AWE’s CEO and Founder, Meiko Takayama on Being A Boss

In light of #NationalBossDay we sat down with our boss, Meiko Takayama, Founder and CEO of AWE to talk to her about her journey to the top.

Did you always want to be a boss?

I became a boss because I saw a need in the market and very naively said to myself, “If I don’t do this, who will?”

In 2011, I was an executive recruiter and I was hosting events for local-based, senior executive women to connect and to share best practices. At these events, women repeatedly said to me, “I didn’t realize there were so many of us out there.”

I thought it was a strange comment because we represent 50% of the population – but then I began to understand that we aren’t physically ‘out there’ because we aren’t networking and we aren’t ‘out there’ in numbers because there are few of us in senior positions at companies. The number of women at the top hasn’t changed dramatically in over a decade and I knew I had to do something. I could remain in executive recruiting to try and influence clients with diverse candidates but I realized that I could never achieve great scale with that model. That’s when I realized that I could expand upon the events that I had been hosting and a business was born. (Having gone to a women’s college and working previously in non-profit didn’t hurt the fact that I was creating a mission-focused company supporting the advancement of women!)

A few months after creating the business plan, I learned that my father had cancer and he died three weeks later. I was able to spend almost the entire three weeks with him, my mother and my sister, and during this time, he told me that, at this point in life, he was the happiest that he’d ever been.

These words stuck with me after he passed, and I realized that he was able to say this to me because he had lived such a fulfilled life and was able to let go. My father’s final act was very zen and I believe that it was a gift to my family. I then realized that if I were to share this gift with my family, I, too, would need to be able to say to myself that I’d done everything that I wanted to do in this life. With that fire beneath me, I realized that I better really get started in creating AWE. One month later AWE was officially up and running.

You asked if I always wanted to be a boss and the answer is no. However, I was born with rebel genes – from a banker turned artist paternal grandfather, to an unconventional thinking father, to an independent mother who left her native country at the age of 25 and never looked back.

An amalgamation of life events led me here and I am incredibly grateful they did because I know that my team and I are changing the world for the better

 Meiko Takayama moderating an AWE panel discussion in spring of 2018, in New York City. The panel was titled,  Beyond the Hashtags: Real Dialogue Between Female Executives and Male Allies.
Meiko Takayama moderating an AWE panel discussion in spring of 2018, in New York City. The panel was titled, Beyond the Hashtags: Real Dialogue Between Female Executives and Male Allies.

What is your favorite part about being a boss?

We regularly get emails and messages from women and men who tell us that we’ve changed their lives – from a woman who got the promotion, to a man who better understands the challenges that his wife faces each day, to a former employee who has learned how to better manage and influence within her new work environment. That’s really fantastic and it’s so rewarding to be part of a great team that generates that kind of positive response.

I also love watching the relationships that have been built amongst the AWE team. When I started the company, I never thought that I would create a place that would be the genesis of lifelong friendships.

What has been the biggest challenge?

There are so many! My biggest challenge is also related to the people I lead. My true strengths are in business and sales. I am a visionary and I love strategy, but a great boss needs to be able to flex her leadership to adapt to the diverse perspectives, interests, behavioral patterns, and learning styles of the people she works with. This is no easy task – and as a founder it’s especially difficult because you feel personally responsible for the lives of the people that you employ. There’s so much more to being a great boss than simply knowing how to run a business or make sales. I am fortunate to have surrounded myself with trusted partners who push me to flex into the spaces of leadership that are more challenging for me.

You mentioned that there’s so much more to being a great boss, than simply knowing how to run a business. What are 5 top qualities that you’ve noticed great bosses have?

In the thousands of executives I’ve talked to in my career and in my own experience – these are the areas that I like to improve for myself each day:

  1. Know when and how to let go. This is something that I am still working on, but it’s so important. Great bosses acknowledge that they can’t do everything. They delegate where they can and trust the talent they hired. By relinquishing control they create space to strategize on a macro scale. Which brings me to my next point…

  2. Think big picture – on everything from operations, to people management, to how to stay relevant in the marketplace. The world is changing faster than we can keep up, the most effective leaders that I’ve met keep their heads up.

  3. Be an effective communicator. Great bosses grow their network and build strong relationships before they need something. Additionally, they value and can deliver smooth, concise, and compelling stories.

  4. Roll up your sleeves. While delegation is crucial, teams trust and respect a leader that is willing to get in the trenches with them.

  5. Have the WOW factor. Everyone has had a smart boss, but being led by someone who you admire and are inspired by, that’s something special. Great bosses have a keen ability to inspire and unite a team around the vision.

 Arianna Huffington with Meiko Takayama at an AWE gathering in 2017, where Arianna spoke on mindfulness in the workplace.
Arianna Huffington with Meiko Takayama at an AWE gathering in 2017, where Arianna spoke on mindfulness in the workplace.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to the aspiring bosses out there?

If you are ruminating on an idea, a title change, or a raise, go for it! Don’t wait until you feel ready. That’s the biggest mistake that many people (especially women) make. They think that they need to be 100% prepared before taking that leap, when men often take the leap knowing that they are only partially qualified. Let go of the fear of failing and of everything that tells you that you’re not good enough because you are. Imagine what the world would be like if all women had the same confidence of an average white man.

Last, remember that just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean you can’t be it.

Connect with Meiko here.

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Women’s Audio Mission is #changingthefaceofsound

Women’s Audio Mission (WAM) is amplifying the voices of young girls and giving them the tools they need to become the innovators of tomorrow. The nonprofit that uses music and media to attract over 1,500 underserved women and girls to STEM and creative technology studies.

San Francisco AWE Leader, Nancy Valente, Vice President, Global Product Development, Hematology/Oncology; Head Hematology Development at Genentech sits on the board. 

Nancy shared with us her passion and connection to the organization, “My daughter’s band, ‘The She’s,’ recorded their first CD with Terri and WAM, when they were 15 years old. It was a formative experience, where these girls learned how to engineer their own music. I can’t tell how much this improved my daughter’s confidence as a performer. She has continued to be involved with WAM and currently supports the education of middle school girls in sound production.”

Based in San Francisco/Oakland, WAM is the only professional recording studio in the world built and run by women that was started to addresses two critical issues:

  • Less than 5% of the people creating the sounds, music and media in the daily soundtrack of our lives are women.

  • There is a 70% decline in women/girls enrolling in college STEM programs since the year 2000.

WAM’s award-winning curriculum weaves art and music with science, technology and computer programming and works to close the critical gender gap in creative technology careers.

To see WAM’s impact in action, grab a ticket to their 15 Year Anniversary Celebration  and fundraiser in honor of their legacy of serving over 12,000 women and girls. The evening will include a performance by Atlanta-based pop duo St. Beauty (currently touring with Janelle Monáe). All proceeds will go directly towards their transformative programming for underserved women and girls.

WAM and Nancy, #weareinAWE of you! 

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Diversity Panel Featuring 3 AWE Leaders!

On July 12th, AWE New York Leader, Judy Jackson, Global Chief Talent Officer at Wunderman, moderated a fantastic panel, called Achieving Liftoff: Leveraging the Power of Diversity and Inclusion to Boost Your Brand at the Ace Hotel New York. Among the four panelists was AWE Emeritus Leader Cathy Gutierrez, Senior Human Resources Executive and AWE Emeritus Leader, Agnes Chapski, Senior GM and Sales Executive.

The goal of the discussion was to dig into tangible ways to leverage inclusion and diversity for positive business development, relationship management, and customer retention. The panelists represented varying client/customer focused brands from Glossier to Audible, and varied industries from PR to publishing companies. The panelists eloquently spoke on the intersection of successful branding and D&I – from the company’s origin to bringing the vision to fruition and how the people you hire, the priorities you set, the customers you target, and the stories you weave with the communities in which you serve are integral.

The panel attracted close to 100 guests from senior executives and company leaders to junior folks and people pivoting in their careers. The women on the panel brought a truly complementary mix of insights and communication styles from the genuine, warm, even-keeled, matter-of-fact, and witty, to the anecdotal, tangible and cautionary. They focused on truly actionable items challenging attendees to bring back to their own companies. There were many profound moments (especially as race was a key focus) and a perfect sprinkling of wit and humor.

The evening’s takeaways included:

1. Diversity programs have a higher likelihood of succeeding when driven by C-suite leaders, not human resources.

2. Steering committees to lead on diversity may create a lack of ownership and unintentionally diffuse impact.

3. There are tools to assist in “blind” interviewing but training in unconscious bias is a crucial part of the hiring and evaluation process.

4. Companies can follow the great examples of organizations like Starbucks and Salesforce to be more publicly open in acknowledging what they want to achieve around D&I (i.e. admitting when there are setbacks).

5. While sexism and racism are fully in the ether as biases to confront, there still exist more “accepted” biases like ageism, which should also be a focus of the work of organizations.

Judy Jackson provided a strikingly beautiful metaphor for D&I: Diversity is being asked to the dance, Inclusion is being asked to actually dance once there, and True Inclusion is when you know the steps to the dance that everyone is doing and you feel comfortable joining in and like you belong.

Diversity and inclusion is not just about getting under-represented folks in the room, it’s about creating a culture where diverse perspectives are sought after. Folks need to be valued enough to be taught the dance.

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AWE Challenge Member Testimonial

MonthlyChallengeWe love member testimonials, especially those about our AWE Monthly Challenges. Each month we empower our members to take on a new perspective, incorporate behavioral changes into their day-to-day routine, and think outside of the box. Following are testimonials from two AWE members:
“The “stop saying guys” has had such a big impact. I did not realize how much I say it, whether in my professional life or personal until I was consciously thinking about it…. and now stopped using it. Thanks for the challenges. They are fun and create a positive impact on both my life as well as others.” – AWE New York Member, Elisa Wyman, VP, Global Total Rewards & HRIS at Sealed Air Corporation

“I want to send you a quick note to say how much I appreciate your monthly challenge emails.  They are fun and interesting, and more importantly, provocative and relevant.  Keep them coming.  They always make me think and I love it!” – AWE Silicon Valley Member, Tracy Ting, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Affymetrix

 

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Madam C.E.O., Get Me a Coffee

womenworkingAs part of  a New York Times four-part series on Women at Work, Wharton professor Adam Grant and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg wrote the third installment on women doing the brunt of the ‘office housework’. In “Madam C.E.O., Get Me a Coffee” Grant and Sandberg discuss the catch-22 of the deeply embedded gender stereotype where women are expected to help, yet they don’t receive as much praise and recognition as men who lend a helping hand. Read more here

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