Reflecting back on my career, I have been fortunate to have had several influential role models who helped shape the person I am today. My parents were the number one influence on my life, and I am an optimistic person because of them. They instilled in me a belief that I could be whatever I wanted to be, as long as I was happy, helping other people, and making a difference in the world.
As a third-generation Japanese American (Sansei), I also inherited a strong work ethic. I am very proud that I came from humble beginnings—it taught me to appreciate every opportunity that has been given to me and to savor life’s ups and downs. I would not, however, be where I am today if not for the guidance and mentoring of my first boss. Working with him was a major turning point in my life, because he was someone outside of my family who really believed in me. He gave me the confidence to follow my dreams and think outside of my comfort zone.
I began my career as his secretary and he helped me see a new opportunity for growth by becoming the first woman sales representative for a national insurance company. He not only was my mentor, but my teacher of business and life lessons. His words, “never forget where you came from,” have stayed with me my entire career.
Early in my career, being an Asian woman in business was very isolating as there were meetings I would attend where not only was I the only woman, but the only Asian, as well. Today, however, I’ve witnessed many positive changes in diversity in the workplace, especially the visible difference in leadership roles where there are many more women. If I were to give advice to young Asian female professionals today, it would be to find your passion and to have the courage to speak up and ask for help along the way. I’m still the eternal optimist who believes that dreams can come true. It’s a matter of defining what success means to you, understanding your priorities, and revisiting them every day.
Organizations are recognizing the importance of diversity, and today we have created an environment in which different backgrounds, genders, and viewpoints are respected and valued. In part, that’s because we’ve seen we can be more successful with a diversity of ideas than by just embracing a single point of view. It’s about redefining success and achieving it in new and different ways. Since I have been so fortunate in my life and career, I want to help others be successful. I believe in the “power of one”—that each of us can make a difference, one person at a time. Our legacy as women leaders will be determined by how we pay it forward and create the next generation of leaders.