions. The recent tax abatements given for buying electric vehicles are a good example of individuals being rewarded for lowering their carbon footprint.”

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

A woman who is confident in her capabilities and able to use her skills/experiences to assist others.

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 am passionate about getting women into STEM careers. At one point in my career, I was charged to significantly grow our population of technical team members in growth regions–India, Latin America, Eastern Europe, etc. We could easily recruit and hire qualified men but, there were very, very few women applying. I went on a recruiting tour of the regions, signed up college women for “teas,” where we specifically recruited women with non-traditional experience. Women assumed they needed a computer science or engineering skills to join; instead, we focused on women with non-traditional degrees–those with education majors, accounting, language skills, etc. We hired, trained, and promoted women to be programmers, system analysts, and program managers–it made me so happy over a few years to see a burgeoning team of very capable women taking the reins in areas that traditionally looked like monasteries.

Do you believe that there is any gender specific role for women to play in the Climate Change debate?

As mothers, those responsible for bringing new life into the world, women are a natural voices for the continuation of our planet to support future generations. “Mothers for Earth!”

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.)

We should be taxing commerce for any pollution they introduce and providing tax credits for those firms and individuals that are actively limiting carbon emissions. The recent tax abatements given for buying electric vehicles are a good example of individuals being rewarded for lowering their carbon footprint. There should be a much more aggressive program with big commerce to reward green initiatives, which lower greenhouse gases.

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

I’d like to be a famous chef–they make people so happy with their talents. I don’t cook very much, so I’m in awe of people that are facile in the kitchen. We all have to eat, so it should be as enjoyable as possible!

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Joan of Arc, a heroine of France for her role in the Hundred Years War. I grew up reading/admiring the story of Joan of Arc, who as a young teenager led a peasant uprising against an oppressive colonial government. Her faith and her belief in her ability led to incredible achievements. A few of the many quotes attributed to Joan of Arc: “One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.” “I am not afraid…I was born to do this.” “Get up tomorrow early in the morning and earlier than you did today and do the best you can.” I certainly never compare myself to Saint Joan of Arc, but, rather, always have seen her as an incredibly motivating person. She was up against insurmountable odds, yet never faltered in her beliefs or movement forward.

Why or why not? 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 provide opportunities for talented women and encourage them to take risks and pursue activities that are not in their current comfort zone. As a society, I think one of the biggest things we can do is truly believe in the capability of all people. Individuals rise to the occasion if they feel the support.

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

When I was graduating from my MBA program in the late 80s, I was very pregnant with my oldest daughter and doing interviews with the firms that I was interested in joining. A couple of the firms that I was interviewing with were way too concerned with my pregnancy–asking how long I planned to take leave, did I have child care lined up, etc. The firm that I did join (IBM) never even looked at my stomach, didn’t mention my pregnancy, and, instead, discussed my goals and what opportunities they could offer.

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?

Yes, and yes!

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

A key change is that women are showing up–there is a dramatic increase in female candidates on the ballots for all levels of state, local, and federal roles. You have to be on the ballot to win.

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

I grew up in the Bronx, NY as the youngest of four daughters; my parents were immigrants from Ireland. We didn’t have a lot of money, but I didn’t realize that until I was much older. When I was six, I received my first report card and it was all A’s. My mother took me for a walk across town to “Woolworths” and told me that I could have ANYTHING I wanted as a reward for my wonderful report card. I ran to the toy section and my eyes moved up the wall (the most expensive, biggest toys were on the top shelves) until I saw “Sally,” a massive, plastic doll that was almost the same size as me. That was it–I got “Sally” for my first report card. Subsequent reports did not produce any more gifts, but my parents always lavished me with praise and encouragement. They made be believe I could do anything. That belief turned out to be their greatest gift.

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

Treat everyone with respect.

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?

We need to better educate women, and I don’t mean educate in the traditional sense. We have to make women more confident. Women are often more successful than men in every level of our educational system, but why doesn’t that success translate to the professional world? At the risk of making broad generalizations, a man will apply for a job when he might have fifty percent of the qualifications. A woman with ninety percent of the requirements might hesitate and perseverate over the missing ten percent. You gotta go, girl! Successful women also need to help build the pipeline with other talented women and then sponsor, rather than mentor, these women. Mentoring is too passive of an activity. We need to be sponsoring women–taking overt action to vouch for them for increased responsibility and new roles and help them succeed in those roles using active coaching.

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?

Depends where you live. It is crazy expensive for college in the U.S., but not so in many other counties. I believe we should provide a level of post secondary education that is completely needs-based. We are continuing to perpetuate an elitist education structure if we don’t move to a meritocracy.

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

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

What do you most value in your friends?

Loyalty and generosity.

Which trait do you most deplore in yourself? In others?


What do you consider the most over rated virtue?


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