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The Key to Gender Equality: Women Empowering Women

Culture

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.

3 Min Read
Health

7 Must-have Tips to Keep You Healthy and Fit for the Unpredictable COVID Future

With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.

When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.

Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan

Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.

Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.

The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.

Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits

The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.

With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.

Tip 3: Start slow and strong

If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.

Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.

Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize

In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.

When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.

Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness

From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.

Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.

Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.

A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.

Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition

In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.

If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health

While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.

For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.

While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.