Register Now for ASPIRE’s 2010 Asian American Women in Leadership Conference

ASPIRE — Asian Sisters Participating in Reaching Excellence — is holding their 6th annual day-long Asian American Women in Leadership (AAWIL) Conference on Saturday, October 16th at Boston University. This incredible conference — which traditionally attracts between 150 – 200 participants — is the only conference geared towards Asian American women on the East Coast, and it has annually inspired and empowered Asian American women; this year’s conference looks to be no exception.

This year’s  conference theme — “Discovering the Leader Within” — offers workshops that focus on topics faced by professional and activist Asian American women. Some of the panels include: “Confronting the Glass Ceiling”, “Growing Up Asian”, “Mental Health”, and “Road Less Taken” (the last of which spotlights the stories of APIA women who took unconventional paths to success). ASPIRE writes that the goals of this year’s conference are as follows:

  • Build upon last year’s theme of “Fearless Leadership: Taking Charge with Confidence”
  • Gather cross-generational Asian American women from across the continental US with diverse personal and professional backgrounds to share their experiences of how exploring and learning allowed them to flourish
  • Discuss the various aspects of continuous leadership development to make lasting, positive changes in our communities
  • Celebrate and explore ways Asian American females “Discover the Leader Within”

The keynote speakers at this years’ conference are two incredible APIA women who truly embody this year’s theme of leadership:

  • Linda Chin, the president of the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence is the morning speaker. ATADV is an East Coast non-profit that focuses specifically on issues of domestic violence within Asian American households.
  • Jeannie Suk is the conference’s afternoon speaker. She is an Assistant Professor at Harvard Law, and is the first Asian American woman to hold a tenure-track position at that institution.

Discounted ticket prices are currently available that knock $15 off the normal ticket price; these specials are only available until October 9th. After that, registration will remain open online until the date of the conference.

Please check out the conference website for more information, and go here to register your attendence to the conference. Click here for the press release to read about how the conference of past years has impacted its attendees.

Chef Anita Lo Talks Being a Woman In a Male-Dominated Workplace

Top Chef Anita Lo

Today, CNN featured a mini-interview with Chef Anita Lo, who competed on the first season of “Top Chef: Masters” and beat Mario Batali on “Iron Chef America. Lo was honoured in Food & Wine Magazine‘s “Best New Chefs in America” feature, and owns the NYC restaurant, Annisa.

Lo talks about being a woman in an industry overwhelmingly dominated by men. She is, of course, also Asian-American and much of what she has to say seem to apply to minorities in white-dominated workplaces:

Five Things to Know About Being a Female Chef in a Male-Dominated Profession: Anita Lo

1. “Gender is a social construction. Men and women are raised to think and act differently through parenting, ubiquitous media images, language and general peer culture. It is important to question and debunk these myths that all of us carry. Some people think that women cook for love and men cook for glory, but to be successful, at least here in New York, you need to do a little of both.”

2. “To make it in this business you have to be extraordinarily passionate and tenacious. You will spend long hours on your feet in a hot, uncomfortable environment for meager wages at odd hours. Cooking is a lifestyle choice for the obsessive-compulsive.”

3. “You must be prepared to answer a million of these types of questions. As one of a very small minority, you do get asked about this a lot. And of course, I am a big supporter of women in business – our wine list at Annisa celebrates women in wine and is made up of wines mostly by female vintners.”

4. “The ratio of gay-to-straight executive female chefs is much higher than amongst the general population. The Kinsey Report states that about 10 percent of the general population is gay. I think that ratio is higher among female executive chefs and apparently, in the WNBA as well. But on a more serious note, this is perhaps related to my first statement and begs the question: are gay women less bound by societal norms and therefore get further in this field?”

5. “Find a support system outside of the kitchen. Women Chefs and Restaurateurs is a national organization that supports women in cooking through education and networking. This is perhaps the beginning of the ‘old girls’ club.'”

As a scientist, I am also a woman who works in a male-dominated field that remains particularly adherent to its “old boys network”. I agree with Lo that success for women in these kinds of professional environments depends heavily on having a passion for your chosen field, along with the ambition to fight for the same kind of recognition that men generally reserved for men.

For me, it sometimes feels like I have to work twice as hard just to break through the sub-conscious condescension that some men (particularly those of the older generation) reserve for women in the sciences. I have to work to prove that I belong in the lab, and that I am just as competent as my male colleagues. It’s true that a very specific personality type seems to succeed under these conditions.

But, I also find that my female predecessors have broken through many barriers to help pave the way for female scientists. There is truly a support system for female scientists — just as Lo talks about the support system for women chefs. My mentor, also a woman, runs a lab that currently trains more female students than male students, and she and her colleagues seem particularly supportive and sensitive to the concerns of female trainees.

Female chefs, female scientists, and female CEOs are all pioneers, breaking through glass ceilings in our respective fields. And even over the last fifty years, huge advances have been made: my mentor recounts how she was routinely dismissed and patronized towards when she was a student in the 1970’s. By contrast, a recent study found that more women than men received PhD degrees last year.

While I don’t think an “old girls’ club” is a useful idea to pursue — there’s no reason to reproduce the institutions of oppression that marginalized our gender in the past — I’m glad to see parallels between my own experiences as a woman in science and Lo’s, who stands shoulder-to-shoulder with world-renowned male chefs.

Sexism is “Our Moral Challenge of the Twenty-First Century”

Yesterday, CNN featured a TED talk by Sheryl WuDunn, on the worldwide plight of women and girls. WuDunn is a former reporter for the New York Times (and the first Asian-American to win a Pullitzer Prize), who, along with Nicholas Kristoff, penned the book Half the Sky, which explores how empowering women can help solve global problems of class, education, violence and oppression.

With compelling anecdoes, WuDunn describes the stories of women who live in rural and impoverished towns, treated as disposable by their families. WuDunn recounts how in the so-called First World, women slightly out-number men (because women have a longer life expectancy); but how in the so-called Third World, demographers have shown that because of a combination of sex-based abortion, preferential resources being given to young boys over young girls, and cultural oppression, 60 to 100 million women are missing world-wide.

WuDunn talks about how small donations — if they make it to their intended destinations — can cause a ripple effect simply by elevating opportunities for women. She ends her talk with a powerful anecdote, urging those of us who have most our needs met to consider what moral responsibility we have to help others:

WuDunn told the story of an American aid worker in Darfur who had seen great suffering but never broke down.

On a vacation back in the United States, she visited her grandmother and noticed a bird feeder in the backyard.

“She was in her grandmother’s backyard and she basically broke down. And she realized that not only was she able to feed and clothe and house herself but also see that people in her country were able to feed wild birds so that they don’t go hungry in the winter. She knew that with that luck and fortune also comes great responsibility.”

I love this message of activism and hope — not victimization and defeat — and how it is particularly focused on the plight of Asian and African women. And I love how it is being championed by a confident, empowered, unapologetic Asian-American woman.

WuDunn’s talk — despite its unintentional Spiderman overtones — empowers women, and dosn’t merely tell just another tale of “poverty porn” (stories of abject poverty around the world told for the mere gratification of wealthy Westerners). Women, in “Half the Sky“, aren’t just victims — women can have the power to be “economic catalysts” for worldwide change, if only we in the First World provide the initial help to spark that revolution. It’s not about sheltering women like porcelain dolls, but about truly recognizing the worth and value of every daughter, sister, wife and mother around the world.

CNN’s article includes the following excerpt from the book:

“So let us be clear about this up front: We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts. That is the process under way — not a drama of victimization but of empowerment, the kind that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful businesswomen. This is a story of transformation. It is change that is already taking place, and change that can accelerate if you’ll just open your heart and join in. …

“The tide of history is turning women from beasts of burden and sexual playthings into full-fledged human beings. The economic advantages of empowering women are so vast as to persuade nations to move in that direction.

“Before long, we will consider sex slavery, honor killings and acid attacks as unfathomable as foot-binding. The question is how long that transformation will take and how many girls will be kidnapped into brothels before it is complete — and whether each of us will be part of that historical movement, or a bystander.”

Act Now! Here’s the book’s website — Half the Sky — which contains information about the upcoming book, as well as links if you want to start getting involved.

Margaret Cho on the Next Season of “DWTS”

Margaret Cho is going to be in the next season of Dancing with the Stars, along with Michael Bolton, Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, David Hasselhoff and the mom from The Brady Bunch.

Do with that information what you will.

Kimberly Yee, First Asian American Woman to Serve in the Arizona State Legislature

Kimberly Yee, newly appointed AZ State Rep for District 10. She is the first Asian American woman to serve in the Arizona State Legislature.

Kimberly Yee made history in Arizona by becoming the first Asian American woman to serve in the Arizona State Legislature, nearly 50 years after the first Asian American — Wing F. Ong — was elected to the Arizona State Legislature in 1964.

Yee is a Republican who was appointed by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to replace former Representative Doug Quelland as State Representative for District 10. While living in California, Yee served in Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Cabinet as Deputy Cabinet Secretary, and has been active in Arizona politics in Maricopa County since returning to Phoenix.

It’s great to see an Asian American woman making such headway in the political sphere, particular in a state with such regressive racial politics as Arizona. Sadly, I disagree with Yee on virtually all of her politics: she’s pro-life, pro-guns, pro-privatized healthcare, and pro-charter schools . Further, I’m kind of disappointed that the first Asian American woman to serve in the Arizona State Legislature fails to even acknowledge her racial and ethnic background on her official biography.

But, as I said when I was talking about Barry Wong, I have a soft spot for Asian American politicians, even if I completely disagree with their politic and would never, ever vote for them.

So, kudos, to Representative Yee. May you revise your political stances while serving in the State Legislature.

Cross-posted: Blog for Arizona