Meiko Takayama ’91 on “10 Things I Wish I Had Known”

On Friday September 23, LILAC invited Meiko Takayama ’91 to give a talk on “A Top 10 List of What I Wish I Had Known About Working (in the real world) When I Was in College.” Takayama was a History of Art major and Founder and current CEO of Advancing Women Executives (AWE). Given the very catchy title, the lunch session was well attended by students of various academic disciplines and career interests. FullSizeRender 2What initially drew me to Meiko Takayama’s talk was her background in the arts, which I also share (Meiko previously worked in corporate fundraising for The Guggenheim and MoMA). She is also Asian American — just like me. I look up to strong Asian American women leaders, who are even rarer in American society (thanks to both the glass and bamboo ceilings). Unfortunately, I arrived late to the lunch session because I was coming from two back-to-back video interviews for post-graduate jobs and had some last minute preparations to take care of for Philadanco’s performance that night (read my review here). I was still able to catch a substantial amount of advice before leaving early for a 1-4pm Anatomy & Physiology lab.

When I arrived, Meiko was in the middle of discussing the results of a CEO case study comparison on gender. CEO “Howard” and CEO “Heidi” were of similar professional levels, but when a panel was asked to review their performances, Howard was seen as likable while Heidi was seen as aggressive and not trustworthy. Meiko’s subsequent comments on gender bias in the workplace reflected on gender stereotyped behaviors and ways to change initial perceptions. For example, women tend to focus on the journey compared to men who tend to focus on the destination. Meiko was correct to point out that we do not live in a true meritocracy. If we did, there would be more women in positions of leadership. For this reason, you cannot just study hard, work hard, and live your life with no end goal or destination.

At school, you’re studying, but what are you studying for?

At work, you’re just working, but what are you working toward?

One piece of advice that spoke to me was that you should always informally promote yourself by talking with your boss or professor. Even small updates of what your are currently doing or projects you are working on give off the appearance that you work harder than others. I feel like I need to work on this one to build better relationships with my professors. I sometimes feel like this is difficult for me because I might not always be doing as well as I would like in a professor’s class, or my career interests (nursing) do not align with my professor’s area of expertise. Other times, I like to be more secretive about what I am doing because I do not want my peers to jump on the same opportunities I am aiming for. Although, strangely my strong presence on social media as a Banter Blogger has been noticed by one of my professors who is also active on Twitter. I once tweeted about using R (a statistics program) in my physics class, and my professor liked my tweet.

Another piece of advice I found helpful was to not ask too many questions. Meiko related men’s tendency to not ask for directions to men’s tendency to not ask too many questions for fear of looking clueless. If you are going to ask questions, ask questions that make yourself look good. In other words, frame questions in a a manner that appears as if you do know what is going on and others might not.

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Meiko also requested that we support our female colleagues unconditionally. Apparently there is a “bro code” that when men do not know what to say about another man, they just call him “smart” or that he “acquires a certain taste.” Women do not have an analogous “girl code,” and instead claim they “support the best.” Lesson learned: if you have nothing good to say about someone, don’t say it.

The last piece of advice I was able to catch before leaving early was that relationships are most important. In fact, you should work less in order to spend more time building professional networks and friendships. Women tend to have deep and narrow relationships, while men tend to have broad and shallow relationships. Consider the scenario where your CEO asks to have lunch with you. In this case, you should clear your other plans to get to know your CEO better. Meiko told us of a female client she worked with who increased her percentage of time spent on relationships from 15% to 60%. To keep track of her progress, she color coded her calendar to mark which events she was doing in order to network more. Contrary to her initial worries, this increase resulted in less stress, the ability to get more work done, more promotions offered to her, and an overall better life.

It’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you!

I wish I was able to stay for the entire talk. I was actually the one who convinced my roommate to attend the session, which she was able to attend for its entirety. Most of what Meiko talked about I already knew to be true, but it is always a good reminder and wake up call to realize these are realities Mawrters will have to face daily when we leave this Bryn Mawr bubble.

 

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