In this series of short interviews, we ask the HOO KOO E KOO Council to share their hopes, fears, and predictions about the future.
I grew up in many very different places: Texas, New Jersey, and London at an international school, which gave me exposure to people from all around the world, and I am very grateful for that. I landed in my “adult life” in Atlanta, LA, and eventually New York. Since the start of the pandemic, I’m in Portland with my partner. We will get married and move to LA sometime in the middle of next year, as I have a new job now. I worked at one place for 20 years. It was an opportunity to build a brand, a culture and to think about making an impact with and through an organization. I learned a lot.
However, I believe now, into my next chapter, I just turned 50, I’m excited to be very intentional about how I spend my time, and that won’t ever be on any single thing. That’s been one thing exciting about joining the HOO KOO E KOO council network — that kind of approach seems to be a common thread among us.
I’m newly leading an organization that delivers a beverage platform that’s zero sugar, zero calories, with entirely plant-based sweeteners — Zevia. Zevia is B Corp, and is really walking the talk from a values perspective. As the company, we want to build a culture where a single parent could thrive at work. We don’t want to become a place where your responsibilities in your life conflict with your work. We want to embrace people with whole lives. I think that’s the key to real inclusion, and the only way we can have a diverse group of team members is to create an inclusive environment and supportive work environment.
I’ve also been for a few years now on the Board for the Trevor Project. It exists to end suicide among LGBTQ young people ultimately. And so, there are many ways that the Trevor Project supports that population and lets them know that they’re valued, that they can thrive in this world, and give them hope, connectivity, and community. The primary offering is a crisis hotline, providing connectivity, affirmation, and communication when it’s needed the most. Trevor also delivers advocacy, research, and education, and of course fundraising to continue the work. In different parts of my career, I touch on global health, sustainability, human rights and equality, and modern culture — those are some things that keep me going if you will.
At work, I have the responsibility to grow the business by selling beverages, but the work ladders up to global health and the environment in the core mission. When I am working at the Trevor Project, and I engage in a topic like strategic planning, I realize that we are doing work that saves lives — the faster we scale our reach, the more lives we save. The more LGBTQ young people we affirm. This perspective changes the way you think about strategic planning.
I’m learning to manage the schedule of having multiple engagements rather than doing one thing. However, I find that to do something really well, you don’t have to do it 50 to 60 hours a week. You just have to make clear smart disciplined choices surround yourself with super talented, engaged, honest, authentic people, and then work as a team.
There are times when I look around at the incentives of people in power and decide that there is no way to correct what’s happening to the planet.
Yet, the defeatist attitude has never fixed a destructive trajectory.
In my lifetime, I’ve seen such a radical change in the cultural perspective of Americans, for example, toward the queer community, in a way that I never thought was possible. Now I am applying that mindset when I think about global health and the environment. I get excited about the potential to change incentives. If we could put real incentive programs such as the ESG index on Wall Street, and start to get real money behind the companies that are operating sustainably, and put pressure on those that do the damage today and look the other way, then we start to align the incentives.
When I talk about my hopes for the future, I hope to align financial incentives with principles of sustainability and health, and critically, accessibility. I think that’s pretty radical, but I believe changes happening right now show evidence that we can move fast.
My other hope is related to representation. I’m so tired of it being a political question. At least in the American political spectrum, one side talks about the importance of representation, not just because it’s a tick-the-box HR initiative, but because diverse groups make better decisions. When you have an organization or government or otherwise have proper representation from every part of the population that they allegedly act on behalf of, they start making very different decisions: whether we’re talking about the 1960s integrated schools in America, or education for women and girls in the Global South, or crisis management of Coronavirus, or abortion rights. Unfortunately, one end of the political spectrum talks about representation, and the other disparage it by using language like identity politics. And so, my hope for the future here is that we all realize this political notion is simply that every population deserves to have their basic human needs represented in places of power.
Just last week, the NASDAQ announced some minimum standards for diversity on boards. So if you’re a company, you want to go public on the NASDAQ platform, you need to have at least two board members that identify as female, LGBTQ, or as a person of color. Even though that sounds basic, at least we can pause and say, “Alright, we’re moving in the right direction.”.
My work with the Trevor Project does not drive representation directly; it doesn’t help the planet, but it makes sure that LGBTQ kids survive and thrive. So they live on and have an opportunity to take a seat at the table, they will drive representation. We are protecting the opportunity for representation for the future.
My hopes for the future are that we have aligned incentives between commercial success and a healthy Planet, and that we have representation in places of power — both private/commercial and government. So those are big, global hopes. When I think about myself personally, I hope that I make the right decisions and put my time, money, and effort into making those two things happen.
I think that is fair to have an expectation of people with privilege — those that have the money and the option to work in an area of passion. It’s our responsibility to make our work contribute to a better future, because the people without privilege have to work to make a living, and often within a system that actively works against them.
Look at the relationship between average rent for an apartment in given cities and minimum wage; there’s math that can show you that people can’t even afford housing. Sometimes I feel embarrassed that it took me this long to figure out how to use my time to do what I care about — not just work for one employer, but across my priorities. Still, once you have that privilege, flexibility, and financial independence in your life, it’s like:
“Man, how could you do anything else?”.
I am concerned about the continued income inequality globally — the haves and have nots story gets worse on a global scale. Within that, I’m worried about the percentage of them who are women. What I observe there is the extreme polarity of haves and have-nots and the large number of people who are now ‘without power‘ who are women. I mentioned earlier that I’m so excited to watch how much America has improved fundamental human rights for LGBTQ people. That happened so quickly in the last 20 years — in my lifetime! And yet, it’s such slow progress for women. The area where I become a little more of a pessimist is the condition for women worldwide.
It goes the wrong direction in so many countries, and it’s almost like a backlash to the progress that we managed to make. That’s really concerning.
Even here, in corporate America, in the Fortune 500, there are more CEOs named John and David than there are women.
When you look at corporate leadership, you see the problem, and then when you look at access to education globally, that’s how the two ends of the spectrum meet…from the least empowered to the most.
What we can do to help is, for example, to have empathy for the pressure on these few women that breakthrough. They are expected to not only govern effectively but also to change the experience of women in their country and set it up for the future. The same is true for women entrepreneurs and women CEOs. Everyone will expect them to be close-to-perfect, and they have to be so much better than any man is because they’ll be scrutinized by so much of a different degree. I hope they can just get the ball rolling on representation down through the ranks to have a more lasting effect….but I refuse to hold them to a higher standard than their male counterparts.
We can’t tackle it all at once, but as a woman in the world, I look for opportunities to put my money toward individuals addressing this issue today. At least it’s some way to address this very slow trajectory of improvement.
When I think about the next ten years, I get excited about what technology can do to crack open topics you and I discuss here.
Many people are pessimistic about technology: its impact on our lives, social media, and the lack of governance, privacy, and transparency. Of course, criticism is vital to make it better. However, it’s also necessary not to demonize it.
Let’s take, for example, the Trevor Project. They have a partnership with Google that leverages AI to be able to, let’s just say, increase their effectiveness without breaking it down too much detail. On the one hand, I am aware of Google’s stated values and how they behave in the world, and it’s great to see them living those values. , I’m just so impressed to see that such a giant company can do this type of pro-bono work and put significant resources against it, and ultimately equip Trevor to save lives. It would be incredible if that became a part of the ethos of corporations around the world, and certainly tech companies — that they start to invest in disruptive technology to support oppressed populations.
So I’m just looking with excitement ten years from now, thinking what kind of positive change can new technology bring.
I think the balance between freedom and governance in technology will form our future, i.e., how we strike a balance. Whatever people are saying now, I still think that we need privacy and transparency governance. When you leave groups to govern themselves with one set of objectives and without the greater good, there won’t be any balance. I’m not a big government girl. But with a humanistic lens, I expect a balance between notions of freedom and access to information, self-determination, governance, and technology will form our future.
Also, my focus on the future leads me to think about the changing notions of identity from a sex and gender perspective. More than 50% of Gen Z consider themselves something other than straight, which is about sexuality and not gender. And then, in the very mainstream consciousness, not just in the United States but many places around the world, the acceptance of non-binary identities in gender is starting to redefine the way we think about the masculine and the feminine. You know, gender, is a social construct — an expression — versus sex, which is biological. Gender is an expression! The World Health Organization defines it as “the socially constructed characteristics of women and men, such as norms and roles for women and men, which varies from society to society and can be changed over time”. I think a deeper collective understanding of this topic could form the future. What’s interesting about it is that many folks believe this notion is a very new and modern weird dynamic. Yet, when you look back to Native American culture, for hundreds of years, they had the concept of two spirits: feminine and masculine, if you will — living within one person.
And that for me, that’s even more compelling frankly: how old is that line of thought if you can find common ground between Buddhists and Native Americans who never geographically overlapped for 1000s of years. This thinking or mindset grounded in ancient religion or philosophy is now coming to the forefront in the post-industrial society. I think it lends it a lot of credibility. So I think that this dynamic of a non-binary identity and the blurring of the understanding that gender is an expression could change power dynamics back to the representation matter in the future.
I’ve learned the hard way in my career that I watched male definitions of leadership and authority. So early in my career, I would mimic those to be successful — because I thought I couldn’t achieve it otherwise. I felt that I needed to have a strong jawline and be authoritative, unemotional, and inaccessible. I thought there’s no room for being (and now I’m going to say some words that are unfortunately usually strictly seen as female) vulnerable, accessible, authentic, flawed, open, humble, etc. Only after some time, I realized that when I am vulnerable and transparent with a group of people, when I acknowledge things that I don’t know, or if I’m willing to suffer out loud (just like when I lost my first wife to a brain tumor, I could not help but grieve out loud in front of my very large organization, I couldn’t survive unless I did so) — that’s when they rally behind me. It was unbelievable to me!
Then I started leading from that point forward — from a place of vulnerability. I found there was actually strength in the vulnerability; it wasn’t a weakness. Luckily, the topic of authenticity and emotional honesty is becoming very trendy now. Yet, I still find it a bit of a gender-related issue because, in most cultures, men are raised to hide their vulnerable side. And for sure, nobody would say that vulnerability is a dream trait of a great leader. That’s why the non-binary conversations are so meaningful: they allow women and woman-identified people to embrace their typically female-related traits while leveraging some of them considered to be generally male (and the other way around). I think the world changes and how decisions get made in places of power. So I think this gender conversation in pop culture borrows to your point from old Buddhists and old Native American notions and could genuinely help to change representation and their effective leadership.
I hope in 30 years, we will have a completely different trajectory. If you look at every determinant of the planet’s health, most of them are headed in the wrong direction; a few are starting to run in the right direction. So I hope in 30 years we’re not only going to heal the planet, but I hope the trajectory of inputs to the Planet’s health has changed. And I think that it will.
I believe that this balance between freedom and governance in digital spaces that we mentioned before will be on it’s way to being solved. Each generation works on solving the problems of the one right ahead of them. By then, we have digital natives running the government and technology interface. Nowadays, most of the issues are there because people in government, who make decisions about big social media companies and their legislation, don’t understand the topic. And so, they need the 30 interns sitting behind a senator trying to explain the issue to them. That’s why, years from now, if we have representation in government and have the subsequent generation decision-making, I think we’ll find that balance between freedom of governance and digital spaces.
However, unfortunately, I don’t think this topic of women, representation, safety, and fundamental rights is solved in 30 years. I think it continues to be the slowest progress of every issue that humanity tackles. I mean, we’re solving access to food faster than we’re solving equal treatment of young girls around the world. This is perhaps the area that I feel the least optimistic about. Ask me the same question in 30 years, and maybe then I’m going to feel more optimistic about this.
Well, actually it’s a great question! I haven’t thought about it that way before. Maybe they’re indeed connected. If we change the pop culture dialog about gender, then perhaps we stop drawing the gender line as to who gets what.
I don’t know how it would take but I think that’s an awesome perspective and should motivate us to move faster as well and realize gender discussions are not just about bathrooms and fashion — when you make it about the fundamental access to education in 40–50% of the world population you suddenly see how urgent is it to make the change happen.
Interviewer: Justyna Cyrankiewicz, Creative Content Curator and Writer.
Proofreader: Joe Foxton, New Business.
With love, HOO KOO E KOO 💛