Keynote: Duy-Loan Le (Texas Instruments)
From Anita Borg Institute Wiki
Duy-Loan T. Le is the Senior Fellow & World Wide Advanced Technology Ramp Manager at Texas Instruments. Further details can be found here.
Duy-Loan started with a confession of how excited she is about all the women in the audience. Even in her family she is surrounded by men. When she was elected Senior Fellow the Chairman, when introducing her to others, opened with: "Ladies & gentlemen, tonight we make history as we elect the first woman Senior Fellow" she whispered to him "I don't care about being the first, just the prettiest". The speaker shared that it gives her no pleasure to be the first and the last female taking the post and she will do everything she can to find another female to carry on before it is time for her to step down.
Duy-Loan stated that people assume that her job is all technology, but 97% of the problems are people related, not technology related. The theme of this conference is collaborating across boundaries but which boundary are we talking about here? Geographic, age, gender, religious, other? Duy-Loan chose 3 to discuss in her talk.
The first person we must collaborate with is ourselves. Second, relationship building is not science, it is art. Lastly, even hundreds of years from now the world will still be far apart due to people’s way of life.
Collaborating with ourselves.
On August 22nd 1975 Duy-Loan kissed her father for the last time, set over for America only to arrive deaf and mute. She gave up everything for the freedom. The freedom to catch a butterfly, speak her mind, turn on the light. The freedom that we take for granted as a birth right. The speaker has stressed that she is not the only one with such a story. There are many stories of immigrants who settle for nothing less than the best for their children, who take from this land when they arrive and who give back many times over. She has arrived speechless, fatherless, and without money. For the next four years she worked hard to succeed in school. Doing homework wouldn’t be so hard if you could understand what the teacher teaches in class. Not only she succeeded, she was the Valedictorian at her high school graduation. She broke the golden rule and moved away from her family to study engineering. In the last year she made a “mistake” that cost her the Summa Cum Laude - she fell in love. Hence she graduated with Magna Cum Laude. For the students in the audience Dui-Loan jokingly gave advice to not fall in love if they want to graduate at the top of their class. Ms. Le concluded that she just spent 15 minutes sharing a little bit about her life with us because the first person we must collaborate with is ourselves. It is important to have the willingness to evaluate ourselves, to have confidence in our own dreams, chase them, accomplish them, to have the wisdom to live with ourselves and to believe in others.
In just three decades mobile technology grew immensely. There was a study on the gap in technology use between the Generation Y and the Baby Boomers (or Generation X). Duy-Loan said that she worries about this gap. As leaders we have the responsibility to talk about it to growing generations. 25 years ago Ms. Le went to Japan. There are no women in the workplace in Japan and if you see one she is either cleaning the restroom or serving tea. Imagine the shock of 35 male engineers when she arrived and introduced myself as a Senior CEO that came to train them just 3 years into the job at 22 years old. There was a significant amount of resistance from her “trainees” so she decided to take a different approach and talk about everything but the job. They talked about the relationships, why it costs $100 to have some tempura, why she is so young, why she moved away from her family or how did she leave her husband alone for four months. She adapted to their way of speaking, they trained her in a way. The people facilitated the training. They have worked together very well for years to follow. Later when Ms. Le needed some help they not only helped, they jumped through hoops to to do so. If you want to build a strong relationship u have to do it face-to-face, once it is solidified you can support it with technology. The speaker shared a story of how she kept carrying negotiations with a partner over two month over technological means without success. So she decided to travel there and within a few hours she has accomplished what they could not in the two month of hi-tech communications.
The world is getting smaller. You can sit here and call or text China. In this country we value the freedom of speech and persuasive confidence. When crossing to other culture across the ocean the same attributes can be perceived as disrespectful and arrogant. We succeed by changing the way we ask for help, the way we interact with people. Ms. Le shared a story about an executive of a fortune 500 company who speaks the language fluently, travels a lot, and was excited to collaborate with Chinese executives. When he came there he spoke in fluent Chinese, expressed his excitement to be there to collaborate and stated that he has the means and tools to solve their problem. The Chinese executive’s face went cold and he sad “We don’t have problems, only opportunities”. To imply that u know about someone else’s problems is arrogant. We must learn to adapt and accept other people’s culture in order to collaborate effectively.
We must break our own limitations and see other people through the lenses of possibilities. When we believe in ourselves and in others it brings us the ability to bring more people to the common cause. The speaker asked the audience to raise a hand if they like to go shopping, see movies, or have tea w people they don’t like. She suggested that we spend time and nurture our relationships and not just the business ones. It is often the relationship with family, friends, mentors we wish we have spent more time on, not on making some product. The technology brought us so much closer over the years, it is easy to think that our business is technology while in reality it is people. To collaborate across boundaries we must understand the ways of others and avoid arrogance.
Duy-Loan has never heard her parents say “we love you”, to give her a hug or a kiss and she told herself that she will never do that to her children. When her son was six and he climbed into his parents' bed, she wanted to give him her usual kiss but before her lips could reach his cheek he spread his arms and said "mama, i need my personal space" and that's how she learned that people have different definitions of personal space.
Q: Have you had a chance to go back to Vietnam?
A: I went back to my home town to help rebuild a school and we are involved with university education there. It can be hard to travel though as it takes 40 hours to get there.
Q:You are so fearless. Have you emulated someone as you were growing up?
A: In Vietnam school is half day. I was given a book and I liked one person in it very much. See if you can tell who it was. She was the only person in the world to win two Nobel Prizes, she gave birth to a Nobel Prize winner and she was smart to marry a Nobel Prize winner. - It was Marie Curie. She was my source of admiration and inspiration.
Q: Who gave you that book?
A: Actually my father gave it to my older sister and I borrowed it.
Q: Do you have any advice on dealing with people better?
A: If I knew that I would be a very wealthy person. I am actually an adopted extrovert. I don't like to be dealing with people and I like to be by myself. But I learned to adopt. Volunteer if you can. That is a good way to develop your communication skills in a safe environment. The worst thing that can happen is you get fired.
Q: Children immigrants often have identity issues. Do you consider yourself Vietnamese or American?
A: Some time ago I gave a keynote speech and after that the children surrounded me asking questions and one girl said it must have been so hard to grow up in America without having a role model. I replied, I had the the best role model of all - pride in my heritage. I tell my children that you can be as American as you want but you must be Vietnamese at heart. So I am both Vietnamese and American.
Q: How do you get over stereotypes?
A: I cannot control what happens in the workplace or elsewhere but I can control what I do. Once we had two hire candidates neck to neck and we were deciding on which one to hire. A high up manager said we will hire “this” person. I asked how did you decide that? And he replied that that person is Vietnamese just like Dui-Loan and look at how much she has accomplished so he must be good too. That’s how you deal with stereotypes.
Q: Any advice on what to do when you have parents that expect you to be a stay at home wife?
A: (Jokingly) Run away. My family did not talk to me for years when I left home to go study engineering. My father did not come to my high school or university graduation ceremonies. When I was about to graduate with MBA I called him and said "I'm not going for a PhD, so this is your last chance." and he caved. I was chasing the best engineering education I could afford. So do what you need but understand their perspective too.
Q: Some colleagues prefer electronic communication to face-to-face. ow have you dealt with that?
A: My son had a soccer game and after we had a nice dinner set out outside but all the boys were on the inside and they were not even talking to each other but texting discussing how the game went. So we went in there and took away all their tech devices. At work I send an email that I want to see them all in the conference in 10 minutes to make an announcements. That gets their attention.