How Women Lead

From time to time I get asked to emcee events. Or, as I prefer to say, be the Mistress of Ceremonies. Minus the whips and leather. But last night I was the moderator of a panel that included a sort of insane lineup of women:

  • Libby Schaaf, Mayor, City of Oakland
  • Robin Hauser, Director, Finish Line Features
  • Julie Hanna, Special Advisor, X (formerly Google [X]); Former Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship
  • Jenny Lefcourt, General Partner, Freestyle Capital
  • Blye Rocklin|Faust, Film Producer
  • Sandra Lopez, VP, Intel Sports



So I'm on stage doing what I do, introductions, sharing an anecdote, and then getting the show on the road. Very welcoming and friendly crowd at the Julia Morgan ballroom. Mostly women, all stages of their careers. We have a list of questions to help move the conversation along--and we showed clips from Robin's film "Bias" which is an insightful documentary about how we need to recognize our inner prejudices and figure out how to overcome those negative biases that make for a crappy workplace/world.

I'm oversimplifying but that's why you have to see the film. 

It's fantastic getting a chance to facilitate a conversation between highly successful, generous, insightful women. For a journalist who is naturally curious to be allowed to hold a microphone and sit next to a set of women I'd never otherwise meet--it's sort of nirvana. I'm on stage peppering the conversation with questions, quoting Beyonce, "Gimme my check, put some respeck on my check/ Or pay me in equity/Watch me reverse out a deck (skrrt)" and taking notes so I can share with you what left an impression on me. 

The panelists answered questions about everything from increasing the number of women and minorities in the circles of power to how they negotiate salaries. I don't know if a recording or transcript exists of the event but here are some of my takeaways from the night. 

1. When negotiating salary, know your data. One panelist said a junior member at her firm circulated an anonymous survey to encourage everyone to enter their jobs, experience level and salary. Obviously that's not going to work if you work in a tiny office, but it's one way to get info that can be awkward to find out face to face. Of course, if you're Asian like me, you grew up with everyone asking everyone how much they paid for everything so those money conversations aren't so foreign. And then everyone buys the same gray Honda Accord. 

2. Also, don't go to the meeting only with the mindset of "Let me convince you why I should make this." Keep in mind you can challenge the decision makers with: "The other people/partners/staffers who are at my level make X and get X benefits, can you tell me why I shouldn't also receive that compensation?" It puts the challenge back on the manager instead of forcing you to be the person who has to build an impenetrable case. Again though, you need to have your facts straight before you make this statement.

3. Enlist the men, enlighten the men, the men are not the enemy. Meaning: it's OK to bring family into the conversation. A male manager/co-worker is going to become a dad? Ask him how he plans to balance his work and family. Is he planning to take time off? These are mini shifts in the conversation that can be 'teachable moments' because these are questions women get asked all the time that men rarely consider. 

4. Ask the women. Sometimes managers think they're doing "Jenny" a favor by not considering her for the promotion because it requires travel and weekends away from home and "she has two young kids at home." Don't assume that! If she's just as competent and qualified, offer the oppportunity and let her make the decision. 

5. Call out jacked up behavior or statements but find a way to do it without making someone defensive. The example: a guy said something to one of the panelists that was well intentioned, but had the wrong impact. She took him aside and said, "I know what you meant, but this is how it landed. I know you, so it's cool, but if you said that to someone else, consider how it might be taken." Obviously this is not a one size fits all but that's a great approach when possible.

6. Built a trusted network. Knowledge is your power and you can only get that when you talk to others and swap stories. You can find those people, and you must.

7. We are all products, perpetrators, and victims of bias. Let that one sink in.

8. It's not enough to just be a role model. Great, you're there. But what are you doing to help those coming after you?

9. Add value to the bottom line. You have to motivate by greed, not fear. Basically, what's good for business is always going to be the best way to appeal to your bosses in any situation/negotiation. 

10. Stop thinking about promotions and growth and providing more opportunities for a diverse group as a power equation because power is a zero sum game. Popele freak out if they think giving opportunities to others takes away from them. Think of it as a talent equation. Mayor Schaaf gave the analogy: Your loved one is sick. Wouldn't you want everyone possible to be looking for that cure? Why would you keep half of the talent pool out of the mix (ie women). 

11. Diversity will lead to more complex but potentially more complete solutions. It's annoying to be in a meeting with a bunch of conflicting viewpoints vs a room with all the same people with the same background who say "Yep" and move on, but you'll probably come up with a way better finished product. I know that firsthand whenever I work with a producer who challenges 97.8% of everything I say and do. It raises my blood pressure at least 7 points but I will say Kevin makes the work better. He will never win the conversation about why I don't wear flats to work though.

12. Praise publicly, criticize privately. An oldie but a goodie. 

13. For my young women interns and mentees who always ask me how to be a woman in news and also have a family, I always tell them they have to go after family and finding the right partner with the same fervor as they go after the next job in a bigger market. But Sandra from Intel also had a great point about prioritizing. Sometimes your kids will be the priority and sometimes your work will be the priority. It's such a simple point but she synthesized something I do all the time without ever thinking of it that way. I will be at the Spring Sing, but I had to miss the hip hop dance. I will see it on the $40 DVD (highway robbery). Is it easy? No. But in the long run, your kids will know they matter, and that work also matters. I think that's A-OK. Because how else can I buy that freaking $40 DVD?

14. #dadguilt is so not a hashtag. While my husband and I can have a healthy debate over that, by and large, it's not a thing. So let's move past #momguilt too.

15. Celebrate your discomfort when you're the only person in the room who is black/Asian/female/gay etc etc. I think this is an interesting point and one that is definitely nuanced. NEVER use your difference as an excuse or for leverage. At least, I never do. I could definitely related to what Sandra said about feeling like, "WTF are you talking about?" when a white dude asked her, "What's it like to be a Latina woman in your job?" because it's not how she identified herself. She's a boss because of her work ethic, her achievements, her value to the company. She's not there BECAUSE she's a Latina woman and in fact for a long time she tried to avoid bringing that dimension of herself into the boardroom. But then she realized she should embrace it because it added to her company's value that she knows the Latin comsumer, how they interact with technology, what sports they care about. 

I can relate because I'm not running around consumed with what it's like to be an Asian/Vietnamese female investigative journalist. But when I'm at a conference packed with white men, I do realize, oh hey, this is a thing. And I make a point of saying how my life experiences are different and how that translates to how I do my job. I think there's a balance between being open about how you, the whole you, relate to your profession because of your life experience versus constantly flying your minority banner when it's not relevant.

16. Sometimes the dudes just don't know any better. Loved this point from Jenny, who works with a lot of rich bros in her venture capitalist world. Many of them have wives who stay home full time, sometimes with the assistance of the nanny. When they ask, "How do you work AND be a mom?" it can be a legit question because their brains can't process how you can possibly do the job they see their wives doing at home AND the job they also see you doing at work. It's like you'd need to be TWO people. So just gently help them understand how you prioritize. (See point 13) And then ask them if they're going to their kid's Halloween parade (see point 3). Then try not to roll your eyes hella hard when everyone applauds them for being such an involved dad while turning to ask you why you're taking time out of your day to attend a children's event. :) 






Memo to Renley: ONE YEAR

Renley J,

It's pretty official.

I've enjoyed babyhood with you the most.

I think it's because I know you are the last. Final. Ultimo. No one else will ever emerge from this womb. 

So I'm savoring all the moments. Like at least 88% of them. That's a B+, like your dad's personality type. I'm an A+, he's a B+. I normally wouldn't celebrate anything less than a 4.0 but I've relaxed with time. And given the fact I am SO NOT A BABY PERSON and you're the THIRD BABY PERSON I've had the pleasure of creating, it's sort of astonishing to me how much I love you as a baby. 

It's ironic that I'm enjoying you the most as a baby when you're technically the worst as a baby. Worst sleeper (except apparently Daddy thinks you're best napper), loudest crier, most violent and injurious, most prone to crazy temper tantrums with flailing and screaming. I've never been told by so many strangers out in public, "Wow you really have your hands full." Your mullet hair don't care if we're out and about, you will voice your concerns and let your disgruntled flag fly freely, right in the open. I've become 'that' mom. The one who walks into a store, has her baby scream, yell, arch her back and knock something over, startle the clerks, and then I'm so flustered I have to just corral the big sisters, apologize, and leave.

That's you in a nutshell. What Renley don't want, Renley don't do. 

And YET, I'm just inhaling you every chance I get. Nuzzling your fat baby neck and nomming on your back and belly and drinking up every hug you hand out. And you give the best hugs for a person under 25lbs.  They're so satisfying, and you lean in and put the weight of your oversized baby head right on my shoulder and you do the thing Oprah says you're supposed to do to make a hug really meaningful: hugging for like 20 or 30 seconds without releasing the pressure. You do that and it's uh-mazing.

You have a mouthful of shark teeth. So many teeth. You eat all of the things. You skipped the baby food stage and went straight to spaghetti and chicken curry, beef stew, all proteins. "Meat, meat" you're fond of saying. You're like a little WWE wrestler in training with the amount of food you put away. 

You're happy and smiling and mostly enjoyable. But you have very little middle ground. You're hero to zero in 3 seconds flat. 

We gave you a giant waterslide pool party for your first birthday. Ghetto fabulous waterpark backyard edition. You hosted like a champ, no tears, chilled in the plastic blow up pool. Ate some cake and called it a day. It's so nice having one summer baby where I know the weather will allow for an outdoor celebration. Plus, everyone knows summer birthdays are rad.

By the lunar calendar you're a fire monkey. Smart, passionate, adventurous, business minded. Famous monkeys include: Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Dickens, Yao Ming, Daniel Craig, and Gisele Bundchen, Selena Gomez, and of course the Empress Wu Zetian of China's Tang Dynasty. You're in excellent company. 

If there is one wish I have for you after your first birthday, it's that you have at least 99 more filled with health, happiness, and love. We will do our best to ensure that happens. (Keep in mind you're 3rd in line for resources and we're not getting any younger, so the whole pull yourself up by your bootstraps is probably a good motto to start embracing now.)

Love you Rendoodle,




Merry Christmas 2017

2017 has been a rough year in many ways, culminating for us with the North Bay fires that decimated a big part of Santa Rosa and leveled my in-laws' home of 42 years. SO, we decided to go with serious Christmas cheer for this year's holiday card, with a nod to our Santa Rosa history. The cheerleading outfits on Emmy and me are from my high school and Odessa is wearing my junior high songleading uniform. We had to modify the purple and gold to match the maroon and gold theme, added a few clothespins in the back and voila! My very own cheer squad. Renley had a little baby uniform we found super cheap online, and The Good Doc is wearing some sort of Navy uniform pants and a giant cheer sweater from a thrift shop. We spare no expense. 

Once again Kiet Do worked his incredible magic and brought it to life. Entire shoot, done in under 40 minutes because when you have a fifth wheel named Renley, things turn into a pumpkin real quick.

And besides, we have it down to a science. Everyone takes a few really great shots, and then it's The Good Doctor's turn. We have to build in extra special time for him because, well, he's extra special.

No people or animals were harmed in the shooting of this card. As it says on the back, "Wishing you holiday cheer and a spirited new year!"

 PS Faces have been blurred to protect the innocent.


Memo to Renley: 10 Months



Are you seriously going to do lateral rolls to get around? Four rolls this way to grab a toy. Four rolls that way to get back. I didn't realize this was your preferred mode of transportation at 10-ish months. We were always so certain your big sisters would skip crawling and go straight to walking because they were good at standing. Your little legs are solid as tree trunks so we thought that about you too.


But nope. You refuse to even go from a sitting position to a crawling position. You lean 95% of the way forward on one knee and two hands. Then you get stuck. And sit back down. Eventually you wind up flat on your back, and rolling to get around. Or you just yell and command someone to pick you up for transport. It's so effective and probably the reason you'll skip crawling and walking and go straight to being carried by shirtless men in a litter. Or women. Or trans pan non gender specific people. It's all possible at this point.


You are by far the best eater of the three babies thus far. That's saying a lot in a family of incredible kid eaters. You have 4 teeth on top and two on the bottom and you aren't afraid to use them. You bit Daddy's chest so hard one day he actually yelled out loud. It takes a lot to get that man to yell out loud outside of an amazing/horrible basketball play on TV. That instantly startled you into crying. Then two days later, you chomped down crazy hard on my left shoulder. Weeks later I still have a mark! I too yelled. Then you were quickly carried off by Daddy who was all too familiar with the power of your bite force quotient.


Back to the food though. You pretty much skipped the baby food stage. Yeah a few pureed fruits and green beans but you're way more interested in chewing cooked foods and eating everything we're eating. Salmon, rice, peas, carrots, sweet potatoes, turkey burgers, tomato soup, chow mein, lobster ravioli, steak, the Burger King croissandwich I had to grab the other day, peanut butter (yes, babies are supposed to eat that around 9 months now instead of 1 year to help with allergies apaprently), every kind of vegetable soup Asian Grandma makes. Carbs, protein, and cups and cups of water. It makes it super fun to feed you and easy too because you're eating what we're eating. No need to pack a bunch of jars of pre-made anything. 


You love to be carried around so you can point at things. You yell and shriek louder than any baby I remember raising. You are very vocal when it comes to eating or drinking, slamming your hands down to scatter any food onto the ground that doesn't meet muster. Romeo would have loved you.


You're down to 5 ounces of breastmilk a night now, your last bottle before bed. The transition to formula was mentally tough for me. Maybe because you're the last baby, maybe because Emmy was on formula for one month, Odessa none, and you started at 9.75 months because my freezer stores dwindled. Lots of weird mom guilt that I could quell intellectually but it still strangles emotionally.


Napping is killer. I can barely put you down for your naps. You just won't let me. There's fussing and wiggling and arguing. Luckily you're much better for Dada and Asian Grandma, who do the bulk of putting you down. I like to think it's because you just looooooove me so much you don't want the party to end. 


You're so easygoing and fun-loving otherwise, a happy camper for all things family. 


What a lucky break we got, adding you and getting to celebrate the miracle of a life one more time. My sweet Renley baby. Now just stop biting people and we're good.


Love you,


Memo to Renley: 7 Months

Little Ren Ren

AKA Renbok or RenBAH or Renbakeedoh as you're often called by Odessa.

What happened to memos 2-6? See memos 2-6 for Emerson or Odessa. Sorry 3rd baby. Let's just look on the bright side, which is, you've made it this far!

What a delicious little chubby dumpling you've become. Always quick with a smile and a little tongue poking out of the corner of your mouth for anyone who calls out to you. You're still battling that baby bald spot on the back of your head but it's getting a little more manageable. Definitely a party in the back with some really long hair and some sadly broken strands that can't quite cover that one square inch of scalp.

Nothing a little baby Rogaine won't cure. Kidding. We only use all natural grapefruit skins like Asian Grandma and Asian Grandpa used on me when I was a baby. What I need to find out is what Janelle Wang's parents used. Hands down, best hair game in the television business. 

But back to you little Ren baby. Your 6 month milestone was huge for you. We dismantled the crib, put you in your own room, and killed the pacifier. All on the same day, nevermind that looking back, it appeared you were about to sprout two bottom teeth and you seemed just a little bit stuffed up. It was time. We did this to Emerson. 6 month baby coming of age event. Like a baby bat mitzvah if you will. A seismeses-anera.

It was untenable. You were becoming too aware. Our noises were messing up your sleep, your noises had been messing up our sleep for 6 months. Actually 16 if you count the pregnancy. As with most moves in our household, this one was dramatic.

We agreed Daddy would begin the night by putting you down for bed. We anticipated some pushback.

Obviously you liked your paci and you wanted it. But it's never good to be too dependent on something Renley.

We're imbuing you with that lesson now. You're welcome.

As expected, you did not go quietly into the night. The crying. The wailing. The horrible sound of my baby unhappy. Daddy sat in the hallway reading on his phone and keeping an eye on the timer. It's a form of sleep training he did with Emmy too. Go back in every 5-10 minutes to pat the baby and calm her down without picking her back up. But I was not involved with Emmy's training because I correctly predicted I wouldn't be able to handle it. Odessa was just easy. She never needed the pacifier and we kicked her out around 3 months because she was such a light sleeper she preferred being her own room.

But you have always responded better to soothing from me, since your earliest days, so this time the agreement was that I would go in at the specified intervals to calm you down.

Me: Is it time yet? Daddy: No. Me: Is it time yet? Daddy: It's been 30 seconds. Me: Now? Daddy: 4 more minutes. 

It was annoying. 

Finally, after a bazillion rounds of these 5-10 minute intervals, I decided this was unacceptable.

You were crying. So. Loud. 

I had to take matters into my own hands and pick you up. Sacrilege! Sleep trainers will tell you first rule of Sleep Club, you do not talk about Sleep Club. Second rule, you do not pick up the baby!

But mother knows best. Right? As long as I'm writing this, yes. 

No sooner than I inch out in the hall as you're snuffling and quieting down (which is deeply primally maternally satisfying, of course) does your dad come into the hallway.

At this point it's like 10:30PM. Your sisters, God bless them, are sleeping through all the crying and wailing. But of course we don't want to wake them.

So a full on whisper fight ensues. Whisper yelling at the top of our whisper lungs. 

Him: [[ what are you doing???????!!!!!! ]]

Me: [[ she needs to eat ]]

Him: [[ no she doesn't. she just ate an hour ago ]]

Me: [[ i'm her mother ]]

Him: [[ confused by the relevance of my argument ]]

Me: [[ she can't keep crying like this ]]

Him: [[ you need to put her back down!!! ]]

Me: [[ no! ]]

All of this whisper shouting is happening as I'm trying to walk and rock you down the hallway toward our room so I can get to my chair and feed you. 

At this point, your father stretches to his full 6 feet 6 inches, Wonder Woman pose and BLOCKS ME FROM PASSING.

Which, naturally, ENRAGES me. 

Few things enrage me, but when the teapot gets hot, the water is boiling. Whatever that means.

Whisper fight continues.

Me: [[ i need to feed her! move!!! ]]

Him: [[ no. put her down. you're RUINING EVERYTHING. do you want to RUIN EVERYTHING? YOU'RE RUINING EVERYTHING ]] "Everything" being a reference to his carefully orchestrated plan for sleep training.

Me, still trying to find ways around Daddy: [[ she needs to eat ]]

Him, physically and verball not budging: [[ no ]] 

It was so aggravating, this ridiculous stand off. 

I hugged you tighter, and fired my final angry salvo in a sputtering whisper shout:

[[ she's MY baby!!! ]]

Still, he would not move. I turned around and quietly stomped back to your room and put you down. 

Then I went back into the hall and stormed past Daddy.

I later learned he was silently praying that you would soon fall asleep or it would have been Sleepocalypse in our home with me never letting go of that horrible night. 

Fortunately for everyone, you passed out three minutes later.

And ever since, you've been pretty good about falling asleep on your own without a pacifier or being overly rocked to bed. Good baby.

Among your other notable achievements to date: pooping in the toilet. Multiple times. Asian Grandma gets the gold star on this one. She's really the Poop Whisperer and she's started younger with each of you. You're also a good little eater of pureed veggies. You did not understand food the first 3 feedings but then it clicked and now you're a gobbler. You also love to slurp water from a spoon. Asian Grandparents have always been so obsessed with giving you girls water from day one because they think you're thirsty and that's how they do things in Vietnam. "Babies need water." You definitely like it. 

You're sitting and playing with toys, yowling, and laughing at everything your sisters do to entertain you.

It's so special. I love that they love you so much and that they haven't shown any signs of jealousy or inconvenience at your inclusion. Odessa doesn't love to have you drool on her stuffed animals so she's quick to do a toy switcheroo when you get your hands on something of hers, but otherwise they've taken to you seamlessly. They love to carry you like a sack of rice, grabbing you around your baby middle.

In your eyes, they can do no wrong.

We're savoring all the milestones with you in a way I didn't quite grasp before. With Emmy, everything was so new, so First Time. With Odessa, things were easy and she was easy. With you, even through the initial Hangry Mankey stages, I knew you'd be the last and I knew how quickly all of this would pass, that it never drained me of energy. So I made a point to inhale every bit of your babyness. And I'm still absorbing as much of you as I can with every kiss and sniff and hug. You make me laugh with your habit of burping in my face, often right into my mouth. Somehow you always turn to me when that gas bubble comes up. So endearing. 

You do love your mama and dada though. You always wiggle and call for us when you see us after a long day away. You are a funny little baby with an easy grin and you love to play with everyone. I love your spirit and we're thankful for you every day. And every night that you sleep through until morning. May there be an increasing number of those.

Love you Renroo,