(Liveblog) Building Multicultural Leadership with Ready to Lead

On Thursday, January 28th, the Girls Leadership team and representatives from Open Access, TPG, Morgan Stanley, the National Hockey League, and TIME’S UP gathered to discuss the changing face of the American workforce. Based off of the organization’s pivotal Ready to Lead report, the second of Girls Leadership’s three roundtable discussions focused on the implications of the report’s findings on the workforce of the future.

The report details leadership supports and barriers for Black and Latinx girls and exposes the factors that make it difficult for these girls to rise into leadership positions. External challenges like the tendency for school systems and workforce upper management to be dominated by white employers, leaders, and authority figures, represent a major barrier to Black and Latinx girls carrying their own torches of leadership into the future.

So, the Ready to Lead report asks: how can we better prepare our girls for an empowered future in leadership?

Introducing the Panel and the Report

The day’s speakers included moderator Karina Cabrera, Co-founder of talent strategy firm Open Access, and panelists including Anilu Vazquez-Ubarri, Partner and Chief Human Resources Officer at TPG; Ileana Musa, Co-Head of International Wealth Management and the Head of International Banking & Lending at Morgan Stanley; Kim Davis, Senior Executive Vice President, Social Impact, Growth Initiatives & Legislative Affairs at the National Hockey League; and Tina Tchen, President and CEO of TIME’S UP Now and the TIME’S UP Foundation.

After introducing the panelists, Cabrera briefly went over the details of the report and the methodology for the study.

Among the findings of the report are key statistics that point to the leadership opportunities and barriers in place for Black and Latinx girls:

  • Black girls are the most likely to self-identify as leaders (48%) compared to girls of other races (36% of Latinx girls identify as leaders, 33% of multi-ethnic girls, 31% of white girls, and 25% of Asian girls).
  • Over 1 in 3 Black and Latinx girls who score highly on the leadership scale have reported witnessing racial bias.
  • The presence of a mentor in girls’ lives was positively correlated with higher scores on the Roets Leadership Scale as well as the earning of higher grades.
  • Over 1 in 3 Black teachers in the study noted that at their schools, students of color experienced bias and unfair treatment.
  • Black and Latinx girls score higher on the Roets Leadership Scale than girls of other races/ethnicities, even if they are in schools with predominantly white teachers. However, in schools with predominantly teachers of color, Black and Latinx girls score even higher on the leadership scale.

Ultimately, Ready to Lead shows the importance of investing in leadership development for girls of color, as well as the success parents and communities have had so far in instilling confidence in their girls.

Living Life as a Truth-Teller: Thoughts on the Ready to Lead Report

Vazquez-Ubarri took the stage next to discuss her experiences with learned and innate leadership as a Latinx woman. “It’s important for me to remember how I can look out for what girls’ contexts may be when they come to us as adults,” she said.

“Organizational structures matter, and words matter,” she said. “I walked away from [the report] thrilled that there is such a report, and thankful for the clarity it provides.”

“It sheds a light on something many of us have experienced but haven’t seen in the data,” added Tina Tchen. “This tells us what the promise is that exists in our young women and the future that they hold.”

“As an Asian-American woman, I have to mention how heartbroken I am about the numbers surrounding Asian girls,” she added. “That’s just falling directly into a trap that so many Asian women have fallen into in our lifetimes.” Speaking of her own experiences as a litigator, Tchen described the pushback she experienced from her family and community. “That’s just not the stereotype. That’s not the mold I’m supposed to fit into.”

Teachers as Allies for Girls to Become Ready to Lead

“The report not only celebrates but validates… the experiences girls of color have had, are having, and will have if we don’t do something to break the cycle,” said Kim Davis. “Teachers — the front line, if you will — are the ones who are making it or breaking it in the terms of how [girls] feel about themselves.” She stressed the importance of turning educators into strong advocates and allies for girls of color.

“If we don’t break this cycle now, we’re going to lose another generation of highly talented girls of color who could move into any career,” Davis continued. “We’re going to lose their willingness to want to compete and win, because of something that happened to them years before.”

Ileana Musa highlighted the success the report has had in creating a research foundation for building a campaign based on statistics. On her hopes for what we’ll do with those findings, she said, “We need to start a lot earlier with our girls in terms of building the right mindset. [A mindset] that is conducive to allowing girls to thrive.”

“[The report] allows us to start earlier on our journey and do our part to make a difference,” said Musa.

Cabrera summed it up well: “It’s not the girls that need to be fixed — it’s the system.”

Changing the School System and Skillset

Presenting a hypothetical where we’re granted “magic wands,” Cabrera asked what we would change first, both in terms of girls’ leadership skillsets and the school system.

In the school system, “Race, gender, and ethnicity is a ‘triple threat’,” said Davis. “We have to take it seriously that those ultimate biases of ‘the angry black woman’ or ‘the China doll Asian’ comes from some place. I’ll believe [the commitment to elevating Black and Latinx girls in leadership] is serious when early investment in girls of color means investing in teachers as well as investing in girls early in the cycle. We need girls who not only have the skill, but they have the will — they’ve been affirmed.”

“We’ve got to shift the dynamic and the leadership power structures,” added Tchen. “But that’s going to take a while.” In the short term, Tchen advocated for “strengthening young women inside. We need to help them develop that armor.” By investing in girls’ self-confidence and leadership skills, Tchen suggested, we can create a generation of future leaders committed to diversity and representation as a given, not a goal.

“Participation is key in terms of building that confidence,” added Musa. She called those skills critical to “being a leader, and persevering when the going gets tough.”

Vazquez-Ubarri called out execution and accountability as equal partners in addressing implicit and explicit bias in the workplace. “Managers matter,” she said. “They’re probably the most important — if you only have time to fix one thing in your organization, fix your managers. Make them inclusive leaders.”

At TPG, Vazquez-Ubarri stresses “competing against ourselves” in positioning the company as a truly diverse and inclusive organization. In hiring and in employee retention, TPG works to constantly address inclusivity in employees’ routines, including making diversity and inclusion a part of performance reviews.

“There are clear actions we can take internally and externally,” she said. “Fix and hold our managers accountable.”

“This is real work,” added Musa. “It seems so straightforward, but when you start to implement the work, you realize it’s tough, especially in very large organizations.”

Musa spoke to advancing the agenda of diversity and inclusion by looking at the process from the local and “top of the house” levels. By approaching diversity and inclusion “with return on investment in mind,” Musa suggests that organizations can position these campaigns “just like any other business venture.” Instead of making diversity and inclusion a vague goal or statement, Musa encourages finding measurable statistics to guarantee an organization is making progress.

Is Bias Training Always Effective?

Tchen pointed out that corporate bias training can sometimes enforce stereotypes rather than fixing them. A few hours of training cannot solve the implicit bias mindset that someone has been carrying around for their entire life.

“Other countries have far exceeded us [with paid leave, caregiving support, etc]. Companies in the United States don’t have to wait for federal policy to make the decision for us,” said Tchen. “They can follow what [companies like Morgan Stanley] are doing, set metrics, and ensure progress gets made within the company. Smart companies don’t wait for policy.”

Inclusion Trickling In From Other Industries

Drawing on her experiences working in hockey (the “whitest, most male-dominated of all the major sports”), Davis described the new trend in the sports industry to “hire outside of sports,” looking for talent, diversity, and skillsets, rather than hiring people familiar to the industry or familiar to the stereotypes associated with the sports industry.

“As imperfect as many industries are, over the last 25 years, [accountability and other diversity and inclusion best practices] have been honed in the financial services industry and are starting to find their way into sports,” Davis said. The path to true inclusion “is going to require a lot of uncomfortable conversations, and companies have to be ready to start those conversations.”

Musa highlighted the transition from instructor-led to peer-to-peer bias training and diversity exercises. “It’s much more real and candid when it’s peer-to-peer, employees sharing their stories and experiences, and it creates a level of empathy I haven’t seen before,” she said. “We’re all holding ourselves accountable to the truth, and that’s incredibly powerful.”

Now is the Time for Meaningful Change

Tina Tchen brought up her experiences in public policy with the Obama administration, as well as the Harvey Weinstein scandal that led to the start of the #MeToo movement and the founding of TIME’S UP. Tchen called the current landscape a “transformational moment” that makes fertile ground for growing real change.

“Corporations have woken up to these issues in a way that I’ve never seen in forty years,” she said. Corporations are also becoming more aware of common issues like childcare, the wage gap, and affordable healthcare. In 2021, “All of a sudden, everyone wants to create a caregiving infrastructure. That is transformational — we’ve never had that attitude in the United States.”

“We are on the cusp of this transformational moment, but I have no illusions,” Tchen added. “Change doesn’t happen by itself. We need businesses, leaders, and constituents to step up and be really loud. Our job wasn’t done on November 3rd — we have to step up.”

The panel closed with a Q&A with the audience, and calls to view the full Ready to Lead report on the Girls Leadership website.

To learn more about Girls Leadership and the Ready to Lead program, visit their website at www.girlsleadership.org or follow along on social media @girlsleadership and with the hashtag #ReadyToLead.


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Author: Maggie May

Maggie May is a small business owner, author, and story-centric content strategist. A Maryland transplant by way of Florida, DC, Ireland, Philadelphia, and -- most recently -- Salt Lake City, she has a passion for finding stories and telling them the way they're meant to be told.

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