Q&A with Goldman Sachs Technology Investor on Inequality in the Workforce
August 23, 2017
On September 6-8, over 300 women funders and leaders from across the globe will convene in San Francisco for the 2017 Women Funded Conference, which will feature interactive workshops and sessions to mobilize a community around promoting equality and eradicating discrimination. Ahead of the event, In Asia editor Alma Freeman sat down with Lucy Lee, an associate in the Goldman Sachs Growth Equity team based in San Francisco who is leading a session at the conference, on her passion for entrepreneurship, gender gaps in the workforce, and her vision for leadership. Lee is also spearheading The Asia Foundation’s Bay Area Lotus Circle, which will present the Lotus Leadership Awards in San Francisco on Feb. 21, 2018.
You come from an entrepreneurial family, which has no doubt translated into your success at Goldman Sachs working with technology companies to help grow their businesses. Can you talk about how this has shaped your passion for entrepreneurship and views on gender equality?
My passion for entrepreneurship stems from being raised by a family of entrepreneurs—my parents run a robotics company in Shanghai. I grew up with this very idealistic concept that a women’s role in the business and a man’s role in the business was 50-50. Little did I know that my experience was in fact very different than reality. I’m proud to say that Goldman Sachs cares deeply about the issue of gender inequality, but women are still severely under-represented in finance and business.
One of the biggest challenges in the professional world that drives gender inequality is the paucity of available networks of women leaders and mentors to look up to and learn from. The consequences of not having enough networks are not widely understood by other participants in the workforce. As a result, women are often more isolated from opportunities for advancement and leadership.
Last year, you moved to San Francisco and have taken the role as convener of The Asia Foundation’s Bay Area Lotus Circle, a vibrant community of committed individuals and organizations working together to empower women and girls across Asia. What drew you to The Asia Foundation’s women’s empowerment work and to this community?
I was first drawn by the passion and vision of the leadership of the Lotus Circle to ensure that it was much more than just a donor circle, but a community where members play an active role in program strategy planning and execution. The Foundation’s strong emphasis on helping women in Asia gain financial independence as a way to unleash other social benefits was something that really compelled me deeply given my own personal experiences. Jane Sloane [the Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment director] shared a conversation she had with a women entrepreneur and Asia Foundation grantee from her recent trip to Laos. Without the income that she has earned from starting her own business, she said she wouldn’t be able to provide basic subsistence for her family, much less keep her daughters and sons from falling prey to the possibility of trafficking. You need some sort of capital to empower people with the resources to impact change.
In September, you’re joining 300 women leaders for the 2017 Women Funded Conference for a panel on “Innovation in Action,” which spotlights specific new programs that have the power to massively shift the world of girls’ sports, women’s entrepreneurship, fundraising, and tech. You have chosen to highlight The Asia Foundation’s new initiative, Accelerate Growth, which aims to empower one million new women entrepreneurs in Asia by providing them with improved access to financial services and credit, practical training, relevant technology, and networks. What drew you to this initiative?
I was first drawn to the Accelerate Growth initiative because, not only is it ambitious, but it is so well-suited to the strengths and unique qualities of the Bay Area as the heart of innovation and entrepreneurship. The program relies on the power of the community to connect women to different entrepreneurs, to connect women to different markets, and it is set up to ensure that this investment doesn’t just impact one generation of entrepreneurs but that there is a multiplier effect, so that entrepreneurs learn how to sustain and grow their businesses to inspire and help the next generation of entrepreneurs to succeed as well. Our efforts will only be impactful if we ensure that the work touches multiple cohorts of entrepreneurs and women. The only way to compel older and experienced entrepreneurs to help younger and newer ones is through this emphasis on community-building.
How do you see the power of the corporate, NGO, and public sectors working together toward this shared goal of supporting women entrepreneurs?
The success of the Accelerate Growth program depends upon the strong collaboration of both the public and private sectors. While money and funds help facilitate the implementation of programs, the access to knowledge, experience, and skills for women in Asia is just as, if not more, important. Building up a large portfolio of those benefits is going to require significant collaboration, which is another focus of the Lotus Circle—to provide a platform for the spirit of entrepreneurship that’s embodied by so many individuals in the Bay Area to collectively create systemic change across Asia.
The Women Funded community argues that if you care about equity “this is our time to motivate and mobilize for the change we seek, to be the change.” How do you think the business community at large can mobilize to “be the change?”
We’re in a very unique position right now where gender equality and discrimination, both sexual and racial, are top of mind for a lot of people. The challenge is to ensure that this awareness and attention can be translated into actual results that decrease the possibility of discrimination from happening. In order to succeed, we must change people’s mentality—to instill a new type of “status quo” in their minds. I think the way that this process starts is through little, tangible, but extremely well-executed steps. For example, by implementing a no tolerance policy toward discrimination at work that promotes transparent communication between junior and senior staff so that problems can be diffused as soon as they emerge, by providing new structures that promote a balance of work-life balance, and being mindful of casual sexism that can exist in the workforce and subliminally perpetuate discrimination. Businesses don’t have to undergo sweeping transformations in order to be the change. An entire organization’s culture is perpetuated by its leader. If he or she does not take the time to prioritize culture and community-building, it’s much less realistic to expect their employees to learn to care.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the interviewee and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.
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I love the comments on Laos because it tends to get less attention. However, I would like to highlight that typically in Laos (setting aside ethnic differences, of which there are many) women handle the financial affairs whether at home or in business. I think the issue for Laos is access to markets for goods (shipping within laos or overseas is expensive and logistics can be challenging) and cost of capital – borrow in US$ in laos and you’ll pay very high rates of interest that have little to do with the Federal Reserve’s base rate. So have to be careful not to imply that gender equality issues are the same in each country in Asia: it varies tremendously.
Thank you so much for reading and for this insightful comment. You are so right that gender equality issues vary dramatically country by country. I wanted to share a recent story about our work to help women artisan entrepreneurs from Laos access the global market – which is indeed a big challenge. https://asiafoundation.org/2017/07/26/women-artisan-entrepreneurs-asia-go-global/
Thanks – I’m so sorry I missed the women’s artisan event in San Francisco in July!
i am hoping that somehow there is the opportunity for gainful employment for the disabled. The community of Pinoys with disabilities have been hankering for jobs and the chance for financial independence. Very few companies hire PWDs and more often than not, PWDs are discriminated on the basis of their disability. They are judged for what HR people think they cannot do but are not even asked about what they can.
I pray that the Asia Foundation can help the PWD community particularly in the Philippines.