The Key to Gender Equality: Women Empowering Women


As a Vietnamese immigrant growing up in the 80s and 90s in America, I didn’t see many women running companies and definitely didn’t see any female Vietnamese immigrants leading businesses in America. But I was very fortunate enough to see a strong female, my mom, work hard to make a living and learn English, so her children could live the American dream.

She constantly encouraged me and told me that in America, anything was possible. And so I learned at a young age, that the power of a strong woman can be passed along to another woman. Now, being the Founder & CEO of my own tech company, I realize the important role I play in female empowerment. Feeling empowered allows me to empower other women.

Today, women represent only 5.4% of CEO’s in the S&P 500 Companies, while make up 44.3% of the total employees. Our opportunity is to support as many of those total females employees, so they can have an opportunity to make it to the top.

Photo: HBS WSA

There are many great female focused events, panels and conferences nowadays. All with the aim to bring women together and have the much needed discussions about how to even the playing field. I recently attended and spoke on a panel at Harvard Business School’s WSA (Women Student Association) annual conference. The conference aims to empower and celebrate the next generation of female leaders, and this year’s theme, Women Empowered, was intended to “promote discussions on what it means to be empowered and what it means to hold power”. With an impressive lineup of 100 female speakers and 22 panels tackling some very key issues facing women today, the conference provided me some valuable views on female empowerment:

1. Female Empowerment Starts At A Young Age

Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of Girls Scouts of America from 2011–2016, the first Latina woman to hold this position, shared that as the daughter of Mexican immigrants, she learned what empowerment was by supporting her mother's run for public office. She attributes feeling empowered by her mom and by the many supporters around her. But it was her experience of working with millions of 8 year old girls that taught her the importance of girls supporting each other. Empowerment starts at a very young age and can be one of the most powerful things we can do as females for each other. If we teach our young girls to support each other, they will continue to do so throughout their lives.

Anna Maria Chavéz by RealSimple

2. You can’t be what you can’t see: Feeling empowered shows others it’s possible

It’s hard not to be inspired by Jeanne Jackson. She is the President, special advisor to the CEO, of Nike. Jackson’s successful career includes being CEO of Banana Republic, leading e-commerce efforts for Gap, and CEO of Walmart.com. In addition, she has served on the board of Nordstrom, West Marine, Nike, Williams Sonoma, and Harrah’s, Delta, Kraft and McDonald’s. During her keynote to the conference attendees, she shared that when she attended Harvard Business School, only 10% of her class was female. She jokes that back then, most women attended Harvard Business School to find a desirable husband, since the odds were in your favor. But Jackson had a love for retail, and ambition inside of her that propelled her to being at the forefront of retail and e-commerce. She’s been the only women in many boardrooms throughout her career, but she never took herself “out of the game”. She stayed in, felt empowered to do so, and has showed us that it’s possible.

3. Intersectional diversity is very important

We can’t talk about gender diversity without racial diversity as well. I was one of four panelists on the “Diversity In Tech: Women’s Leadership in Effecting Change” panel. My fellow panelists included Asha Keddy of Intel, Catherine Allegra of Markit and Jen Cotton of Twitter. As female leaders in technology, we discussed our efforts to bring more diversity into technology and to our companies. Inclusion of all genders and backgrounds is very important to the technology industry, and being women and minorities in the industry, we have the opportunity to lead the change. Technology can greatly benefit from the inclusion of women and minorities.

4. Flexible workplaces are essential

Jackson of Nike said she hoped that the women at the conference don’t take themselves out of the game. This topic surfaced a lot across the 22 panels and workshops of the day. Do women have a fair choice when it comes to staying in the game? One of the most important issues facing women in their careers is the balance of motherhood and childbirth. At Intel, Keddy shared that they have paid “bonding leave” available to both men and women after childbirth. In “The Current State of Feminism” panel, Anna Auerbach, CEO of Werk, stressed the importance of companies to evolve and have a flexible workplaces so women have a fair chance to make “the choice” to stay in the game. Not be forced to take herself out or opt-out.

5. Being empowered allows you to empower others

Heidi Cruz, Managing Director at Goldman Sachs and a HBS alumni delivered the closing keynote of the conference. Cruz, a fascinating and strong woman who just happened to be married to Ted Cruz, stressed that being empowered meant being flexible to face life’s challenges and opportunities. Cruz said she wasn’t about to leave her career for a man, but she could for her country. And that supporting and serving others, like your country, can be empowering as well.

Vicky Au and Lisa Wang of the HBS WSA, reported that with 1,300 attendees, this was their largest conference to date. Attendees were made up of a mix of HBS students, undergraduate students and young professionals.

After speaking to many attendees about their experiences for the day, it became very clear to me that female empowerment begins with ourselves and continues with empowering other women. Conferences like these are very important because they show young women that they can be a part of the next generation of leaders. And as female leaders, we can help show young women what they can achieve and help empower them to get there. Because after all, power is not diminished by being shared, it can only grow stronger.

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What I Learned From Dating Younger Men - It's Refreshing and More Authentic!

"There are no good men out there," yet another woman my age declared. At 50, I was freshly divorced after two decades of marriage and motherhood. My unhappy marriage had shattered my faith in men and romantic relationships. Based on my ex-husband's opinion of my sexual appeal, I was afraid my naked body would cause future lovers to run screaming from the room. Rather gleefully, I announced to my girlfriends that I was done with men, and sex, forever.

For the first year, I got tangled in my sheets alone every night, overjoyed to have the bed and my body to myself. I felt liberated by divorce—free to be me, skip showering, and make dinner for one. But it bothered me when women decried the scarcity of men, because I'd known so many good ones—college boyfriends, my brother, my best friend from business school, etc. The first of many naked truths gradually crept up on me: I was not going to find my juju again through self-help and yoga. The feminist in me didn't want to admit it, but going for too long without men was akin to starvation.

I didn't want another husband. But I needed men, a lot of them.

The universe signaled its approval by sending Mr. Blue Eyes to me at an airport. He was 29 and perhaps the sexiest man I'd ever kissed. Being with him convinced me, pretty decisively, that men were going to heal me, even though men had destroyed me many times before. I became the female incarnation of a divorced, clichéd older man: I bought a sports car, revamped my wardrobe, and took younger lovers. "I want five boyfriends," I told my best friend KC after that first tryst ended. "Sweet, cute, smart, nice. Enough that I won't get too attached to one." My message from the frontlines of divorce at 50 is that to restore your confidence as a woman, especially in the wake of a crushing breakup, try dating outside your comfort zone, expanding your dating pool to include partners you might never have considered before. It may not be the recipe for a lasting union, but in terms of rebuilding your self-esteem, it can work wonders.

The first thing I noticed—and liked—about dating younger men is that they didn't want to marry me or make babies with me. And I didn't want that either. Frankly, I didn't even want them to spend the night. Since I'd been 11, I'd been taught to seek out and value men who wanted commitment. To my surprise, I found it refreshing, even more authentic, to be valued not for my potential as a mate, but instead for my body, intelligence, life-experience and sexuality.

And the sex! I quickly realized that—warning, blanket stereotype coming—men under 40 are more straightforward and adventurous than older men, maybe since they were raised with the Internet. You hear so often about the scourge of crude, sexist online pornography; and I agree that the depersonalization of women as sexual playthings is deeply destructive to all genders. However, from sexting to foreplay, I found younger men uniquely enthusiastic about getting naked and enjoying sex. Every younger man found my most erotic zones faster than any man my age ever had, with a lack of hesitation men over 50 seemed unable to fathom.

Also, about my big fear of getting naked in front of a younger man? Completely unfounded. I started to shake when Airport Boy took off my sundress in our hotel room. Had he ever seen a woman my age nude? How could I stand to be skin-to-skin with a body far more perfect than mine? I had given birth to eight-pound, full-fucking-term babies. I'd nursed them, too, and at times by breasts looked (from my view at least) like wet paper towels. "You have a spectacular body," he told me instead, running his hand over the cellulite on my stomach that I despised. That night I learned that younger men who seek older women accept our physical flaws—they don't expect perfection in someone 20 years their senior. These men taught me to see my body through a positive, decidedly male lens, to focus on the pretty parts (and we all have them) rather than the flaws that we all have too, whether you're 19, 29 or 59.

I even found the pillow talk lighter, easier and more intellectually stimulating, because a younger man's world view differs so vastly from the pressures of my 20-something kids, annual colonoscopies, 401K balance and mortgage payments. They have simple financial problems, like "Can I borrow a few quarters for the parking meter outside?" or "Do you have any advice on consolidating my student loans?"

Everything feels simpler with younger men. Men under 40 seem less threatened by assertive women; they grew up with them. They like cheap beer instead of expensive wine. They don't snore (as much). Leftovers a 55-year-old would scoff at look good to them. Their erections NEVER last more than four hours. Their hard-ons end the old-fashioned way and 45 minutes later they are ready for more.

But what I enjoy most about younger men is not the sex, or the cliché that they make me feel young again—because they don't. Younger men make me feel old, and to my delight, I like that. I feel valuable around younger men, precisely because I am wiser and more experienced in life, love and between the sheets.

I know I'll never end up with one for good. The naked truth is we don't have enough in common to last. One recently put it exactly right when he told me, "I love this, but there's always gonna be a glass ceiling between us." That lack of permanence, the improbability of commitment and "forever," doesn't mean I can't pick up a tip or two about self-esteem, and enjoy the magic of human connection with younger men. And vice versa. The experience can enrich us both, making us better partners for people our own ages down the road.

*My viewpoint is from the perspective of a heterosexual woman, because I am one. But change the gender identification and/or sexual orientation to whatever works for you and let me know if the same advice holds true. Thank you.