SVP Digital Platform & Experience, Autodesk Inc.
“I find ‘grit’ comes as a result of difficult experiences, and it is a key ingredient for endurance in achieving your individual passion and goals. Lately, I have met some young women who have so much potential, but lack confidence. I would like to change this.”
In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?
Highly confident. Effective in enabling others to support common causes. Passion to drive for results. Ability to manage what, why, and how—to ensure strategy realization. Perseverance.
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?
Gender equality is an issue that I am passionate about. Several years back, I sponsored my company joining the TechWomen initiative. TechWomen is a U.S. State Department program that brings emerging women leaders in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East together with their professional counterparts in the United States for a mentorship and exchange program.
Autodesk makes software for people who make things. The program at our California-based company has grown over time to be supported by many teams and individuals at Autodesk. That was a great way to tie my leadership role at a global software firm into a broader global effort for gender equality. I am a great incubator, and my satisfaction comes when others take the torch for a longer journey.
I find “grit” comes as a result of difficult experiences, and it is a key ingredient for endurance in achieving your individual passion and goals. Lately, I have met some young women who have so much potential, but lack confidence. I would like to change this.
If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?
I would like to be Michelle Obama for a day so I can declare a run for the presidency in 2020.
Why do you think women’s reproductive rights are under attack? Globally it seems women’s health and security are under such attack; from religion, to cultural attitudes, to lax government protection, women are more vulnerable than ever. What policies would you propose that the US government pursue (or change) to alter this.
Women’s reproductive rights are so closely tied to cultural attitudes and religion. Sadly, some of our reproductive rights are under attack in U.S., and I believe that is the first battleground for American women.
I support U.S. funding for programs, like Techwomen and other educational programs for women globally. Policies without funding behind them are empty words. In the business world, it’s the same as having strategy without resources to realize the intent. We need to work on fixing the resources required to educate and empower women first.
At the same time, the U.S. needs to build up the middle class where the country’s economics are better for most people, not just those who have benefitted from globalization and the technology revolution. At the policy level, I believe we need to put concerted effort in retraining our workforce so more people are in a position to be lifelong learners and have access to opportunity to be employed with jobs where they can support their families. This will allow more people to care about global and/or women related issues.
We can do both, but the central point is education—retrain the U.S. working population and educate women globally.
Are you involved in politics at the local or national level? 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)?
No. I am disenchanted with our politicians’ emphasis on storytelling, particularly those without any results and/or follow through on promises. People have told me I don’t waste words in my communication, and I believe actions speak louder than words.
I try my best to nurture equality both at home and at work and in my daily interaction with others. Breaking my own cultural norms as a Korean American woman, I speak up when I see unjust behavior. I believe there is no silver bullet to fix the “women power and equality” related issue. It’s changing the culture of the country and world. I believe ensuring women are supported at home and work by all, including men (fathers, sons, colleagues) will change culture of the over time.
Educating women is the seed for change.
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 have been very fortunate to have great mentors and managers all my career and to work for a company that mostly paid for performance. I think it comes down to two factors—-unconscious bias and, generally, women’s expectations are low. I also believe many women are reluctant to take risks. During negotiations for a bigger job/salary, I find men are more likely to articulate what they want and are also willing to walk away.
The American culture of being wholly dedicated to a job does not help during some life stages. Personally, I had a few of my hardest moments working in demanding roles and raising two children even though I had a supportive husband and help at home. Companies, like Autodesk, that offer a women-friendly cultural environment are helping women to close the gap by career progression.
Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block in the work place and what you did about it?
In my first year out of college, I was working in a manufacturing facility in the early 1980s. I was a production supervisor, and my daily job was to walk the floor and walk through the shop and talk to the machinists to see how the projects were going to ensure the daily operations were progressing. There was one employee who would ignore my questions and did so for over six months. I learned that he was a Korean war veteran who was captured briefly by the North Koreans, and he did not like Koreans (not to mention a young immigrant female manager). People told me to ignore him. I stopped asking questions since it was too obvious I was being ignored. Every day, I said a greeting and/or made some statement and moved onto the next station. Six months later, I was moving to another city/another facility. He showed up on my going away party with a box of Dunkin Donuts and apologies for ignoring me. I am drawn to challenges, and I know I can only control my actions and not expect certain reactions. This was story with a happy ending. Although there are others that had less positive endings, I am very proud that I always speak my mind and act based on what I believe.
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 have mixed feelings on top down policies. Some are needed but many times, we do not think about unintended consequences, and the execution of the policy in practice sometimes does not support the original intent. Teaching our daughters and colleagues to have the courage and equipping them with the skills to not answer questions about prior salary would create the better foundational changes we need.
Have you seen any changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? If so, what are they?
I don’t actively follow women in politics, but I really would like to see more women with great capabilities, like Michele Obama, have a center stage to show the world what women can do.
Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?
I have a very unusual background. The question of “where are you from” has many answers. I do not have defining moment per se. I think my early childhood experience made me who I am today. I learned the things and ways that I wanted to be different. Immigrating to New York City from Korea in high school opened the path for me. My high school counselor told me to optimize my strengths, which were math and science, and to get an Engineering degree. This was the defining moment that started the journey of meeting great people and working on the things I get passionate about.
Today, as a Senior Vice President of Global Customer Support and Operations at Autodesk, I’m passionate about improving the ease of doing business with the company. My team’s charter is to help millions of designers, engineers, and visual artists around the world access, learn, and adopt our software. If you’ve ever driven a high-performance car, admired a towering skyscraper, used a smartphone, or watched a great film, chances are you’ve experienced what millions of Autodesk customers are doing with our software. I’ve held a number of executive roles spanning strategic planning and operations, software development, project management, subscription services, and more since I joined in 1989.
Do you believe that open access to porn (including violent video games, social media etc.) contributes to gender inequality and violence against women?
Yes. Sadly, media and entertainment as a whole is not helpful to creating an environment of respect for women, where women are celebrated as powerful and feminine at the same time. My favorite entertainers are Ellen DeGeneres and Sia. Both, to me, embody capability, independence and bucking the norm.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Optimize for your strength.” – my high school counselor.
“Just because it’s easy for you to do, doesn’t mean that has lower value.” – my manager.
“Don’t worry about the titles; optimize for learning opportunities.” – my managers.
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?
I have also read studies to this effect, and I agree that having diversity in the boardroom will help create a healthier work environment. I also believe diversity comes in many forms—gender, culture, industries, functional expertise, etc.
In order to have more women in the boardroom, we need to start the feeder process where there are more women first line managers, directors, VPs, and C-suite positions. The reason I feel strongly about educating male colleagues on this topic is since most of the decision makers are men, without them being enlightened, the progress will be slower. We also need to educate women to tell their stories better. I find getting on the board is highly centered around networking, which is time consuming. These factors make it a bit harder for some women.
Who do you most admire? Why?
I have always admired Madame Marie Curie most. I truly loved chemistry when I was in high school, and she was one of the well-known female scientists, ahead of her time, making a great impact to the world and showing how a woman can do it all.
What is your favorite book (fiction or non-fiction)?
The Man Without a Country by Edward Everett Hale. This book that was written in 1800’s made an impact on my journey. I was in high school when I read this book. The timing and the story were so relevant for me. I still wonder at times, years later, where my homeland is, but I truly love this country as deeply as the people who were born here. When she was young, my daughter observed that Asians are the only race that are viewed as foreigners even if they have been in the U.S. for two and three generations.
What is your favorite place on earth? Why?
The Dolomites. They offer great food, wine, and ample opportunity to get stronger physically outdoors. I need to learn Italian to move there!