Honored by the Anti-Defamation League Women of Achievement Award

Janet Lee, General Counsel at HERE
Chicago 41° 53' 2.9759999999997" N, -87° 37' 56.748" E

It was a real honor to receive the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) 2017 Women of Achievement Award this week. The ADL has been a protector of civil rights for over 100 years. This seems particularly important today, when divisions are so many and so deep. I was proud to represent HERE, where diversity is a core value and a key driver of our success. The unedited transcript of my acceptance speech follows.

It is an incredible honor to be standing here today in the company of this amazing group of honorees. Receiving recognition from a group with the mission and purpose of the ADL is humbling, and I want to thank Lonnie, Shoshana, Sara Hurwick, and the whole ADL organization for its work and commitment to eliminating bias everywhere.

In the context of the ADL mission and my own work at HERE, I thought I would take a moment to talk about the future. Right now, HERE is working on enabling the autonomous world -- a world in which all of reality is indexed; every road, trail, street light and building -- to allow people and things to move around autonomously -- in self driving cars, drones, and in smart cities.

Last month I was at a meeting where one industry colleague talked about flying cars being tested during this very year! In short -- we are on the brink of entering a new age, comparable to the transition from paper to digital and from stationary communication and work, to mobility.

Why do I bring this up today? There is something interesting about the companies and people building the autonomous world. Those companies and people are heavily dominated by men. Women today hold only about a fourth of US computing and mathematical jobs according to The Atlantic, a fraction that has actually fallen over the past 15 years.

And numbers do not tell the whole story. The culture is not inclusive. The Atlantic reported that in a recent survey, nearly all of the over 200 senior women in tech who responded had experienced sexist interactions.

What does it mean that the future is being crafted by a group of people who does not incorporate the broad, diverse approaches, tastes and points of view of the world?

It’s hard to contemplate the full implications, but of one thing I am confident -- that world will not be good enough.

It has taken me a long time to find my voice about the need for diversity and elimination of bias. I have not fully found that voice yet. My parents immigrated from Korea during the tumultuous years surrounding the Korean war. My mother fled north Korea with literally nothing but what she wore. She and my dad came to Ohio through the charity of caring people as young adults. Enduring incredible hardship, they gained educations, pulled themselves up from poverty, and eventually through sheer hard work sent me, my brother and sister to top universities in America. It is a classic story of immigration and the American dream played out every day in this great nation.

Growing up in a small town in upper Michigan where I attended school K-12 in one small school building, it was not easy being a minority in a school community in which minorities could be counted on one hand. I did not fully understand until I was an adult the amount of discrimination I encountered as a child and youth.

Culturally, coming from where we were, my response was exactly as expected -- heads down, do well at school and try your best not to bring attention to your differences. These same behaviors propelled me to academic success.

Through luck, circumstance and also some hard work, and through the incredible support and high expectations of my family, I have been so fortunate to have had an exciting and successful career. I think the secret sauce may have been how much I love practicing law and how naturally curious I am about technology. You might just call me geeky.

With maturity and the passage of time, I can see that doing well and achieving visibility and status in high tech as a woman and a minority woman to boot means something. In fact, having a point of view to contribute to this high-tech world of tomorrow is more than just meaningful --- it is essential.

At my job, it happens not infrequently that women earlier in their careers than me ask for mentoring and advice. They want to hear my story, and they often ask -- you are an executive in the company -- do you ever feel the effects of bias?

Oh my -- my answer is every day! I am "mansplained" at meetings more often than not, and yes, I do feel that that adage of working twice as hard for half the gain very much applies in technology companies for women. There is so much left to do and it is important that we work on it every day so that the future is inclusive of everyone, instead of enabling further divisions.

So, today I am being honored, but really it is the other way around. Without organizations like ADL helping forge a path I might not be standing here and so I think the honor really goes to ADL and all of you out there who are supporting it.

You may have been following the tumult in Silicon Valley related to gender bias in technology companies. It is incredible to observe a company as big and powerful as Uber being brought to the mat by issues of its internal culture. And yet, progress is slow to come.

At my company, we are working on it every day and I hope that in an environment of innovation, which is our pride and joy as a company, we will be able to unlock the door of true diversity and inclusion.

Our perspective on diversity has a keen spotlight from both the top -- with our new CEO, and from the bottoms up -- employees demanding we do better and become a thought leader and lead by example. This is an effort I am helping to champion. It is important that I have opportunities both in my role as a professional and personally to contribute.

And I do also celebrate what progress we have made. My wonderful family is here -- my husband Jonathan, my daughter Nina, and my son Sean. My oldest daughter, Abby, will go to college next year. They are such an inspiration to me. Abby recently complained to me that one of her STEM teachers treats the female students worse than the male students.

What is her reaction? Does she put her head down and double down to "prove it again" while her male counterparts don’t have to? Yes. But she also has righteous indignation that she and her ambitious girlfriends can talk about without shame. She does not try to hide her gender or her differences -- she has a voice. And so, progress can be seen and I thank the ADL community for helping make the lives of women in our next generations ever more empowered.

Thank you.

Topics: HERE, Editor's picks, What HERE does, We are HERE

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