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Recording available: Fourth UCOP Leading Toward Equity session

Jenny Kao, chief of staff to President Drake, President’s Executive Office; Nathan Brostrom, executive vice president and chief financial officer for the University of California; and Epiphanie Gillette, executive advisor, UC Legal.

Thank you to the colleagues who joined us for our final Leading Toward Equity session of 2023. Hosted by the Office of Workplace Inclusion & Belonging and Internal Communications, this series features unscripted conversations with leaders across UCOP on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), and our efforts toward becoming an anti-racist organization.

The Leading Toward Equity series has a central premise: Becoming an anti-racist organization is a journey that will take time and continual effort. There is not a single group or office within UCOP that is solely responsible for that journey or advancing a culture of EDI at UCOP.

The Dec. 11 session featured Jenny Kao, chief of staff to President Drake, President’s Executive Office, and Nathan Brostrom, executive vice president and chief financial officer for the University of California. The session was moderated by Epiphanie Gillette, executive advisor, UC Legal.

Epiphanie guided Jenny and Nathan in sharing who they are, how they identify in life and how those identities influence how they show up at work. Throughout the conversation, Nathan and Jenny also shared personal stories and insights on the impact of their upbringing and families; how they navigate the assumptions they encounter as a white male and one of the highest ranking Asian American women in the UC system, respectively; facets of privilege; vulnerability and risk; and how we can bridge across differences, particularly in the UCOP community.

Watch the recording here (Box login required)

Session highlights

Jenny Kao on who she is and how her identities influence how she shows up at work

“I identify first and foremost as an Asian American woman. I go back and forth between describing myself as that or just saying ‘woman of color.’ But there are specific things about being Asian that also define me, and how I show up at work. I was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and my parents immigrated with my sister and me to the U.S. when I was five years old. They made a really hard decision to come here — to uproot everything and come to a foreign land where they didn’t know the language or the culture and didn’t know how they were going to work to survive, feed us and raise us.”

Jenny Kao on the question, “As one of the highest ranking Asian American women in UC, what assumptions have you encountered and how have you navigated them?”

“I have to say that hearing [you describe me in that way] is such an odd thing for me. It’s an honored acknowledgment, but it’s really hard for me to hear it. I think it’s because I came up through the ranks of the UC system. I started my career at Berkeley almost 30 years ago…

People have probably underestimated me, in part because of my Asian heritage. It’s often assumed that I’ll be quiet, shy and not assertive. I don’t think that people who work with me necessarily believe that, so that’s a good thing. But I’ve had to work on exercising my voice and agency over the years.”

Nathan Brostrom on “As a white male, what assumptions have you encountered and how do you navigate them?”

“People assume that I will have the necessary credentials or capability, and so they’ll often look to me for leadership in areas where I think it’s unfair to others and also unfair for me [to do so]. That’s all just built on assumptions that we bring into our space. I certainly have enjoyed a lot of privilege because of being a white male.”

Nathan Brostrom on privilege:

“I think it’s given me opportunities that may not have been as readily available to others. It’s allowed me to have a leadership style that is different from other people’s. When I first went into banking and finance, I didn’t really have any role models. My dad was a minister, and my mother was a teacher. I was a little bit confused [and asked myself] ‘How do you behave? What’s your leadership style?’ I realized over time that the most effective style for me was to be authentic and to really reflect my values, which are focused on optimism and looking at opportunities rather than challenges. But I think [that this approach has been possible] because I am a white male [and I know it tends to] be harder for women and other folks. That’s not something I take lightly.”

Jenny Kao on how we bridge across differences, particularly within our UCOP community:

“Everything starts with awareness and self-awareness. You have to have awareness to recognize differences and your own biases. I also think you have to be open to continually learning and constantly improving. A lot of us say we are, but we might actually exhibit defensive behaviors. I spent a lot of my early years being very insecure and defensive, and defensiveness is really a killer for ongoing dialogue, learning and connection.”

Nathan Brostrom on how we bridge across differences, particularly within our UCOP community:

“Listen, listen, listen! But listen critically, with the hope that you are going to get a better understanding of the person and their experience. And listen with sympathy, but also empathy… Truly listening to other people who have a different background or different perspective not only can help bridge some of these divides, but also can enrich your life and the perspectives you have.”

Nathan Brostrom on vulnerability

“My father died the year after I graduated from college. I was a young analyst at an investment bank that’s known for 80-hour workweeks, with no vacations. About halfway into my first year, I went to the head of the office, and said, ‘My father is dying, and I really want to go and spend time with him.’ Without a second thought, [my manager let me take the time]. I think it was six weeks off, which was just unheard of. I was so nervous to ask; I thought I might just have to quit and leave the firm. But I was heartened to find someone who was so counter to the hardcore trend of Wall Street.”

Jenny Kao on vulnerability

“I lead with vulnerability, because if you can’t be your authentic self and be a leader who’s vulnerable, how are others supposed to know that it’s OK?”

Epiphanie Gillette on the importance of these conversations:

“I want to thank both Jenny and Nathan for being such vulnerable leaders… To bring your authentic selves to these conversations is very difficult, but I think you can see from the comments in the chat, and just the comments that we’ve gotten in person, live, that it’s so important for you all to set the tone for others to be able to come to work as their authentic selves.”

Previous Leading Toward Equity events

Sept. 15, 2023: September recording | September summary
— Charlie Robinson, general counsel and senior vice president, Legal Affairs
— Marie Hairston, associate vice president of Systemwide HR Strategy and Staff EDIB
— Günter Waibel, associate vice provost and executive director at the California Digital Library (moderator)

May 10, 2023: May recording | May summary
— Rachael Nava, executive vice president and chief operating officer
— Paul Williams, associate vice president and chief procurement officer
— Shirley Bittlingmeier, executive director, IT Client Services, Information Technology Services (moderator)

Feb. 15, 2023: February recording | February summary
— Pamela Brown, vice president, Institutional Research and Academic Planning
— Van Williams, vice president, Information Technology Services, and chief information officer, UC
— Andenet Emiru, director of external partnerships and projects at the Center for Data-driven Insights and Innovation (moderator)

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