5 Questions with Michael Hsu
Thursday, December 04, 2014
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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