2021 Honoree

Kate Johnson

President, Microsoft U.S.

“Gender equality has to be a top priority for any leader today, with explicit and intentional action to support progress. Therefore, I prioritize gender equality as a major part of any diversity and inclusion plan I am working on. When I look at any workforce data, I always ask to see it segmented in all identities, including gender.”

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

Power is about impact. It’s not about how many people you manage or how big your P&L is. To me, power is about your ability to influence and deliver meaningful business outcomes to corporations, employees, and communities.

Do you believe that there is any gender specific role for women to play in the Covid-19 pandemic.
Do you believe the response to the Covid-19 pandemic highlights & emphasizes the natural resilience of women?

The pandemic shone a light on the fact that structurally not much has changed for professional women who still seem to carry the lion’s share of “at home” responsibilities. This makes their career trajectories more susceptible to disruption, losing any recent equality gains.

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?

Honestly, I started with an attitude that patience would yield enough results in time. But we just haven’t seen enough change for women in the workforce with respect to leadership assignments, board placements, and compensation. Gender equality has to be a top priority for any leader today, with explicit and intentional action to support progress. Therefore, I prioritize gender equality as a major part of any diversity and inclusion plan I am working on. When I look at any workforce data, I always ask to see it segmented in all identities, including gender.

I explicitly lay out meaningful targets for my leadership team to focus on driving diverse hiring and promotions. During compensation and rewards discussions, I expressly ask if we are improving our gender equality metrics. I am passionate about being intentional and taking visible action to ensure that I am communicating the importance of this priority to all constituents.

What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take toward empowering women and gender equality?

My answer for #4 is the same as #3…we need leaders to stop waiting for someone else to do something. We have to rise up and be intentional and accountable for closing the gap.

Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block due to your gender?

I was the only female on an all-male council that met quarterly for dinner. Despite expressing that I didn’t like steaks, bourbon, or cigars, we continued to meet in a private room at a steak place where they served bourbon and the men smoked cigars. When I finally convinced the team to meet at a fish place in town, several of the men refused to show up. It was so hard to build deep relationships with the other council members in this context.

Do you think that asking previous salary requirements in job interviews contributes to the pay gap between women and men? Should we push for a nationwide ban?

I believe that roles should be priced according to what the market will bear, and candidates should be evaluated on their experience, skills, and of course, their potential for success in that role. What a leader was making at their last job is often used for validation of size and scope of role (instead of resume alone), but should not be used to set the compensation for the next job.

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?

It has to be intentional! CEO’s and board chairs need to focus on diversifying boards in order to make the change. Most companies I have worked with have made this intentional push, but it must be consistent, deliberate, and persistent if we are going to make any enduring changes. Often companies see a positive change in composition of workforce, and they lose focus. CEO compensation should include a component on whether the company workforce is diverse, and that incentive plan should cascade to all of senior management.

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

I would love to say that there was one moment or experience that shaped me…but I think I am the product of a collection of moments and experiences. If pressed for one experience that shaped me more than others, it would definitely be the moment my husband decided he wanted to drop out of the workforce and take care of our children.

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

We’re starting to see more women get elected, and that’s a good start. I’m hopeful that we’ll see true gender equality in elected and appointed offices someday.

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?

It’s disheartening that education is so expensive – and I’m certainly not an expert on how to change that reality. I do believe that education is the “responsibility of a civilized society,” or put in more modern terms, we need to ensure that education is accessible to every citizen. Education is paramount for innovation, one of the key ways our country can continue to lead and grow. As we continue to innovate, we need to ensure that our citizens have the appropriate skill sets to participate in the workforce. There is a concerning gap between the needs of the digital workforce and the average education at the secondary and tertiary levels.

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

If I could be a concert pianist for a day, I’d play for 24 hours straight!

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

Brene Brown taught me “Don’t try to win over the haters…you’re not a jackass whisperer.” While this is a tad crass (and I love it!), it is a meaningful mantra in the change leader playbook. In any major transformation, about a third of the people will love it, a third will hate it, and the final third will be undecided about how they feel. Great leaders focus on helping the lovers / supporters be successful, while convincing those who are unsure to join the team. While everyone needs a chance to be heard and all objections are important to consider, the haters should be a low priority for leadership focus and attention as they can quickly detract from overall progress.

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

The book that has had the most profound impact on my life is Dare to Lead by Brene Brown. It has given me a toolset to be more courageous. So often we see vulnerability as weakness: but Dare to Lead taught me (and my team at Microsoft) that vulnerability is the first step towards building trusted relationships and having difficult conversations required for true transformation. I use the Dare to Lead competencies inside and outside of work!

What do you value most in your friends?

A great friend is someone who loves to workout with me (but doesn’t judge me while I’m huffing and puffing!), loves to read and chat about books with me, and of course, someone who is a great listener and has the courage to tell me the truth.

Which trait do you find most uncomfortable in yourself? In others?

I’m learning how to accept compliments…and I have to say, when I compliment another person, I would rather have them say “thank you” than say “that’s not true”. I think demurring a complement usually comes from a place of humility, but can discourage the person giving the complement from continuing a very positive, important behavior. Therefore, I’m learning to accept a compliment and simply say “THANK YOU,” no matter how much it flies in the face of humility.

What do you consider the most over rated virtue?

“She’s intelligent and works so hard!” is a brand that many of us aspired to achieve. I’d rather hear “she’s intelligent and works smart too”, because this means that she’s not defining herself by how hard she works. Too often, we hustle for our worth instead of being confident that we will be rewarded for our impact. Diligence is important, but an overrated virtue.

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