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Thursday
Jun212018

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

 

Right. 

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. :) 

 

 

 

 

Sunday
Mar012015

We Investigate: Daily Show Edition

Somehow the folks at The Daily Show heard about our latest investigation on the OSHA Whistleblower Protection Program. Here's our original report:

Here's Jon Stewart's version. His had a couple more f-bombs. Scroll ahead to 6:25 if you want to see our part. 

 

 

Thursday
Sep262013

Vicky Nguyen Where Ya' Been?

My dear daily blog readers who have been checking in, wondering about my general welfare and mental well-being, I can assure you that at least the former is in excellent shape. 

I've been strongly wrestling with whether or not to shut down this blog for the time being. Not because I don't love having a creative outlet and a built in prompter that forces me to record the developments of my two most precious beings, but because investigative reporting has raised a lot of concerns about what I'm putting out into the webverse.

Mainly in two categories.

1. People are literal. They can't always differentiate between what's meant to be satire versus what's meant to be serious.

2. The stories I do now really piss people off. Majorly. So much so they stomp around, and write angry emails and memos, and they lose their bananas regularly.

These two things make it less fun to openly express my First Amendment opinions and a lot less fun to post photos of my bambinos whom I love so much and write about so that our families can stay updated on their antics.

I've been so grateful for the readers and for the heartfelt email messages from new moms who could so relate to the craziness of transitioning into that phase of life. I've loved being able to crack you up and in return get the release of knowing I'm not the only person who sees things the way that I do.

 I don't think any other investigative journalists have ever had a blog that covered these types of topics. And for good reason. Obviously when I started this blog, I was a new mom, a general assignment reporter, a lot younger, a lot nicer, and a lot less worried about the mean and bad people of the world who I'm now exposing, and who would love to use myself against me in a lawsuit.

It sucks to be censored, even when it's self censorship. But I'm not the host of Access Hollywood. I'm not Ryan Seacrest. I don't get to have fun on the interwebs. No jokes. No snark. No personality. No oversharing. #IInvestigate 

Thoughts? Advice? It seems weird to sign off so suddenly, but I hate irregular blog posters. If I read a blog, I want content and I want it to smell fresh and feel fluffy and relevant and frequent. And if I can't do justice to you, my readers, should I just call it quits for now?

Wednesday
Aug282013

New York, New York

I just got back from an exhilarating/exhausting trip to NYC for the Asian American Journalists Association convention. It was a mix of learning new things to improve my reporting, seeing old journalist friends who are reporting all over the country, and an interesting introspective look at how people in Manhattan survive the day to day. And man, do they survive. The city pulsates with a purposeful intensity. People are always on the streets and the mix is unlike anywhere else I've been. And everyone is so good looking. And different looking. And out dancing on the sidewalks at 11pm at night. These people have jobs, but somehow they seem to play as hard as they work.

I kept trying to picture The Good Doctor living there. It was tough to imagine. The place is frenetic. I wish I had time to see how people live in the buroughs and how they do it with families. It would be really interesting to raise Emmy and Dessy as New Yawkers. If they got the accents I would love it. 

It was a nice trip down memory lane too. The last time AAJA was in NY, I was fresh out of college lugging a bag of VHS tapes looking for my first job. And three weeks later I was on a flight out to Orlando with a $1500 moving budget and a belly full of butterflies. This time I had an iPad with my stories loaded on it and just a belly from having two babies. 

Things I learned about New York:

1. People will get into real conversations with you. About their plans to enlist in the Army, how they feel about U.S. involvement in Syria, their sister they hate, their son's sex questions, why you shouldn't have a third child, what's missing from local news coverage, and why their daughter-in-law to be is a ding dong.

2. Scaffolding is everywhere and construction is ongoing. 

3. Things drip on you from above when you're walking. Just keep walking.

4. 5 out of 6 cabbies are so not friendly.

5. 30 Rock is pretty amazing. 

6. Everything is more saturated.

7. The man on the street interviews in local news are so colorful and savory and uber New York.

8. People are so tough.

9. The city really doesn't sleep.

10. The wealth concentration is mind boggling. People take helicopters to play golf. 

11. No one stays in their apartments because there's no space. That's why everyone is always out on the streets or in restaurants or in the park.

12. It's home to ramen burgers and cronuts and because there are so many people in New York, you can always find at least 50 who will line up outside of a bakery for the latest food craze.

13. Speaking of ramen burgers...next post is about how we made them, at home, Asian Grandpa style.

 

Tuesday
Jul232013

How to Get the Interest of an Investigative Reporter

1. Tell a story that affects someone beyond yourself.

2. Provide proof of your allegations.

3. Be honest and genuine about your motivations.

4. Don't hide the skeletons in your closet. A good reporter will do homework on you and if there's anything unsavory that you weren't up front about, it will diminish your chances of having your story told.

5. Speak out about wrongdoing.

6. Follow your gut. If the reporter doesn't seem like someone you can trust, find someone else.

7. Know that truth is your best defense. 

8. Understand the risks involved and make sure you express your concerns clearly.

9. Allow the reporter to do her job. If you trust her, don't try to control everything.

10. Be able to summarize your story in a paragraph or two. If it requires a novel to explain, you may need to refine your pitch.

11. Explain the high points. Why does this matter? Who does it affect? Who's involved? How can an investigative report expose what's wrong or prompt change?

12. Make the call or send the email. If you believe in your story, you have nothing to lose. It may not get published or it may not get on TV, but at least you will know you tried to make your community a better place.