I am Woman! 

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Patrice TanakaPatrice Tanaka, Founder & Chief Joy Officer,  Joyful Planet LLC

Today is International Women’s Day and I celebrate by proclaiming that being a woman is my primary affinity group. I don’t know when I first began to rank “all women” as number one among my affiliations. 

I remember the first time I formally communicated this was in 1993 when a warm and persuasive, Chinese Latina Martha Lee called, inviting me to an intimate gathering of women in Vail, CO to discuss the need for an Asian Pacific American Women’s Leadership Institute.  I was in the throes of starting up my new PR agency and the last thing I had time for was such a trip.  In trying to make the case for her disinviting me, I told Martha that I didn’t want to take up a valuable space, since she could only afford to invite 17 women to Vail. 

I remember saying that I wouldn’t have much to offer in this discussion because my “hierarchy of self-identification” included – I had never used this phrase before, but I was trying to make a strong case for NOT attending this gathering in Vail:

  1. All Women
  2. Women Business Owners
  3. PR Professionals
  4. New Yorkers
  5. People from Hawaii
  6. Americans 
  7. Japanese Americans

So, you see Martha, I said, my identity as a Japanese American is dead last.  Martha quickly responded, “For this reason, you need to attend our gathering in Vail since you ranked your Asian identity dead last.”

Ugh!  I had, unintentionally, handed Martha the perfect argument for why I needed to attend the meeting.

Well, I’m so glad I did. From that gathering in Vail was born the Asian Pacific American Women’s Leadership Institute (APAWLI), a year-long leadership development program for mid-career, AAPI women leaders.  

Nearly 30 years later, APAWLI continues to be the signature leadership development program for the Center for Asian Pacific American Women (CAPAW).  When I attended that meeting in Vail in 1993, I had no idea about the need for more Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women leaders.  Back then, the face of women’s leadership in the U.S. was largely White.  

Growing up in Hawaii, Asian Americans were in a majority so I had the luxury of not having to think about my ethnicity or considering it any type of “disadvantage.” Even after I moved to New York City in my early 20’s and became part of an ethnic minority for the first time in my life, I still didn’t think about my ethnicity. 

I learned in Vail that, growing up on what we in Hawaii referred to as “the Mainland,” being an Asian American or Pacific Islander often meant you were the only one in your neighborhood, school or community.  It meant that you felt your “otherness” every day of your life.  

Moreover, back in the 90’s, being an Asian American woman leader was a rare thing.  You rarely saw or heard of Asian American leaders, much less Asian American “women leaders.” 

Last May, when I was involved in co-organizing the first-ever “Asian American and Pacific Islander” Heritage Month Celebration for the Museum of Public Relations, I thought about my hierarchy of self-identification and realized that it had changed and grown over the past nearly 30 years.  Identifying as an “Asian American” was now in the middle of my self-identification hierarchy, which had expanded from seven to nine levels, but being Japanese American was still dead last on the list.  

What remained constant at number one in my hierarchy of self-identification from 1993 to 2020 was that “all women” was still my primary affinity group.

As Hilary Clinton once famously said, “The great unfinished business of the 21st century is women’s equality.” I totally agree.  We women must achieve gender equity to truly flourish.  Only then will women no longer have to rely on men to carry our water and vote for legislation that grants us free agency over our bodies, reproductive rights and equal rights in the workplace and in other areas of life. 

Only when we achieve gender equity in the U.S. and globally will women have the power to address and eliminate threats, endangering civil society, humanity and the survival of our planet. 

Moreover, when we achieve gender equity, those who have experienced inequity as women and/or women of color and/or women of different sexual orientation and/or women as mothers will be more sensitized to disenfranchisement and more likely committed to and relentless about protecting the civil and human rights of all.

It’s not surprising that so many of the most passionate, committed and effective advocates today in the fight for voter’s rights, gender equity, justice for sexual assault survivors, LGBTQ rights, civil rights, #BlackLivesMatter, justice for migrant workers, protection of frontline workers during COVID, human rights, climate change, among other pressing issues, are women and girls – many of color, including the remarkable Stacy Abrams, Shikha Gupta, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometti, Tarana Burke, Ai-jen Poo, Monica Ramirez, Nadeen Ashraf, Laverne Cox, Amanda N. Nguyen, Jacinda Ardern, Greta Thunberg, Mercedes D’Alessandro, Beverly Palesa Ditsie, Malala Yousafzai, among many, many others. 

I am woman. I am invincible. I am strong. I am woman.


About the Author: After an award-winning PR & Marketing career and co-founding three agencies, Patrice Tanaka started Joyful Planet, working with individuals and organizations to discover and actively live or operationalize their purpose and unleash greater success, fulfillment and joy in their personal lives, workplaces, and communities. Joyful Planet is Patrice’s vision of 7.7 billion people living their purpose and leveraging their talent, expertise and passion in service of others. Life and organizational purpose are the subjects of Patrice’s best-selling books, Beat the Curve and Performance360. She has been honored by PRWeek (Hall of Fame inductee), PRSA Foundation (Paladin Award), PRSA (Paul M. Lund Award for Public Service), New York Women in Communications (Matrix Award), among others. Patrice is Immediate Past Co-Chair of the Diversity Action Alliance, a PR industry-wide coalition of 15 influential organizations committed to action on diversity, equity and inclusion. She has also served as a trustee for many organizations supporting women and girls. Reach Patrice via LinkedInTwitterFacebook and Instagram.