Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, December 31, 1999

My wish for new century:
more women leaders

HAWAII'S key decision makers -- of various ethnicities and ages but still overwhelmingly male, and who include politicians, bankers, business and military leaders, school administrators and voters -- need to get more comfortable with a revolutionary concept. Ready? Women in pivotal leadership roles.

There. Was that so painful? Well, it shouldn't be.

Females make up more than 50 percent of the population. They are represented in every profession and are the majority in important fields such as education, health, office administration and social services.

Yet their numbers are incredibly few in the capacity of leaders and policy makers.

For example, in the 1999 Hawaii state Legislature, only five out of 25 senators are women; in the House, a mere 12 out of 51. The local House speakership or Senate presidency has never been held by a wahine.

The island electorate never has selected a female governor or U.S. senator. Nor has there been a woman leading the University of Hawaii, the state's largest banks, its utilities, police or fire departments, or any of its so-called Big Five companies.

Likewise, chief executive officers in skirts are sparse on the annual Hawaii Business Top 250 ranking of firms based on sales volume, except for those heading large family-run corporations.

Enough already. It's a new century. Gentlemen, how about sharing the reins of power with the ladies in your league? Ladies, how about volunteering to wield those reins?

This enlightened, egalitarian scenario won't and can't be accomplished, however, without a major change in mindset:

Bullet Instead of hiring and promoting in their own images, male bosses need to be reminded of the need for diversity in the workplace, especially at the higher echelons. Women already at the top need to pull up others to their heights.

Bullet Sexual harassment and crude humor must not be tolerated, as this perpetuates hurtful stereotypes thwarting the upward mobility of girls and women, and silently condones violence against them.

Bullet When mulling ballot choices, give the less-represented gender serious consideration for everything from congressional representative to neighborhood board member, since women tend to bring different priorities and approaches to the podium.

Bullet If women want more attention paid to their concerns in both public and private sectors, they must get elected to office and become the captains of industry. Therefore, how about more support for female candidates, who could use the commitment in both time and money? Or why not become a mentor, or actively look for one, while clambering up that steep corporate ladder or starting a business?

MEN have been running Hawaii (and the world, for that matter) throughout the 1900s, with mixed results and an incredibly low tolerance for change.

The 21st Century can only be enhanced if "the other half" of the population participates and actively joins in the leading, especially with all that needs to be accomplished.

This piece was written by Diane Yukihiro Chang, editorial page editor of the Star-Bulletin, and is featured in the new book, "21st Century Hawaii: 210 Great Ways to Get There/Bright Ideas From the Next Generation of Island Leaders" (Watermark Publishing, 1999, $12.95).

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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