Have you experienced gender bias?
I’ve experienced racial and gender bias in my personal and professional life. Sometimes it’s subtle—I’ve walked into client meetings as the senior team member and everyone looked to my junior male colleague to lead the meeting, or they were surprised when he deferred to me to answer questions.
It also can be more explicit. Once during a client’s board meeting, two male partners and I met with the client CEO who asked us a question I’d already previously answered for him. I started to answer him again in a different way, and I briefly stalled to reword my answer. He interrupted: “Hold on, Joan. Why don’t you let the older gentlemen answer the question?” and looked to the partners. I was shut down, and his CFO at the time, a woman, just stared at me in shock. The partners essentially gave the same answer I had. I later heard from the CFO that the CEO had a difficult time working with women, so she left shortly after.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BreakTheBias. Can you speak to what that means to you?
I’m a first-generation Filipino in the United States, raised in the 1980s, and also have lived in the Philippines for four years. I grew up understanding those traditional gender roles for women, where women were more submissive and raised the family.
There was a lot of conditioning when I was growing up, but I remember wanting to be like the “girl boss” women on television because they were breaking the mold. They were doing things that no one expected of them, and I wanted to be like that. It hasn’t been easy—mom guilt is a very real thing. I’m trying to keep up with my peers and be successful at work, but also meet my kids’ needs. Whenever their grades slip, or they don’t tell me about an event because I’m always too busy, I feel awful.
I always feel like I have more to give not just to my family, but everyone around me. I’ve had years of conditioning toward that traditional role, and sometimes I feel bad that I can’t just stay at home and take care of the household. I have an awesome support system, including my husband with whom I share household responsibilities, so this is an internal struggle. I want to be okay with how I’m navigating through life priorities and minimize the guilt. I think addressing and breaking biases will help with that.
It’s also important that my children are part of breaking the bias. My daughter has different ideas than I was raised with, and it’s cool to see her breaking away from those gender norms. She doesn’t feel like she has to get married. She sees how I work, how I am with people, and how I try to give back—I see her following suit. I love that she tells me she sees me as a leader. You want to teach your kids good values and encourage individuality, so they have the proper tools and skills for success. I feel like I’ve influenced her in a positive way.