Business and life lessons from a needle in a haystack

Asian American leader shares her insight, such as recognizing that you bring something special and unique.

In the world of money, when it comes to making decisions for high-net worth individuals, corporations, family offices, and other organizations, women account for a mere 21.9 % of leadership positions. If you’re looking to find women at the top of financial services firms, give yourself some time – in fact, in another 10 years, that number of women leaders will only slightly increase to just 31%.

The percentages shrink even further if you’re specifically looking for CEOs in finance (13%). And if you’re particularly looking for women of color in those positions, you may as well be searching for a needle in a haystack.

But like that needle, I’m one of the 21.9%, a Filipina American raised in Southern California. As a woman leader, I must constantly remind myself that I belong, and I have earned the right to be here. As a woman leader of color, I know what it feels like to be “othered” and in some cases even made to feel invisible in the board room.

I am constantly reminding myself that what I have to say matters. Compounded with what has been happening in our communities, I am reminded that a part of America still sees all Asian women as foreign, less than, insignificant.

So, as I think of the totality of what Asian Pacific American Heritage Month means to me, with respect to my career, my identity, my family, and my history, I am reflecting on the lessons that I will pass onto my kids. I still want my daughters, who are half Filipino, to break glass ceilings. I don’t even want them to know there’s glass there!

But on their way to wherever they’re going, I want them to be better prepared than I was as a young Asian American woman navigating a white, male-dominated world. My own mother couldn’t prepare me, try as she might. She had no lessons or words of wisdom to impart even if she wanted to. So, in honoring who we are as AAPI women, and the AAPI women my daughters will become one day, the lessons are these:

  1. You are different, and you bring to the table something special, uniquely different than anyone else can offer. This is a strength, not a weakness. Whether it’s your approach, your diversity of thought, your style, your creativity, or even just your voice, this is what makes your offering wonderful and valuable and unlike anything else at the table.
  2. You are not a fit for everyone, and that’s OK. You have permission to walk away from people, experiences, clients and opportunities that do not respect who you are and what you stand for.
  3. You must be comfortable with addressing uncomfortable topics and discussions. If you want to succeed, get uncomfortable first. Most anything worthwhile won’t always be easy. This is where you’ll grow and toughen your resolve. It’s an essential step on the way to success.
  4. Be better and behave better, even when others aren’t. I was once a presenter at a corporate event, where I had been approached by a gentleman to get him a cup of coffee. I was shocked for a bit until realizing I was standing in a group of men, and that he must have presumed I was an assistant or wait staff. I obliged and asked him how he wanted his coffee. After I was introduced as the keynote speaker, I made sure to deliver his coffee as promised, as I walked down the aisle before taking the stage. My colleagues asked about the coffee, but I never shared it. The look on his face was enough. Hopefully, he will think twice before this kind of assumption again.
  5. Be overly prepared.  As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as luck – it’s a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.

Michelle Marquez is managing director of Marquez Private Wealth Management of Raymond James.