Catharina Yoosun Min, a Korean-American who is the Silicon Valley Office Managing Partner at the law firm Reed Smith, spoke at an American Chamber of Commerce Korea event. She talked about how to empower women for success. I wish I’d heard her speech thirty years ago!
Here’s some of her excellent advice for women professionals, based on my notes:
1. Life is difficult. It’s difficult because of ______, ______ and ______ (fill in the blanks with your own problems). It’s difficult for everyone. So just accept that it’s hard, don’t blame anyone, and move forward.
2. Meet new people. Exchange information. Find out how you can help each other. Be proactive. A person she sat next to on an airplane became one of Min’s clients.
3. Find your own mentor/sponsor. When Min started out with other new recruits in a law firm after law school, everyone started out equally, but the young white males began getting bigger accounts and doing more with long-term staff compared to female and minority recruits. Lesson: a man high up on the ladder may naturally think to help out a younger man who reminds him of himself. Don’t sit around waiting for him to help you. Ask! Ask to shadow him, accompany him to meetings, ask for advice. He may well be flattered.
4. Mentor other women, starting from a young age. Even when you’re new to the working world, you can help high school and college students. Women need to be in the pipeline at higher levels, so that when one VIP woman leaves, there’s another to take her place. Again, this can be accomplished through mentoring.
5. Women apologize too much compared to men. Do not apologize. Do not apologize. Do not apologize.
6. It’s OK to be political, if that’s what it takes to get where you want to go. Be the “squeaky wheel.” Tell others the important things you’ve done, get others to “brag” about you, and “brag” about them to other people.
7. Sometimes a woman will share an idea with a group of people, receive little feedback, and then later a man will share the same idea and receive accolades. Lesson: Be an effective communicator. Work on your public speaking ability. Phrase things in a way that your audience can “hear” you. For example, if you’re talking to a group of football players, sound aggressive.
8. Accept a new job opportunity if it’s right for you. Do not worry about loyalty to the company, or letting others down. That’s what men do. Do not accept the first pay offer. Always ask for more. That’s what men do. Pursue a job that you are 70 percent capable of and that makes you stretch, rather than one that you’ve already done five times before. That’s what men do. Act self-confident, even if you don’t always feel self-confident.
9. When Min asked for something and didn’t receive it, she knew there was an appeals process. You could either write a letter, or state your case in person. It would have been a lot easier to write a letter. But she made her case in person, and did such a good job that she got everything she asked for. Plus she made a favorable impression on her listeners.
10. Be the first in the room to ask a question. Be the first in the room to speak up. By doing this you show you are a presence, that you are visible, not invisible.
11. When you have small children and want to keep working fulltime, your nanny/childcare expenses may be a large portion of your paycheck. Should you keep working fulltime anyway? Yes. Hopefully you will keep advancing at your job and earning larger pay increases than your daycare provider, so the percentage of your salary you spend on childcare will decrease over time. Get lots of help at home, from people you pay and from your spouse.
12. In terms of work/life balance, it doesn’t always have to be 50/50. Min said that when she’s working on a deal, she may work until 3 a.m. There may be four nights in a row when she can’t read her two daughters bedtime stories. But then later she’ll compensate by spending extra time with them.
13. Unless it’s part of your job, don’t be the “helper.” Don’t be the administrator. Be the strategist.
14. Maintain a good sense of humor. When appropriate, respond to offensive remarks with humor. Yes, life is difficult, but it’s also funny.