As Vice President at the large management consulting firm Korn Ferry, Alicia Yi has risen in the ranks of female leadership and is today responsible for helping top companies improve and diversify their senior teams.
It’s a career path that has required huge leaps, including living and working across the continent, and accepting roles as one of the only women in the room.
One of the most challenging among them was to take a leading role in land management in her thirties, when she was the youngest and second only woman in her former company.
“The leadership role was one of the leading defining moments,” the vice president of the consumer market and services board and CEO told OilGasJobz Make It.
“People will say I do not look like an OMD (office managing director),” recalls Yi, who is also a member of the organization for young presidents. But when the existing male OMD told her she was incapable, she was more determined than ever.
“As soon as he yelled at me, I wanted it,” she said. “I felt like I wanted to see the change, I have to step into it,” she said.
It is a driving force that came from her upbringing.
Yi was born and raised in South Korea until the age of 11, when her family moved to the US, and noticed the influence of powerful women on her life.
“It’s personal because Korean culture is really dominated by men,” said Yi, who is now based in Singapore.
A traditionally patriarchal society, South Korea has the the largest gender pay gap of all OECD countries, with women earning 32.5% less than men in 2019. The pandemic is suspected exacerbated that gap.
Her father, one of eight children, was raised almost alone by Yi’s grandmother, who ran several small businesses at the same time to support the family. Only when Yi was in her twenties did she accidentally find out that her grandmother was illiterate and never went to school. As the fourth in a series of daughters, her grandmother’s first name is roughly translated as ‘fourth disappointment’, Yi said.
On the maternal side, Yi’s grandparents refused to pay for her mother’s education because she was a woman.
“Every opportunity I get – no matter how big or small – I have learned to share my voice, even if it’s not comfortable,” Yi said. “The sacrifices women have made in my family make me feel that I have received so much. I have to do it for them and for my two daughters.”
Yi noted, however, that drive and self-confidence are not always easy, and that it may prevent some women from aiming high.
“The amazing qualities that make women great leaders are also something that holds them back,” Yi said.
In 2017, Korn Ferry launched a extensive study to identify the common characteristics that unite successful female CEOs, and the development areas that businesses can focus on to create a strong pipeline of women leaders.
Analyzing 57 current and former Fortune 1,000 CEOs against Korn Ferry’s benchmark for leading CEOs, it was found that women at 16 out of 20 traits are equal to men, including agility, influence and assertiveness. However, over CEOs, credibility and humility, female CEOs fell short.
“Although they are very successful, they (women) refer more to others in their achievements,” Yi said.
“Men tend to have lower humility and higher self-esteem. The way women show self-confidence is very different: women are much more motivated by sense of purpose; for men it is often power and money,” she continues. results of the research.
As such, women need to focus on building their self-confidence and make an effort to shout about their own role in their achievements.
“You have to have the relevant experience, but also prepare yourself to have confidence,” Yi said. “Women tend to think they have to be perfect to get there. Men will not, and the confidence they show becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
The research also provided an outline of the competencies that companies consider to be essential requirements for CEO candidates. These include strategic vision and the ability to align managers with it, the power to engage and inspire people, and the conviction to hold people accountable for achieving their goals.
“There is a theme in our assessment findings: courage, risk, resilience, challenge and the management of ambiguity. More women need to tackle difficult and unpredictable assignments that will build these traits,” the report said.
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