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5 Questions with Michael Hsu

Thursday, December 4, 2014  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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Michael Hsu is group president for Kimberly-Clark North America, an industry leader in recognizing high-potential women and advancing them to leadership roles. A 20-year veteran of the consumer products industry, he previously held senior leadership positions at Kraft Foods and H.J. Heinz. NEW recently spoke to him about gender equity and the achievement gap affecting multicultural women.

How would you characterize the industry’s development and advancement of women, and multicultural women in particular?

This is a business imperative for us. But we are still on the journey and not satisfied that we have reached our destination. By 2050, one out of two women will be multicultural and we are focused on improving our diverse talent in our leadership ranks. We need more multicultural women in leadership positions in our industry to help us be more representative of our consumers and obtain insights in innovation, marketing and sales to meet their needs and advance our businesses.

Related: 5 Questions with Donna Sanker

When has a multicultural woman on the team influenced the end result?

We have quite a few examples, but here is one: One of our emerging leaders is a Hispanic woman leading a multicultural task force charged with growing the North American businesses with three of our targeted ethnic consumer segments. She and her team led one of our most successful Huggies® diapers campaigns in the history of the brand that impacted a nice increase in our revenue in two categories.

What unique career challenges do multicultural women face?

Multicultural women come to the table with different cultural experiences at home and at work. Industry leaders need to value these experiences and different perspectives, since they bring fresh thinking and help us expand our ideas and solutions in different areas. For example, most American companies have a business culture that tends to be aggressive and loud, like a "sports culture.” As a member of an Asian family, I was raised to be much quieter and more introspective and told to listen more when engaging in a discussion. We need to gain a better awareness of cultural differences and some of these nuances and understand and respect these differences. It is important not only because of our own team dynamics and effectiveness, but because we see them reflected in our customers.

What factors contribute to the underrepresentation of multicultural women in business leadership, even at the mid-level?

Some of it is economic, so we need to make more investments in education at the high school and college level. Also we need, as an industry, to invest in more development programs so that our multicultural talent is ready for the critical roles when they surface in our organizations. Additionally, leaders need to reach out and mentor and sponsor more multicultural women and develop the pipeline so that we get to know them personally and professionally and they are included in our succession plans.

What can organizations do to lessen the achievement gap?

At Kimberly-Clark, we strive to:

  • Identify top talent, tell them they are top talent and jointly map out their career plan with their team leader.
  • Select individuals based on their potential and not their experience and skills alone.
  • Provide access to senior leaders with special projects and stretch assignments that gives them visibility and allows them to showcase their skills.
  • Reach out and not only mentor, but sponsor, our top talent for jobs that have greater responsibility.
  • Develop accelerated programs, more cross-functional assignments and access to senior-level mentors for multicultural women. We recently conducted a series of kaizen events with African American, Hispanic and Asian women in the company prior to a planned "think tank” strategy session with representatives from all groups. We also had a very focused development program for five top-talent women who we felt had the potential for a director-level position. Four out of five women who participated in that program have been promoted in the last year.

It’s about wanting the best team to drive the best results. It’s not about numbers or "checking the box." It is important for us to have everyone included in the process and respected for their individuality and what they can contribute. We are looking for diversity of thought, experience, culture, race, gender — because that is the world we live in and sell to.

Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.

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