2019 Honoree

Lori Sundberg

Executive Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer, Western Digital

“Yes. I do think that asking previous salary contributes to the gender pay gap between men and women. California was one of the first states that outlawed this practice and I am in favor of a nationwide ban.”

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

A Power Woman is someone who is strong and confident. She knows who she is and she is clear on what she wants to accomplish. She fights for what she believes in and overcomes obstacles. She also knows how and when to use her power and she uses it wisely to influence outcomes for the collective good.

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 helping women achieve their goals. It starts with knowing what you want and being able to clearly articulate that to others. Women also need to have the visibility and access to the career opportunities they want and deserve. Of course, when they are successful in getting the opportunity they want, women should be paid equally as well. As the head of Human Resources at Western Digital, it is part of my job to champion equality for all our employees and I’m fortunate to work for a company where gender equality is a priority.

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

Climate change is an important global discussion and women’s voices and ideas should be heard and considered. Unfortunately, women are still underrepresented in climate science. We should be investing more in early STEM education and doing all we can to support young girls and women who demonstrate interest in science and engineering. Tackling an issue as big and complex as climate change will require a diverse set of perspectives and approaches.

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).

Industry, commerce and government all have an important role to play in understanding and mitigating the effects of Climate Change–including cost. I believe there are smart people all over the world with great ideas. Companies should be a part of the equation in finding and funding solutions that will help our planet. At Western Digital, for example, we are actively reducing the amount of energy and carbon in our products and manufacturing operations. We also collaborate with government agencies and NGOs around the world to promote the importance of sustainable business practices.

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

I’m not sure I’d want someone else’s job for a day. But, I do like to look at things from different vantage points, so it wouldn’t be because I’d want to DO the job, more because I’m wondering what things look like through a different lens or set of experiences. My list would include political figures, CEOs, scientists, etc. I’d want to be able to see what they see and know what they know. That would be cool!

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

There are so many admired figures in history. Because I currently lead Human Resources at a global technology company, let me highlight Ada Lovelace. Ada was born in 1815 in the U.K. to a famous father and wealthy mother. She was fascinated with mathematics and her mother encouraged her passion. In 1833, at the age of 17, Ada met Charles Babbage and collaborated with him to design an Analytical Engine, which was an early general purpose programmable digital computer. I love that Ada pursued her passion for math and science, even when faced with criticism or attempts by her male colleagues to discredit her work and contributions.

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 try to be a positive role model and mentor. My belief is that women are smart, talented, and capable. We need visibility, access, and an opportunity to compete for the jobs we want. As a society, we need to support women and ensure access and opportunity. Women also need sponsors and champions to advocate for them. And, as we rise, we need to support other women along the way.

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

I remember a meeting earlier in my career where I was presenting my team’s plan for the coming year. One of the men who was really ambitious wanted to demonstrate his strength in front of the group, so he chose to target me by challenging my presentation as a way to instill fear among my peers. I held my head high and did my best to respond to his challenges with courage, grace, and dignity at that meeting and several other meetings that followed. I worked to be over prepared so I could handle whatever came my way. At the end of the day, for me, it’s about how I conduct myself, especially when I’m faced with challenge and adversity. I knew others were watching and I knew my team was counting on me. Privately, I approached my colleague to let him know I believed I was being treated unfairly and held to a different standard than my peers. Of course, we agreed to disagree on that point, but I felt I could hold my head high.

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, I do think that asking previous salary contributes to the gender pay gap between men and women. California was one of the first states that outlawed this practice and I am in favor of a nationwide ban.

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

Yes, I’m pleased to see so many women participating in politics and running for office. I hope these women will be strong and thoughtful policy makers when it comes to equality and inclusion.

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

I am lucky to have spent nearly 15 formative career years at American Express, where diversity was passionately supported and there were many amazing women role models at senior levels of the organization. While at Amex, the majority of my leaders and mentors were smart, courageous women. Althea DeBrule, Patricia Alexander, Bonnie Stedt, Ursula Fairbairn, Gabriella Giglio, and Pam Arway were all instrumental in shaping me and encouraging my career. They provided me with amazing opportunities, coaching, and taught me to believe in myself as a leader. I just hope I can give back a small part of what each of these amazing women gave to me.

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

Sometimes great advice comes at unusual times and in unusual places. The advice wasn’t given to me–I was in my late 20’s and observed an exchange at a party between a family friend and her young daughter who was about three- or four-years-old. Her daughter was upset about something and she encouraged her young daughter to get control of her emotions. Then the mom told her daughter, “Know what you want, say what you want, get what you want.” I’ve never forgotten that exchange and I’ve applied that wise counsel in many situations. First, get control of your emotions, then be sure you know what you want, and that you can articulate it clearly. As an adult, I know I don’t always get what I want, but if I don’t know what I want or don’t say it out loud to the right person at the right time, it won’t happen.

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 give women access to these types of opportunities. When it comes to board opportunities, that may mean broadening the recruiting frame to include C-Suite executives from disciplines like legal, human resources, marketing, information, technology, or strategy to ensure women from those disciplines have access to board opportunities. I believe that both the gender balance and experience across broader disciplines will enhance board effectiveness over time.

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?

I believe education is very important. I also agree that the expense of a college education is prohibitive for many young adults and their families, and I agree that this is an issue that requires more ideas and solutions. I don’t know why, but I do believe it’s an issue we all need to work together to solve in a meaningful way. Companies are the beneficiary of an educated workforce, so I think companies need to be an important part of the solution.

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

I love to read. I enjoy reading fast-paced, popular books like The Firm or The Da Vinci Code. I also enjoy reading books on business and leadership. Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about culture, agility, and innovation.

What do you most value in your friends?

I love to laugh, so I value friends with a great sense of humor and a quick wit. I value people who will support me and who I can learn from. I also value candor, authenticity, and low ego.

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

Deplore is a strong word! The trait I work to manage in myself is that I can be a perfectionist. That can be tough on the people around me and on those who work for me. I constantly work to make adjustments to keep that perfectionist streak in check. In others, the traits I really don’t care for are selfishness and laziness.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

How can virtues be overrated? That is a tough question. I think any virtue can become overrated if it’s not in balance. You can be so nice to others that you neglect yourself or let people walk right over you. You can be so focused on work that you don’t invest in developing the right relationships with your family and friends. Being a good person–someone who leaves a positive mark on the world–is important to me. I hope I’m seen as someone who has more virtues than vices!

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