"It’s not about being a 'female CEO'. It’s about being a CEO."
Helen’s first Harvard Business School (HBS) panel – the “SheSuite” – engaged 5 panelists from among some of the world’s most recognizable brands about what it means to be a female leader in today’s extremely digital and socially-evolving entrepreneurial landscape. The key takeaway from this panel? Getting to the C-Suite takes the same amount of grit from anyone. That said, starting a company, foundation, or other initiative as a woman in the US comes with its own unique, hidden challenges, and especially so for a minority woman like Helen.
"People expected that I was docile, because I am an Asian woman, and I am quiet. That's not the case. We will all face a bias like this at some point."
So how does a woman in a leadership role combat bias like this?
“Show them with numbers.”
Earlier in her career, Helen stepped into an incredibly challenging role as the director of a community health center with the task of increasing funding and using hard data to show growth. She was determined to bring the center to greater heights, both socially and in terms of financial stability. She would have to prove that she was capable by moving the needle. She did.
"It was a personal challenge for me, and seeing that I could do it meant I could do more."
Generally, investors and employers in attendance at the conference cited that women tend to express the value of their ideas in a way that is more analyzed and precise than men, whereas men tend to focus on potential gain. This means that on paper, women tend to sell themselves short.
Don't be afraid to see the potential in your endeavor and describe its value to the maximum. Setting goals high can be just as important as achieving baseline goals. Imagine the impact when you actually hit those shoot-for-the-moon numbers.
“You’ll make mistakes. Bounce back.”
What do you do when you fail? Making a mistake – making 100 of them! – is okay, and should be welcomed as a sign of progress and learning. When you make a mistake: bounce back, pivot, and move forward. Making a mistake can even give you the opportunity to innovate in a way you hadn't considered.
"Find what motivates you."
Helen has lived in 4 countries over the course of her life, and her global perspective is a huge contributing factor to her success in starting a business in the travel space. These experiences taught her how to be agile, and have unquestionably shaped the Lo & Sons mission.But perhaps more importantly, calling so many places home became a primary motivation for creating a sense of home and stability in the Lo & Sons team. Helen explains how important it is that her employees feel they have every growth opportunity, even while steadily scaling up the business.
"It's never too late to start."
Helen completed her PhD in Social Welfare Administration while moving from city to city for her husband's job as a radio astronomer, all the while raising her two sons. She basically had to subordinate her own professional goals, contributing expertise and perspective along an extremely non-linear career (such as doing institutional research at a community college and consulting at a semiconductor company in Taipei), until she eventually could finally pursue her own professional goals by starting Lo & Sons in her mid-sixties."Who here wants to be CEO someday?" the moderator of Helen's panel asked. A wave of twenty- and thirty-something young professionals immediately raised their hands. While the ambition was inspiring to behold, Helen noted that for her, it was a combination of varied career experiences that enabled her to start and grow the business, not a singular drive to become an executive.Being steady and self-aware, coupled with a constant focus on designing products for the traveler's needs, laid the groundwork for Lo & Sons' continued growth and Helen's success at the helm.
“Find the white space.”
If you've landed on our About page, you might know that Lo & Sons started because Helen was traveling constantly (carry-on only, of course) and couldn't find a single bag as functional as luggage, as chic as a handbag, and lightweight enough to carry with neck and back problems. Helen certainly had a need, but so did so many other women. Discovering this white space via design research motivated her to address the problem in a way that hadn't been done before.
Helen founded Lo & Sons to inspire and empower people to travel while striving to leave a positive impact. We are thankful to Harvard Business School's Women’s Student Association and Retail and Luxury Goods Association for giving Lo & Sons an opportunity to continue to learn from others, and to leave an impact on the inspiring entrepreneurs, students, professionals, and travelers we met.Until next year!