Diversity and Women – Julie Castro Abrams – Interviews of Notables & Influencers by Joanne Z. Tan

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Julie Castro Abrams interviewed by Joanne Z. Tan on diversity, equity, women leaders on corporate boards & with venture funding.

Joanne Tan  0:02  

Today with me is Julie Castro Abrams, I’m just very honored to have her. She’s the founder, CEO and chair of How Women Lead, a network of 14,000 women. They are top executives, leaders, current and aspiring board members and investors. Julie is also the GP of How Women Invest, an angel investing fund that has invested millions in women owned startups. 

Recently, Julie was featured on Forbes magazine for her accomplishments on leading How Women Invest. She’s also on one of the task forces of California Governor Gavin Newsom, the “first partners initiatives”. From my own personal involvement with How Women Lead over two and a half years, both as a member of the Leadership Committee and through helping aspiring executives to get on corporate boards, with their board bios, LinkedIn profiles and resumes, I have come to know Julie really well, and admire her passion, talent, brilliance, leadership, authenticity, and business savviness. All of these are inspiring to me and to lots of women. Welcome, Julie.

Julie Abrams  1:27  

Thank you for having me.

Joanne Tan  1:29  

My first question for you is:

What is the single most powerful obstacle preventing minority women from rising to board positions?

Julie Abrams  1:41  

Honestly, it’s something that is very hard to control or to counter, it’s bias. We have heuristic structures that we have that help us organize the world. Unfortunately, the people in power have biases in their minds about whether or not women of color and women leaders can contribute in the boardroom. So we have to work against those biases, which is just super hard.

Joanne Tan  2:09  

Yes. I agree with you. And somehow I learned the statistics that in Asian countries, not all of them, women startup founders get more of an equal footing treatment with men, they get funded more equally than in the United States. So I guess we have as a vast country, economically, we have a longer way to go than the rest of the world, in terms of respecting women leadership. 

So number two is:

What part do men play in advancing qualified women leaders to board positions? Do you view men in leadership positions as women’s career partners, helpers, or competitors?

Julie Abrams  3:01  

I think men play every role that you could possibly play, and so do women leaders. You know, not all women are great actors either. So I think what men in their best possible selves, what they can do for us is they can be conscious of the bias and actively work against it. They can learn how to put structures in so that when you have meetings where you know you have diversity in that community, in that room, that you can really get everybody’s voice heard, and not let people be railway railroaded over it. 

One thing that we know another sort of way we are as human beings, as most of us in our personal lives, our community, our friends are kind of like us, similar ages, similar ethnic and educational backgrounds. You have to work pretty assertively to sort of break through and find other people to have deep relationships with, but it’s not just knowing them and checking off a box. It’s like, how do you really find common ground and safety amongst each other? It is far easier for any of us to talk to someone, to make decisions, to move quickly if the person already knows where we’re coming from, because they’re like us. 

Let’s say a 50 year old white guy, most of his networks are 50 year old white guys, just it’s normal, it’s not his fault, that’s life. So what he has to do is understand, I’m not going to get the best contributions to this board or this company, whatever it is, if I only go to my network, it’s easier. It’s faster, but it’s not good in the long run. 

I’ll give you an example: product recalls in companies with diverse boards go three times faster, someone can die if you do not recall certain kinds of product problems, right? So the reason why is because groupthink in environments where you are all very similar is extremely problematic. It happens all the time. It’s a shortcut our brain puts us through to be able to get to faster decisions and save energy. 

You know, if I’m with some other people who are like me, and I know one of them, you know, always does her homework, I might be less likely to do my homework. But if I’m in a diverse group, and I’m representing my unique position of what I know, I’m going to do my homework, show up prepared to be ready to advocate for my position. That’s an example of what happens in those group dynamics. 

There’s a great Stanford researcher, her name’s Amy Wilkinson, and she’s done research that shows when you have a diverse group, just like I just explained, everybody ups their game, everybody works harder, everybody does more and brings more to the table. It’s harder on the individuals and is harder on the leader. So that man or woman who is leading that board meeting, or that group, needs to actively work to create a sense of everybody’s engagement and contribution, and then they’ll have more risk management, better financial performance and decision making. And frankly, in this day and age with lightning fast social media, etc, you will have less risk of the company making a big misstep.

“…a lot of the historical reasons for not having women on boards, for women not being in the C suite are gone. So women have more education than men, black women have the highest level of education in the United States of America. We have more women who have literally achieved equal footing in terms of wealth in the United States. … the only thing that’s stopping us is the bias in the system and the broken ladder that we find throughout the process…” – Julie Castro Abrams.

Joanne Tan  6:22  

Yes, what I heard from the corporate leaders is that diverse groups, truly diverse groups, they perform better, period. Yeah. And also, it’s like the avoidance of echo chambers. If you have a bunch of very similar backgrounds, similar points of view sitting together, they don’t see their own blind spots, and they don’t have the challenges, they’re not held to a higher level of performance and thinking. If they feel the pressure being challenged, because the group is diverse, then everybody performs better. Yes, I totally agree with that.

Julie Abrams  6:58  

That actually is in every single area of life and work. It’s not just the boardroom. Right.

Joanne Tan  7:05  

I wish that applies to politics, but…

Julie Abrams  7:10  

It does apply, but it doesn’t mean that we do it.

Joanne Tan  7:14  

That’s true. It’s party-line entrenched. Politics is not a football game, but too bad, many people play it, to their disadvantage, viewing it as a sport. 

Okay, so number three is:

How is How Women Lead similar to and different from the feminist movement? 

Julie Abrams  7:39  

I mean, the feminist movement depends on which one you’re talking about. There have been many, many, many over the years and over times and in different cultures. And in this feminism means you want to see everybody have an equal opportunity, you want women to have equal opportunities. My guess is, the United States population, let’s say, what percentage of women should have equal opportunities? My guess is 95% of the people are going to say yes. If you say feminism where people have it, so misconstrued, half of the people will say yes, and so I really think it’s just got a bad rap. 

How Women Lead is all about feminism. We’re all about equity for women, period. So we tackle the areas where there is the biggest inequity and the biggest opportunity to influence, equity and justice for women and people of color across the board. So that’s things like 2%, only 2% of every venture dollar that’s invested in companies is invested in women founders, it’s abysmal. 98% goes to men. And so if you think about that, that is, it is so egregious, you know, there’s deep bias in that system, there’s no way you could argue that there aren’t. And of course, we’ve proven that there are plenty of women ready to be invested. In fact, Morgan Stanley did a report in the fall that said, you can put $4 trillion into the hands of investors, we could make massive amounts of wealth. 

If we just invested in the women founded companies out there, as a society, we’re leaving massive amounts of wealth on the table. But to me, women have some things that we can do better, we need to step up and start investing in ventures. And if we don’t start doing it, we’re leaving power, influence and wealth on the table. Venture capitalists are the first board members to serve in early stage companies. They are the ones who make or break it when you have brands and products that you want out in the marketplace. And of course, you know when women leaders are funded and grow big enough companies, they won, they amass a lot of wealth, often they will then start, you know, playing venture themselves, they’ll start being a venture capitalist. And this cycle becomes elevated and richer. You know we have got to start using our money and our power and influence to move the needle for all of us.

Joanne Tan  10:23  

Yes. And that is so timely. Historically, during the Civil War, it was the group of women who were first to petition for the 13th amendment. And, and the women’s suffrage, about 100 years ago, without their active participation and advocating our rights, we will never have the voting rights for ourselves. So however you label it, time is now for women to be treated equally, and not to be biased against. 

Julie Abrams  11:04  

Can I just say, Joanne, a lot of the historical reasons for not having women on boards or not, for women not being in the C suite are gone. So women have more education than men, black women have the highest level of education in the United States of America. We have more women who have literally achieved equal footing in terms of wealth in the United States. Now, a lot of that was generational transfer, or inherit, you know, wealth that was inherited by somebody else, or you got it through your spouse. So women aren’t necessarily always making the money themselves, but we have it. And we need to step into the power and use that wealth. Well, 30 years ago, you know, there were only a handful of women who were working, or working in, in professional executive careers. Now, you know, the only thing that’s stopping us is the bias in the system and the broken ladder that we find throughout the process, but women are prepared, educationally experienced, and with the power, influence and wealth if we want to step into it.

Joanne Tan  12:12  

Okay, so the next question is very relevant to mothers because it is a personal issue, as well as a societal issue:

Some women believe that being the best mothers they can be IS leadership since women raise their sons and daughters as the future male and female leaders. In doing the best they can, in a traditional role, like Barbara Bush, women are leading too in that regard. What is your view on the diverse approaches to women’s leadership?

Julie Abrams  12:51  

Well, I agree with that 100%, I have a son and a daughter and so they’re adults, and they’re amazing human beings. And so I feel like, you know, the definition, there’s this definition called the “ideal” worker, it’s somebody who can work 90 hours a week and get on airplanes, and do whatever they need to do, they’re going to sacrifice everything for the company. That’s an old archetype, it is, it is unhealthy. It’s not sustainable for men or women at this point. And so I think we have to completely shift how we think and create flexibility both at work and in just life stages.

There’s a friend of mine, Lisa Stromberg, who wrote a book, and she researched all of these working mothers who had taken some time off at some point in time. And her research showed that ultimately, if it was within a reasonable amount of time, like a couple of years, when people went back to work, they got right back on and did just as well as their peers in terms of their career. So our lives are long, you know, creating some flexibility and how we think about when we work full steam ahead, when we take a break, whether it’s kids or whether it’s caring for your parents, or whether it’s wanting to go do some social work, you know, in another country as a Peace Corps volunteer for a year or two. A lot of people make choices like that throughout their careers, and I think it makes you richer and better. But to me, you know, ultimately, I’ve accomplished a great deal in my career. The very best thing I’ve ever done is raising my beautiful children, and they’re strong, they’re smart, they’re kind, they’re responsible, and they care about the world. Next to me what could be better?

Joanne Tan  14:36  

Yes, I myself took years off raising my two sons. And it wasn’t an easy choice, You devote your full time raising them when they’re small, when they need you the most, when they’re being molded. So I don’t regret that. But I admit after they’re grown up I finally got the chance to fully live my dreams, and do what I love every day, you know, I don’t have enough hours in the day to enjoy my work. It’s not like really work, it’s like vacationing every day. Because at different stages in our life, we make choices. And motherhood is a sacred duty, and your own children, they can only bond with you for so little time when they’re small, you know, that’s the infancy stage.

Julie Abrams  15:33  

I just wish people didn’t see it as black or white. It’s not, you know, it’s not one or the other, there’s a million ways to do it and do it beautifully. I have. I have siblings, one who has worked but didn’t work in it with the intensity of leadership that I did, I have another who stayed at home with her kids, and another who’s gone in and out of staying at home. And we all have built different skill sets and different experiences that add to who we are. …my belief and experience because we had enough resources to be safe and have support. And we were very lucky. But all of our kids are thriving, regardless of what that composition of, you know, the mother’s engagement at different moments in time has been. So I think there’s all kinds of things that can work. I know that, you know, research says that working moms have more of their daughters, often, and sons, who’ll have more executive success. I don’t know, I feel like I’ve seen it all over the map per name, my personal experience, but what is kind of fun is my kids will say to me, you know, all the things they heard me negotiating on, you know, on the phone, while they were in the room, if you will, for work, etc, all these messages about how to be at work, they took them with them and it’s made, they say they can hear my voice in their ear while they’re working about you know, be direct, be crisp, get to the point, tell me what the goal is what’s the best possible outcome like all those mantras that you know as a as a leader that I am always saying to the people around me, you know, they they got a little bit of a leg up because at least they heard all that language. 

Joanne Tan

So, there is no one universal recipe for everybody because every family is different,… 

Julie Abrams:

… the different family members and friends with kids with special needs or other challenges. And and in some people you know, are better at multitasking, some people thrive on the chaos, some people need the

Joanne Tan  17:53  

Right and the choices are different. And the support system is different, each family has a different support system. So um, so we do respect every woman’s choice based on what they have, and what their priorities are at certain stages of their life. And I do want to follow up on the point you mentioned that when the old prototype of corporate “superman”, “superwoman” is not healthy. 

So pandemic has this silver lining of reminding us what can be accomplished efficiently without being trapped in an old assembly line model, but the new model is a platform model that people can collaborate online. And of course, there are things that online meetings and online task management are not enough; you do need some kind of a contact sports for teams. 

You need people to get together you know, as a team, but I think we’re moving toward an era where more flexibility is allowed for motherhood, for men supporting raising children, and the society because it takes a village to raise kids. Society is taking more shares to shoulder the burdens more equally. We can talk about that subject for a long time. 

Now, let me move on to the next question:

The term women of color can be Latino heritage, African Americans, Asians, etc. So for limited board seats, how do you handle the “competitions” among different groups of women minorities?

Julie Abrams  19:51  

World competition suggests that it’s a pie and there’s a lot you know, there’s so many opportunities and I don’t see it as the company addition. And to me, it’s just a conscious choice to say, we need different perspectives. I don’t have to tell you, you know, the suggestion that all Asians or all Latinos are somehow one type of person is insanity. You know, you can have such diversity just with Korean women, let alone comparing Japanese women to Chinese women to Thai women to Korea, I mean, that diversity is tremendous. 

So, you know, I think it is necessary to get people to change and evolve to give them carrots and sticks to say, it is absolutely required to get women and diversity on your board. But the suggestion that it’s sort of like, okay, I met my one quota of one woman of color, she’s here to represent every single type of woman in the United States. It’s insanity. 

So I would love to see boards filled with women of every different background. And if you have five Korean women, it doesn’t mean they all have the same perspective, either. depending on their age, their educational background, their areas of expertise, where they’re from, what their culture is, you know, it’s the diversity that makes it beautiful. And, and it may get us out of groupthink and the dangers of that,

Joanne Tan  21:17  

Yes, you just answer almost my next question, which is:

How do you handle racial and gender stereotypes? and reverse discrimination?

Julie Abrams  21:28  

Well, what do you mean reverse discrimination?

Joanne Tan  21:38  

The “politically correct” version of discrimination is like, men discriminate against women, and white discriminate against the color. So what if it reverses –  color discriminates against the white and women discriminate against men? 

Julie Abrams  21:56  

I mean, listen, when you’re the dominant group, when you even you get 98% of all venture funding, when you have 83% of all public company board seats, when you have, you know, 60% of all private company board seats, the suggestion you’re being discriminated against that somehow you get that next slot, as opposed to, you know, a mandate that says you need to have diversity, so it’s safer. I just think that’s baloney. And, you know, I, you know, we have this venture fund, right. And  constantly men are applying for funding. And I say to them, we’re trying to address the fact that only 2% of venture dollars goes to women founded companies and these, some of these guys get mad and argue with me, I’m like, this is the thesis of our fund, and you can talk all you want, it doesn’t matter. But I just think that there’s this sense that like, I deserve everything. And if anything is outside of my reach, it’s discrimination. 

And that’s just unacceptable thinking, So… I’m married to a Mexican immigrant, and we have two kids that are half Mexican. And they also won the genetic lottery. Both of them skipped a grade. They’re both extremely healthy and successful. And our son took every AP class, got straight A’s. And in addition to skipping a grade, and getting all those being brilliant, he also physically is very strong. So he was one of the top 10 swimmers in the United States of America. And he was recruited by every single university in the country, all the top ones because the other ones he didn’t even try. And he ended up choosing to go to Harvard. And my daughter was in the line at Starbucks to get a cup of coffee. And she heard some kids, a couple people in front of her saying, Hey, did you hear that? (…)  got into Harvard? And one of them said, yeah, it’s because he’s Mexican. 

Now, you know, they can choose to look at it that way. They could also think like, he’s just better than us at every single thing. I mean, he just, he just lucked out. It’s not it, you know, I’m not taking any credit for any of it. But to suggest that, you know, to always carry that around, you know, that it is to me, right there is racism, racism and discrimination like that, that sort of belief that, you know, anyone who’s got to drop a brown and um, somehow couldn’t possibly have gotten it on their own merits is is so wrongheaded. 

But it’s constant, and as a white person who’s very moved in this world, with, you know, a decent amount of privilege and, but also a lot of understanding because I live with an immigrant. And I’ve spent my entire life working with, you know, in supporting people of color. I’ll tell you, I hear it all the time. In these just these subtle, racist comments. 

I was in a board meeting. We were getting some research about the composition, you know what percentage of the population is going to be, you know, different ethnicities going forward? and a white woman leans over to me and she says, Well, well, where does that leave us? As if somehow, like, fewer white people mean something less for white people. It’s just outrageous that we continue to think in these ways, but it’s this tribal small thinking mentality that, you know, more for you means less for me somehow, as opposed to the pie grows, which it does. We all make more money, when we do things in a way that gives equal opportunity to everybody. It literally does not take anything away from the white guy.

Joanne Tan  25:50  

Right. So it’s the point of scarcity, out of fear-zero sum game, “if they-win, I-lose”, that kind of mentality, again, relating to the football game mentality toward politics, versus from viewing from plentifulness, that we all grow the bigger pie together, instead of fighting over the crumbs. We all contribute to growing a bigger pie. And everybody, you know, is better off, which is the fact.

Julie Abrams  26:24  

there is this research, or this little research that just came out? That said it was talking about gamers that so the male gamers who are B players, they’re not great. They are violently against and say nasty, negative things about women gamers.

Julie Abrams  26:47  

But the A player guys treat women equally. So it’s kind of interesting too, is to think about who is the source? Is it that A guy? Is it really, you know, the the men who are the most intelligent and successful? Or is it that B person who’s threatened because they actually don’t have the skills to get into? They can’t qualify for Harvard, or they don’t have the best business and shouldn’t be getting venture investment? You know it to me, I think we have to also always just kind of go Huh, where’s that? What’s that about? Why are you so threatened by me? Is there a reason why you’re so worried about it not being an equal? about it being an equal playing field? Do you really feel like you’re not up for it? I think that’s the sort of mirror I’d like to just say, it looks really ugly when you look so insecure. So don’t say these negative things about women and people of color, because it clearly shows that you’re not up for the task. 

Joanne Tan  27:51  

Right.  They’re trying to cover up their own insecurity by projecting it out to some groups they can victimize. It’s a projection, psychologically…

Julie Abrams  28:05  

But people don’t really do this intentionally. Oh, yes. Oh, you know, part of it. You’re like, Oh, I mean, if you can step back and think like, I feel sorry for you, because clearly you don’t feel like you’re good. 

Joanne Tan  28:19  

Let’s follow that line of thought. So it’s in our interest, men and women’s interest, aspiring men and women’s interests, to put the best in a leadership position, the A players, the true A players in a leadership, whether they’re men or women. Good. So the quota mentality. It’s like, Oh, I don’t care whether women are qualified or not. There’s a quota here for the public board, and therefore everybody should have a woman whether they’re qualified or not. What do you think of that?

Julie Abrams  29:01  

And even that is even on the table. No unqualified women are getting on public company boards, Joanne it just doesn’t happen. And there are a lot of unqualified men. So let’s just be clear, Anita Sands is a great public company director, she’s a brilliant, wonderful woman. And she says like the day we have unqualified women on the board will know that we’ve made it, we know we’ve met some kind of equality somehow, you know, you finally get unqualified women on board. You know, if you look at women CEOs of big companies, they are so head and shoulders above the rest in terms of their qualifications, skills, training, you know, and just their own personal capacity. Because in order to ever get there, you have to be the absolute best. There’s no way you’re being passed along. If you’re, if you’re a woman or a woman of color, you fight for every single thing that you get.

Joanne Tan  29:56  

That’s true. I agree with that. Because it takes a lot more than men to “prove” ourselves. But if men or women proved to be not deserving a certain position, they screw up. Well, women have an equal chance to screw up. You know, be realistic. But the opportunities should be the same,

Julie Abrams  30:24  

For anyone. So if you have, you know, given three women CEOs out of the 500, fortune 500 companies, I think maybe it’s five right now, I don’t know, it’s not very many. You know, if you have such a small number, and one of them screws up, people are like, Oh, that’s why, you know, that’s why you shouldn’t have women, which is so wrongheaded. And the other thing is, she may screw up. But most of the time, what happens is they bring in women when the company’s failing. If you look at all the women CEOs of the very top companies, it’s very rare that they’re brought in with a company that’s thriving. They’re coming in to clean it up and rescue and so the likelihood that they’re going to be successful is even more challenging.

Joanne Tan  31:10  

Yes, that’s awful.  I hope they will bring us on whenever they bring men on, you know, we’re not supposed to just clean up, but we can lead the company to thrive. So, again, it’s an equal opportunity issue. So number nine, my question is:

In light of the partisanship and divisiveness in our country, would you want How Women Lead to contribute to the unity of the country? If so, in what ways?

Julie Abrams  31:42  

Of course, but out, I’ll tell you, for me, there’s some conversations about unity that are happening that I will not buy into, I will not buy into going backwards, or unity and in a way that sacrifices justice and equity for people. So personally, I am going to fight for what’s right, not always what unifies. Now, I would love it, to me, my whole raison d’etre, my whole purpose in the world is love. I can understand you and not want to unify or agree with you, you know, I could care for you and still believe that what you’re doing is wrong. But I will not ever, I just,… that’s probably why I can’t run for public office, because I’m not going to compromise my integrity ever. For me, that’s the bottom line. So if somebody else thinks unifying means we compromise, I am not going to compromise things. But for me, that should be hard and fast rules.

Joanne Tan  32:44  

That is such a perfect segue to my next question, which is:

Would you prefer America to be a melting pot, or a salad bowl?

Julie Abrams  32:55  

Oh, I’ve noticed …melting pot means everybody is gray and looks to be in the same. I love cultures, I love differences. I just wish we could respect and be in, and lean in and try to understand, you know, figure out where you coming from? And how can this add value to what we’re doing, as opposed to feeling threatened by it? or other ways somehow. 

I’ll tell you anything’s kind of interesting. Joanne. You know, I grew up in Iowa, white person, lovely, good education. Very little diversity. So actually, in some ways, I think I wasn’t taught some of the hate that a lot of people were taught because there was nobody close enough for anyone to point out right. Everything that was happening was on TV. But I didn’t have … I feel like, and most white people in the United States feel this way. Like there isn’t a culture and you feel like you’re missing out. And you feel a little jealous. And for me, I was like, Oh, I can’t wait to learn about all these different cultures and really get to know people, understand their food and their language and everything else. 

But I think a lot of white Americans actually get threatened by it, because they’re, they don’t understand it. And they’re a little jealous. And so they, instead of being open hearted, open minded and leaning in, they actually kind of do the opposite, which is, you know, isolate and hunker down. But I really think it’s because there isn’t a sense of unification. So when you look at the last couple years, this like, “make America great again”, go back, it’s like go back to what, you know, there isn’t an American culture that you can get your arms around and say, let’s all unify behind this. 

Individualism is one of the biggest things about our culture. Well, that in and of itself suggests there’s not a unifying message. The whole point is like, as if there’s a meritocracy and a bootstrapping, you know, but people, everyone in the United States knows there are limits. It’s not a true meritocracy. Even for white people. There’s always someone, well, you’re someone with more access, someone with more something, it makes you mad and they can’t understand it, they haven’t figured out the why around it. So they want to blame somebody else. It’s just like the person blame it, you know, saying my son was going to Harvard because he’s Mexican. You know, it’s, it’s them not trying, wanting to understand or accepting that they themselves, you know, might have some limitations.

Joanne Tan  35:26  

Yes. So I wrote a blog just a couple of weeks ago, it’s about poetically and metaphorically speaking, you either live in an ever shrinking world of yourself, withdraw, because you view everything else as a threat to you, so that is like a life of a black hole, okay? Or, like a life of a Big Bang, you keep expanding, keep growing, keep expanding, and embrace the difference, embracing the novelty, and you enrich your life that way. There’s, it’s just the universal language of binary. Two ways of being, you know, and so it is our American challenge, it’s our global challenge, because we are getting to be such a smaller, ever increasing smaller world due to the digital connectedness, and how do you have this common thread of humanity, at the same time, celebrate diversity, and culture, and still keep the community, the country together? It’s always going to be a challenge. And at the end of

Julie Abrams  36:37  

Literally, the way our human brains work is our heuristic. It is literally from caveman days, we classify things and people, we try and figure out what’s dangerous to us. We try to organize things, no matter what color, they’re all apples, right? Whatever that heuristic is, and we have to work against that, in this world that we are. So you have to actually acknowledge and undo our conditioning, our thinking about, you know, what, you know,…

Joanne Tan  37:12  

What is the true threat,

Julie Abrams  37:15  


Joanne Tan  37:15  

Yeah, because the common humanity is the overwhelming theme, that is, we need to train the next generation, train ourselves, and to deal with our own biases.

Julie Abrams  37:30  

Certainly, you know, there’s discomfort in different moments of that, like, you know, you go to France. And, you know, the French people think Americans are too brash, and they’re too this or they’re too whatever, right? And you can feel it, sometimes that backlash, right? I don’t mean to pick on French people, but it’s something we all understand, I think that cultural thing, that doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t feel good to have to feel like you have, when you don’t know the dominant culture that you’re screwing up. And it’s in all kinds of cultures, some cultures, it’s like, don’t look at me in the eye, don’t touch the person’s, you know, shake the person’s hand in a certain way, or whatever it is their cultural frames, and you have to learn them.

If you have a little bit of ego or narcissism that stops you from wanting to learn that culture first, you’re gonna feel rejected because someone’s gonna bristle at you, because you’re not, you’re not doing it the right way. You’re doing it in a way that’s counter to that, uncomfortable for that culture. So there are little landmines that you have to know and be ready for, and want to learn and lean in. But I think we’re so narcissistic and egocentric in the United States, we’re so nationalist. We think somehow everybody should want to be like Americans. And, you know, it’s

Joanne Tan  38:47  

Yes, the hubris.

Julie Abrams  38:49  

We’re fortunate, we’re not, … we’re setting ourselves up for failure and this diversity world in terms of some of the cultural frames here- 

Joanne Tan  38:56  

The failure of COVID, leading the world with a death toll is a slap on our face. We need to be more humble, we need to, you know, stop thinking we’re number one. At the same time, striving to be the best, to be the beacon on the hill for the rest of the world by how we deal internally with racial diversity, with ethnicity and all the different subcultures in this overwhelming American culture. 

Okay, so next question is:

Women are not immune from vices. What are the typical women’s vices?

Julie Abrams  39:40  

Well, Vice to me is generally something like you know, you drink your smoke or whatever. But let’s talk about just like cultural behaviors. There’s this professor from Dartmouth Her name’s Dr. Ella Bell, and I got to hear her and read her book this summer. And it was really transformational for me, she looked at the career trajectories of black women and white women, just those two groups, and what were the different influences along the way. And when she asked black women, who do you admire the most, they could rattle off, you know, historical figures, current figures, etc. 

When she asked white women, they’re like, Huh, it was very hard for them to say, who, which women do you admire? And then she asked, do you respect and admire your mother, and no matter how crappy their mother might be, black women, overall, admired and respected their mothers and white women didn’t. And I’m telling you this to give you some insights into there’s a real cultural frame, where white women don’t trust each other, and they undermine each other. It is a cultural thing that we grow up with it, we get it, honestly. But we need to undo it. 

And so I think it I don’t think you can say all women are monolithic. But there’s this “mean girl” scarcity behavior that happens with women that hurts us all, and we have to change it. I grew up with that. And I’m actively trying to undo that every minute. Another thing that we do as women is we act like our contacts and connections are scarce. Or that it will be a massive reflection upon us if we make an introduction, and someone isn’t perfect, and that and so we hold our connections really close to our chest. And that’s also very dangerous. 

For us, it means we’re not getting introductions for board opportunities. We’re not knowing women, other women are not actively sponsoring us or speaking up for us when we’re not in the room. They’re not, they’re not extending their privilege, and if you interview a bunch of women. Men do it for them more than women do.

So women can and must be better in those ways. The other thing is, a lot of us are taught culturally, and myself included, it’s better to be behind the scenes, don’t take up too much airspace, don’t be too visible. And it also again hurts us. Because Joanne, when you are shrinking, my daughter’s watching you she watches how you hold yourself. So we need women to stand up and be confident and even get out of your own narrative or story that the culture has taught us, and be unabashedly visible. So I think if there’s some very clear counter cultural things that we can do as women that would help everybody else, the ripple effect is really significant if we do that.

Joanne Tan  42:44  

Very insightful. Number 12 Question, I asked this to every person I interview for this podcast. Okay:

What does your brand stand for? Julie’s brand.

Julie Abrams  43:02  

You’re the brand expert, I’d love to turn that around and ask you. What do you think my brand stands for?

Joanne Tan  43:09  

Look at my tagline. 10 Plus Brand, “Stand for something”.  That “stand for something” is what my brand stands for. And how I brand and coach people, coach CEOs to do, when I decode their DNA is like, the whole process is to decode what is the reason why you’re doing what you’re doing? What’s the journey, the meandering journey to some people, leading up to what you’re doing, from childhood? Okay, and who are your target audience? And what are their pain points, that your solutions are the best fit, for your target? And how do you serve them? And understand your competitive landscape? Comparing with people who are doing the same thing more or less of what you’re doing? How do you differentiate your brand?… so,…

Julie Abrams  44:08  

I can tell you, for me, it’s justice. It’s equity. It’s racial justice and equity as much as it is gender justice and equity equity. It is women coming together to create the things that society isn’t offering them, for example, creating our own venture funds. You know, women creating a structure where women actively get other women on board. To me, you know, if we want more women leading in film, we should fund the women leading and film and we should actively promote and go see those films. That’s part of my thing. 

And I say, you know, we have this generation of women who are, you know, in their middle essence that 45 to 65 range. It is for the first time ever we have a very large number of women executives in that space, who have some power, some wealth and some influence. They’re a huge lever. And if we activate them and, you know, connect with their better instincts and their goals to have an impact and leave a legacy, and to give them a path and do it in community, do it together and have fun. We can change, we can change these structures that have held all of us back, not just women. 

Joanne Tan  45:29  

So, “achieving justice and equity for women, passionately.” That’s your brand. That would be yours. So impressive. 

Okay, number 13. Finally:

I want to share these two things with you. Okay. And hear your opinion. on International Women’s Day, a woman posted this on LinkedIn and got many likes. It says “I am a (cross out: female) leader.” So instead of “ I’m a female leader”, I am a leader. 

Julia Abram:

Yeah, I love that. 

Okay. Then number two is this picture. You know, for my podcast audience, I will describe this picture, briefly. So side by side one is “equity” on the right, and the other is “equality” on the left. So under “equality”, everybody has a different age and different height, the three year old and eight year old and the dad the tallest all have one wood box. Yeah. And then they’re all watching a game. So the dad is like, three heads above the fence. And nine year old is one head above the fence and the three year old, even with the same sized wood box beneath him cannot see over the fence, cannot watch the game. That’s “equality”. 

“Equity”, is that the dad has no woodbox, the eight year old, or the nine year old has one and the three year old has two, so Dad gives him his, and the boxes stacked up. So now the three year old can see over the fence and everybody can see the game. 

 So first question is, “I am a (crossed-out female)  leader.” What do you think of that?

Julie Abrams  47:25  

Well, I think it’s liberating because in the United States, actually saying a female leader, in some ways is almost an oxymoron. It is not culturally, something that we actually can identify. And I think that’s what we’re working against as women leaders.  In Stanford’s Clayman Institute calls it the “likeability penalty”. You know, women are always either you’re too aggressive, or you’re too passive, you’re too this, are you too that, it is almost impossible to walk on that tightrope constantly. And women leaders are challenged by other women and men. And I work with women CEOs, to really sort of acknowledge it, and the cost to all of us, lack of productivity, people’s sustainability and ability to grow things because we are not given an equal playing field. We don’t have the right razors, it’s unacceptable. And we all need to be paying attention.

Joanne Tan  48:36  

So as long as people view a woman or female leader as a FEMALE leader, that bias is already built into the judgment of her. So no matter what she does, whether aggressive or non aggressive, it will be judged against her. So the best way is just:  she is a leader, period. 

Okay, so what about this:

Equality vs Equity

Julie Abrams  49:03  

Well, I mean, I think you named it beautifully. And in this is the thing. If everybody can’t see the game, the the dad’s gonna have to constantly explain to the three year old, what’s happening, he is going to be distracted by the three year old, it is so much better for everyone, if everyone gets a chance to see the game, and to have an opinion and to engage. It’s more fun for everybody. And so that’s what I would like to see. If all of us just listen, it is. It’s conscious, it’s not an unconscious thing, because our unconscious state puts us into a system of bias that we have to undo actively. So it takes work. But the benefits are tremendous.

Joanne Tan  49:50  

And that’s the perfect answer to my prior question about having “quota” for public boards. Yes, in the beginning, when we are so disadvantaged in terms of the opportunity, we need that extra wood crate beneath us, but the three year old will not be three year old forever, the three year old will soon grow up to be tall enough to watch the game himself. So women at this stage, we do need this system to give us an equal playing field because we were disadvantaged severely. But this is not going to be the forever solution. 

Julie Abrams  50:34  

Let me just give you one reason why most board seats, 85% of board seats, are filled through word of mouth, referrals from other board members. As I talked about, in the beginning of our interview, if all of your contacts look just like you, and you’re just making referrals from your close networks, you will never diversify boards. By forcing the issue and requiring if you have seven or more directors, you have to have three women on your board in California, that means when new board seats open up, three out of the seven people are going to have different networks now. So in concept, over time, it’s not just a matter of people accepting the contribution of women, literally, there will be more people at the table making those decisions, bringing people into those networks. There’s nothing equitable about how boards are built in our country right now. It is rife with bias. That’s you can call it proximity bias, you know, there’s a, you know, 280 types of biases in the human brain.

Joanne Tan  51:42  

So I do have one more question. Okay.

Imagine how politically incorrect to have an organization called “How Men Lead”. Do you foresee that someday we no longer need to have gender based, ethnicity and race based organizations like “How Women Lead”?

Julie Abrams  52:02  

Maybe? I do know that there is, you know, when you people in you know, you talked about the salad. I think  it’s really there are a time and a place where it’s really fun to get together with people just like you. You’re literally, your nervous system relaxes when people are like you and get you. Sure, wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t, if we didn’t, if there was no element lead wouldn’t exist. If there wasn’t if there was complete equity and justice, there wouldn’t be an impetus to make it happen. But I like hanging around with other women. You know, I hope we always get that opportunity. 

Joanne Tan  52:47  

Yeah, men have their own exclusive clubs, too, you know.

Julie Abrams  52:51  

And, you know, what if it wasn’t so destructive with, in all these other ways, if it didn’t reinforce negative things or create less value, or injustice, wouldn’t be so bad. But unfortunately, what could be seen as something innocuous ultimately causes problems?

Joanne Tan  53:09  

I see. It’s gonna be some years. It’s gonna be a long time.

Julie Abrams  53:14  

Right now they say 280 years. So I don’t think we really have to worry right now about the moment we get to equity. We can leave that for the next five generations from now.

Joanne Tan  53:25  

Yeah. I agree with you. Totally. Well, thank you so much. This is very helpful. Very. And I truly,… my hat’s off to your courage, to your passion and your leadership. Thank you. And look forward to working with you in  How Women Lead.


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