Resilience in 2009

A message to our members by Meow Yee, AWLN President

Dear AWLN Member,

My good friend, colleague and AWLN Founding Sister Lucy Chan recently wrote a very thoughtful memo on resilience. I found it to be so apropos to the current challenging times as well as during the long term of a full career and one's lifetime.

We started on the first work day of 2009 on Jan. 2nd, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average just above 9000, but ended the month with that index barely scraping 8000. The stock market has been worse than a roller-coaster ride and more like a turbulent flight that you never expected to take, on which you didn't know when the next sudden drop was going to happen so that you couldn't even brace yourself and take a deep breath in advance. What Lucy was so kind to let us share with you is exactly what we all need to be able to survive that next unexpected drop.

What follows comes from one of Lucy's many remarkable connections. Global Coaches Network President and CEO Barrie Zucal shared this 10-point resilience list with Lucy, who so graciously passed on to all of us.

What is the difference between those who are able to recover and bounce back more quickly from a setback or even a great loss, and those who do not? What makes it possible for some people to move on after problems occur, and those who dwell on problems, feel victimized, develop long-term depression, dwell in sadness and anger, and often want someone to blame or justify ways of coping?

The following list of characteristics of resilient people was adapted from the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale.

1. Ability to adapt and change easily
2. Feelings of being in control of one's life
3. Tendency to bounce back after hardship or tragedy
4. Remaining optimistic, not giving up, even if things seem hopeless
5. Thinking clearly and logically under pressure
6. Seeing humor even under stress
7. Being self-confident and feeling strong as a person
8. Believing things happen for a reason
9. Belief that you can handle uncertainty or unpleasant feelings
10. Liking challenges and feeling comfortable taking the lead

I would add the belief that learning can occur in almost any bad situation and that it is our responsibility as human beings to learn the lessons through whatever means we are given so that we can use our learning to benefit one another.

AWLN is here to help its members during challenging times and joining AWLN is one way of becoming more resilient.

Meow Yee
President, AWLN

Self-Promotion at Work: 8 Tips for Shy People

IT people are often taught that their work should speak for itself, but if you want to survive the economic downturn with your job intact, you've got to promote your work. Here are eight ways to self-promote without being obnoxious.

Read the full article at CIO


Breaking the Sound Barrier

A Well-Armoured Innovator Takes Flight

By Lily H. Li

"Be bold, be confident and be prepared." Such were the words of wisdom Vernice G. Armour invoked during her motivational speech, "Breaking the Sound Barrier," a particularly apt title since she was recognized in March 2003 by the Department of Defense as the first African-American female combat pilot in U.S. military history and the first black female pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Armour was addressing a rapt audience of nearly 100 at the Park Avenue office of KPMG LLP, corporate host and sponsor of "The Power of a Woman's Voice." The June 4, 2008, Multicultural Women's Symposium was organized by Speakeasy Inc., an Atlanta-based communications training and consulting firm with offices in San Francisco and New York, and Asian Women Leadership Network's Lily Tang and Janice Won. Sandra G. Bushby, KPMG's national director of Women's Initiatives, kicked off the event with a warm welcome.

An ebullient Armour made her entrance by greeting and high-fiving attendees while racing around the large room and dashing toward its front through the center aisle. Sporting a distinctive green flight suit among a sea of civilians, the former captain wrote on a paper easel the word "MENTOR" vertically and then proceeded to add letters or words so that the page read "Mission, Educate, Network, Teamwork, Outstanding leader, and Role model," relating a particular episode in her own life story to illustrate a point.

One day at a summer advance camp at Middle State Tennessee University's Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program, Armour said, she saw a young black woman in a U.S. Army flight suit. Pausing to make deliberate eye contact with her audience, Armour emphasized that that image established in her mind the "tangibility of the possibility" of her being a pilot, a tantalizing notion that became her new goal. "Man, why didn't I think of that? It planted a seed. It was a crossroads," she recalled on the July 23, 2007, broadcast of Tavis Smiley. That talk show's host, by the way, observed that she has the "appropriate name for a Marine captain," whereupon his interviewee confided that a buddy actually dubbed her "Vernice Strong-as-Armour."

Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps in December 1998, Armour earned her wings in July 2001, graduated at the top of her Naval Air Station flight training class and completed two combat tours of duty in the Persian Gulf before leaving the Marine Corps in June 2007 to launch VAI Consulting and Training LLC. Among the photographs that she shared during her presentation were several of the famed, missile-equipped AH-1W SuperCobra attack helicopter that she flew during missions in Iraq.

Vernice Armour

And although she deadpanned that she didn't intend to venture into partisan politics, viewers couldn't help but chuckle at a picture of a broadly smiling, then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama standing next to a radiant Armour.

Several times the former Marine captain reminded her audience to "acknowledge the obstacles, don't give them power." In the March /April 2007 issue of The Crisis magazine, the official publication of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), she explains, "Here's how I look at it: Whatever it is, there's an obstacle. I have to go under it, over it; I'm not just going to give up. I look at the bigger picture."

Armour urged her listeners not to be ashamed or afraid of asking for assistance. Despite being Camp Pendleton's 2001 Female Athlete of the Year, a running back for the San Diego Sunfire women's professional football team and a two-time titleholder in Camp Pendleton's annual Strongest Warrior Competition, she struggled with swimming, which was a crucial part of an endurance test that she had to pass. Having convinced a fellow Marine that she wasn't naturally buoyant in water, she then received the extra poolside help that she needed. The Chicago native ultimately passed the test, through intensive training and practice as well as sheer determination that she wasn't going to let a classmate's feet advance too far ahead of her in the water.

The "Breaking the Sound Barrier" audience was quite appreciative. No less than six respondents described Armour, who fielded queries from attendees during a question-and-answer session, as inspiring or inspirational. Others wrote that her speech was "helpful in realizing some of our ruts are not that hard to break out of," offered many "useful nuggets" and provided "recommendation of how to build career and personal growth." One participant pledged, "I will remember those [powerful personal] stories and share them with others."

Speakeasy instructor Judith Bliss delivered the keynote address, "The Power of a Woman's Voice." She explained how women are raised with deeply embedded stereotypes that come into play, especially when we are attacked: We revert to vocal patterns and behavior that sabotage or undermine our own credibility, such as downcast eyes, hunched shoulders and a lifeless voice. You can't assert yourself if you don't give yourself permission to do so, Bliss explained; effective communicators must physically feel that they have a right to be here and to say what they say. Use silence, breath and pause; the feeling of her own respiration gives the speaker power.

Moreover, people who don't project warmth, energy or authority are interrupted in meetings and conversations more often than those who do, the instructor noted. One attendee summarized, "Succinct, clear, actionable reminders of the importance of your voice." Another exclaimed, "This was an eye-opening presentation. Communication and improving my communication skills [were] already on my to-do list and this made this goal 100% more important!"

Judith Bliss

Bliss and fellow Speakeasy consultant Alice Rutkowski led the other breakout session, "Your Personal Power" for senior executives. Participants were enthusiastic. One raved that the small group coaching on voice and movement was "absolutely fantastic," noting that "Though the time was short, I felt that I learned many valuable lessons about how to present myself that will help me for the rest of my life!" Another reported that the segment "was powerful in that practical tips were given that could have high impact immediately."

The symposium's corporate benefactors were Colgate-Palmolive Co., Credit Suisse (USA) Inc., International Business Machines Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Pfizer Inc., State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. and United Parcel Service Inc. The supporting sponsor was E. & J. Gallo Winery, the participating nonprofit organization Madrinas. The hors d'oeuvres and beverages at the wine reception during cocktail hour were an instant hit with those who missed lunch. AWLN members mingled and networked assiduously into the early hours of the evening.

Risk Takers | Change Makers | Women in Charge

Trio of Women Warriors Engage in Air, on Land and in Blue Oceans

By Lily H. Li

Hers was the class of Sept. 11.

Like her fellow seniors at West Point, Susan Marie N. Sobrepeña watched in horror as the World Trade Center collapsed that fateful Tuesday morning in 2001, and she later listened to President Bush's fiery call to arms at their graduation ceremony. More than 90% of the 958 of the U.S. Military Academy's Class of 2002 were deployed to war zones, according to Susannah Cahalan of the New York Post.

"I just want to be a leader and do something really challenging," Sobrepeña told Anthony D. Advincula of The Filipino Express. Shortly after attaining a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering and political science from West Point, then newly commissioned, Second Lieut. Sobrepeña undertook rigorous aviation training in Fort Rucker, Alabama. She added that she wanted to fly either the UH-60 Blackhawk or the AH-64 Apache, both attack helicopters. After a couple years of flying, Capt. Sobrepeña transferred to the Adjutant General branch of the Army, where she later served as a battalion adjutant before taking her company command in the 10th Sustainment Brigade Troops Battalion based in Fort Drum, New York.

For her service in the U.S. Army--as a company commander of 50 soldiers during a 10-month tour of duty in Afghanistan, Operation Enduring Freedom VII--Capt. Sobrepreña, who was born in Bacolod City, Philippines, was honored with two ribbons, the U.S. Army Parachutist Badge and seven medals, among them a Bronze Star. "Her family hoped she would follow in the footsteps of her proud military grandfathers," Cahalan reported.

Bronze Start

Female warriors, while not widely acknowledged in history--which some feminists insist on recasting as herstory--have been fighting alongside--and leading--their male counterparts since antiquity and across cultures. Perhaps the best-known Asian heroine to contemporary audiences is Hua Mulan, in no small part because of the animated feature film based very loosely on her story produced and distributed by The Walt Disney Co. Mulan, whose commercial release ran from June 19th to Dec. 10th in 1998, opening on 2,888 screens and peaking at 2,953 theatres, garnered box-office receipts of $303.6 million worldwide, with $120.6 million in the U.S., according to GeoCities.

Hua, who disguised herself as a man to take her elderly father's place to join an all-male imperial army, is immortalized in a famous Chinese epic known as The Ballad of Mulan. After 12 years fighting foreign invaders in a hundred do-or-die battles, the female warrior was summoned to court by the emperor, who wished to appoint her to high office as a reward for her outstanding service. Hua turns down a ministerial post, asking only for a swift mount to carry her home to her family and to return to a peaceful life. Although the narrative doesn't refer to the heroine's promotion up the ranks, some accounts have her rising to a general known for her brilliant military strategies. Others attribute the well-loved ode of Mulan to a Northern Dynasties (386 to 581 A.D.) anonymous poetess. A few credit the work to a woman named Zi Ye of the Jin Dynasty (265 to 420 A.D.) for the yuefu or poetry derived from the folksong tradition.

"Hua's deed inspired the largest number of literary and artistic works about Chinese heroines," wrote Xiaolin Li, Ph.D., an expert on women in the Chinese military, in a February 1994 issue of Social Education, flagship journal of the National Council for the Social Studies. "Hua is the earliest legendary woman warrior in Chinese culture and was recently verified by various scholars as a real woman living during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to 220 A.D.). She is recorded in a name book compiled at the end of Jin Dynasty around the year 419 A.D." Hua (Fa in Cantonese) is a clan or family surname that means "flower" or "pattern." Mulan is a given name whose two Chinese characters when separate are "wood" and "orchid," respectively, but when combined refer to "lily magnolia" or "tulip magnolia."

Borrowing themes highlighted in the Mulan poem, the Asian Women Leadership Network convened its annual membership meeting on July 22, 2008, welcoming new members and reuniting old friends, during the Multicultural Women's National Conference sponsored by Working Mother Media. "Risk Takers | Change Makers | Women in Charge," AWLN's innovative program at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers, featured a trio of modern Asian female warriors who shared their personal stories about courage in the face of risk and how lessons learned can help others win personally and professionally.

Joining Sobrepeña on the panel was Maria Ashton, who is Pfizer Inc.'s director of executive communications for emerging markets, a recent promotion--and a Marine. Ashton has served in various fiscal, operational, and public affairs roles, in both active duty and reserves, with the U.S. Marine Corps, which she left in 2004 with the rank of captain. Since 1998, Ashton has worked in communications across diversity and inclusion, information technology, and human resources at the world's largest research-based pharmaceuticals firm, which saw annual sales of $48.42 billion in 2007.

The native of Manila, Philippines, has a Master of Business Administration in insurance and a Bachelor of Science in quantitative analysis from St. John's University in New York. Currently a doctoral student of industrial-organizational psychology at Capella University in Minneapolis, Ashton is a member of the Washington-based American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS). She joined AWLN in 2007.

Maria Ashton

During the question-and-answer session that followed the panelists' moderated discussion, Ashton thought about queries from the audience that she found memorable. "One insight that struck me was a comment from a participant regarding why I made the choice to join the military. I was raised in a culture where family comes first, where collectivism comes before individualism. However, unlike the legend of Fa Mulan, who joined as a proxy for her ailing father, even if it meant she had to pretend to be a male, I became a Marine not for family, not to pretend to be a male, but for myself--for the sheer challenge of joining the toughest branch in the U.S. armed services."

The classical Chinese theoretician of conflict, Sun Tzu, who lived from about 544 to 496 B.C., promulgated in The Art of War that ultimate excellence lies not in winning every battle but in defeating the enemy without ever fighting. This is the equivalent of getting to the true win-win scenario, explained Richard Platt, Intel Corp.'s former senior instructor for Systematic Innovation Methods and Corporate Innovation Program manager, in an eBizQ webinar. "When we talk about a business, it's about winning customers' hearts and minds," he added. "The other thing that's also the main emphasis within The Art of War is compete where your competitor is not."

However, some 2,515 years after the world's oldest military treatise was written, said to be shortly before 510 B.C., by the ancient philosopher and general, Stuart Crainer of The Observer reported, "The trouble is that the entire discipline of business strategy has focused on beating the competition in already existing markets... Competition is seen as warfare and the marketplace a bloody battlefield. Instead of thinking about creating new land, companies fight over the existing terrain. It is a zero-sum game."

In "Plenty more seas to fish," Crainer continued, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, co-authors of Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant and co-directors of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute in Fontainebleau, France, "think that the real strategic challenge looks very different. Instead of being constrained by an already existing industry--a 'bloody red ocean' in their terminology--managers need to understand that extra demand is out there and is largely untapped. The crux of the problem is how to create it, to move away from competing in a red ocean to creating a blue ocean of uncontested market space."

Another AWLN attendee asked Ashton how to foster healthy competition. The Marine responded with a question herself: Why venture into a crowded venue? She suggested charting a course in a blue ocean--calm expanse, seas of opportunity--as opposed to a red one, which brings to mind a vivid if disturbing image of shark-infested waters, where growth is increasingly limited. "Most other females in my family became registered nurses. But to me, some professional fields are 'red oceans' already saturated," Ashton explained. "I'm the kind of person that does not ever want to live a life of regrets for what could have been. Neither do I live for another's vicarious needs; I do not wish to exist for someone else's aspiration of the life they would have liked to have."

The third member as well as moderator of the panel is another rarity: a veteran--though a civilian--and a woman in the distinctly male-dominated worlds of science, technology and engineering, Margaret E. Ashida, director of Diversity and Workforce Programs responsible for IBM Corp.'s global Equal Opportunity, Performance Management, and Employee Experience, as well as Diversity Markets partnership. Marveling at the achievements of military sisters Sobrepeña and Ashton, Ashida remarked, "I was genuinely inspired by the panelists' stories and found them to be powerful role models!"

The longtime IBM executive, who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Rochester and a Master of Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, urged the audience to think about female warriors and militant Asian women in technology. Such individuals unlocked the clubhouse at Big Blue, the world's No. 1 provider of computer products and services with $98.79 billion in annual revenue in 2007. These women converted personal authority into socialized power, recounted Ashida, who emphasized two important points. The first is that they must have the courage to challenge the status quo, take risks and do the right thing. The second is the importance of cultural adaptability.

"I was the prizewinner in high school math and physics, and I took a very advanced math class in college because I love math and wanted to explore it," Ashida told Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology. "I was the only girl in the class, and I still remember asking for help and being shoved off to the side." She declared, "In the end I went the business route, and it's been fine for me. But as I looked around at how few women there were in math and science and technology, it became a huge passion for me that nobody else should be turned off from a career for reasons that just don't need to exist!"

Maria Ashton

Laura Koss-Feder of Women's eNews reported, "Female executives of Asian origin who have moved into high ranks within their companies say that it is up to them to shatter the stereotypes of being mild-mannered and submissive and promote themselves vigorously within the corporate setting." A member of IBM's Asian Executive Task Force and the Women in Technology Executive Advisory Committee, Ashida is a trustee and past Executive Committee member of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology in Palo Alto, California. In 2005, she was recognized with a National Asian Pacific American Corporate Achievement Award from the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA) for her career accomplishments and her work on behalf of the Asian community. Ashida serves as the current chair of the Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics Inc.'s Board of Directors and past co-chair of the National Center for Women and Information Technology Workforce Alliance, or NCWIT, a coalition of more than 100 corporations, academic institutions, government agencies and nonprofit organizations collaborating to increase women's participation in information technology.

With a Japanese father and a European mother, Ashida "never really paid much attention to cultural or racial differences" while growing up in Nebraska, Koss-Feder wrote. "I just focused on where I wanted to go in my career and sought leadership roles within my organization, networked and found formal and informal mentors who could guide me," Ashida said. "I've found that I need to brief others around me on what I am doing in my work and what I have accomplished. For some Asian women, that may be in conflict with a value system that teaches one to be humble."

Sobrepeña, who holds a Master of Business Administration in executive management from the New York Institute of Technology's Ellis College, is a financial analyst in the Real Estate Group of New York Life Investment Management LLC, which currently manages more than $239 billion in assets, making it one of the country's largest asset management firms. As someone who served as a company commander in the U.S. Army, she advised, "You only live once, but if it's done right, once is enough. Follow your passions, always look forward, and leave the rest behind."

Ashton stated, "I am no longer in the military but still believe in that philosophy, because it is just as relevant today. Whether it is the Marines or the executive suites of the corporate world (which even today remains predominantly male--according to Catalyst, as of 2008, only 12 [chief executive officers] in the Fortune 500 are women), indeed there will never be a shortage of challenges for women. What is important is that we have the courage to each jump into our own 'blue ocean' no matter how terrifyingly deep."