Women At The Top
In an article published last August for the Center for American Progress, author Judith Warren reports that it will take until 2085 for women to achieve equality in the workplace among their male counterparts in leadership positions.
While the U.S. has made progress over the last few decades, Warren argues it hasn’t been enough. In S&P 500 financial companies, for example, she says women account for as much as 54 percent of the industry, but only 2 percent are CEOs. Forty-five percent of associate attorneys are female, but only 20 percent are partners and only 17 percent serve as equity partners.
It may sound grim, but it’s not entirely damning. Women, Warren writes, earn about 60 percent of undergraduate and master’s degrees each year, and they make up approximately 49 percent of the college-educated workforce.
So while it may take some time, it’s really all about perspective —and some women, three in particular here in Hawaii, already serve as examples of possibilities.
Girl Scouts of Hawaii will honor them as its 2016 Women of Distinction. They are Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing founding stockholder and director Louise Ing, Central Pacific Bank president and CEO Catherine Ngo, and American Savings Bank chief administrative officer and executive vice president Beth Whitehead.
They are living embodiments of the Girl Scouts’ 3C’s of courage, confidence and character. Unlike previous themed years that recognized women who represented one area of expertise, this year uses a much broader tagline: One Girl Today = One Leader Tomorrow.
“The idea of One Girl Today = One Leader Tomorrow ties into the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, where girls develop confidence in their abilities, relate to others with increased understanding and respect, develop values to guide their actions and contribute to the improvement of society,” says Girl Scouts of Hawaii CEO Shari Chang.
Unbeknownst to the committee that made this year’s selections, all three women share a background in law. They also happen to be good friends —the trio previously exercised together Saturday mornings, and Ing and White-head currently attend Egan Inoue’s Fit Body Bootcamp.
“The fact that they all have degrees in law was never even discussed,” says Chang. “We found that out afterward. And we did not know they were close friends, which makes it really fun for them and for us.”
Louise Ing’s college days at Yale University happened to coincide with the Vietnam War era, when lawyers were taking on a more crucial role in effecting social change —something that appealed greatly to Ing.
With law on her mind, Ing sought help from her career counselor, who recommended she look into a paralegal program instead. While Ing can’t be sure that it was gender discrimination she encountered, she now is aware of how stifling that experience was.
“I don’t think they would do that to women today,” she says.
It didn’t discourage Ing. She’s a founding stockholder and director with Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing, where she represents businesses and nonprofit organizations in a number of different legal matters.
Law, she says, is a little different these days. When she first started out, Ing recalls going to court and presenting before an older male judge —”intimidating male figures,” she recalls. In contrast, several years ago, Ing found herself in court arguing for a female client, against female counsel, before a female judge.
She’s received numerous accolades, including some from Best Lawyers in America as 2015 Hawaii Lawyer of the Year in bankruptcy and bet-the-company litigation, along with recognition in many other categories.
Ing also may best be known for her work with Child & Family Service, with which she first became involved back in the ’80s. Plus, Ing serves on the board for Island Holdings and National Asian Pacific American Bar Association-Hawaii Chapter, among others.
Now, to be named a Woman of Distinction is both flattering and humbling, she says.
“I think it’s great for girls to realize that they can reach for the stars,” says Ing, “and try to have it all.”
Law came as a natural choice for Catherine Ngo. In high school, she was involved in forensics and debate, and was quite good at it.
She spent some time in private practice, which is where Ngo found herself as the primary lawyer representing a Silicon Valley financial company. They happened to be, she soon learned, looking to build their own in-house legal department and wanted Ngo for the job.
Courage and confidence, she notes, pointing to the Girl Scouts’ 3C’s, doesn’t equate to never feeling scared about new things. Rather, argues Ngo, it’s about facing that very situation head on —putting yourself out there, regardless of apprehensions.
“That’s a perfect example of something that was a bit of a stretch for me,” she says of the job she ended up taking. “It was going outside of the law firm environment with which I was comfortable and trying something new.
“It ended up being a fortuitous move for me because it’s given me more and more opportunities, including the one I have here.”
Ngo joined Central Pacific Bank in 2010 as executive vice president and chief administrative officer. Last year, she was named president and CEO, and
while she still keeps an eye on the company’s legal matters, her role now entails guiding and inspiring employees.
“I enjoy the practice of law, but I enjoy what I’m doing now, so it was certainly a wonderful step in my career,” she says.
In the community, Ngo primarily devotes her time as a member of the board of trustees for University of Hawaii Foundation. It’s a rather simple impetus that has inspired Ngo’s work in the community: With all the opportunities she’s received, Ngo just feels it’s time to give back.
“It’s very gratifying, particularly when I can see myself making a difference,” she says.
Of the three friends, Beth Whitehead is the only one who experienced being a Girl Scout. She has fond memories of being a Scout — particularly the moment she first encountered a businesswoman who visited Whitehead’s troop.
“I’d seen women in my town wearing church dresses, but I’d never really seen a woman wearing a business suit,” she says. “I never really knew any women in the business world, and so I think that being in Girl Scouts opened up a lot of ideas.”
When the time came to go to college —Whitehead is the first in her family to graduate with a degree —she chose law, a seed her father (a farmer in Arkansas) planted by urging her to become either a doctor or lawyer.
Going through the motions, Whitehead attended college, got her law degree, got a job at a law firm —and absolutely hated it.
“They say life is short — it’s not when you’re having a bad time,” she says.
Wondering what to do next, banking came to mind. It was a new path that one day led to a phone call from American Savings Bank with a job offer, and in 2008, Whitehead moved to Hawaii.
Whitehead —who also is chairwoman of Women’s Fund of Hawaii and a board member for YWCA and Hawaii Theatre Center — has used her journey as inspiration for the work she’s accomplished at ASB. When she first arrived, many employees revealed in surveys that they did not enjoy working for the company, so Whitehead sought to turn things around.
Now — in what Whitehead describes as an “unstuffy” environment where staff know her simply as Beth — ASB employees are thriving. This
year, Fortune lists the company as one of the top 100 work-places in America for women, and considers it one of the top 50 diverse workplaces. Three years ago, American Banker began publishing a best banks list, which has included ASB every year —the only bank in Hawaii to make it on the list.
To be honored by the Girl Scouts, well, Whitehead couldn’t be more touched.
“I think often girls grow up and don’t have those role models,” says Whitehead. “So for me, the thought that I could be one of those role models is kind of daunting, but amazing and humbling.
“They’re starting out from a point of girl power that we didn’t even perceive,” she adds.
Girl Scouts of Hawaii will honor its 2016 Women of Distinction from 5:30 to 9 p.m. March 11 at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. For tickets and more information, visit girlscouts-hawaii.org.
ONE GIRL TODAY = ONE LEADER TOMORROW
There’s a lot going on with Girl Scouts of Hawaii —something that will be on full display if you attend the organization’s March 11 Women of Distinction celebrations.
Be on the lookout for four tables in particular that highlight the organization.
• STEM: Current Scouts of varying ages will demonstrate STEM-related activities the girls have been focusing on, like robotics, air-powered rockets and marine animals.
• Gold Award: Three Gold Award recipients will share their projects with guests. A Gold Award is the highest accomplishment a Girl Scout can receive, and this year also happens to mark the award’s 100th anniversary.
• Financial Empowerment: Every year, Girl Scouts sell their popular selection of cookies. While it may be a tasty reward for customers, it more importantly serves as a lesson in financial literacy for Scouts. One Girl Scout troop will be on hand to share five principles and skills they learned.
• Outdoors: A Girl Scouts Research Institute “More Than S’mores” report asserted that more time spent in the outdoors helps girls personally, academically and in problem-solving situations. Scouts at the Women of Distinction dinner will share their own camping experiences and what they learned.
These, of course, barely scratch the surface. The organization also has an Afterschool Leadership Program that works with Title 1 schools, and a Digital Cookie 2.0 platform enhances the cookie-selling experience, among many other initiatives.
Up next for Girl Scouts of Hawaii: A 100th birthday celebration next year, which makes it the oldest council west of the Mississippi.
For more information, visit girlscouts-hawaii.org.
PHOTOS BY ANTHONY CONSILLIO
HEADSHOTS BY NATHALIE WALKER