In honor of Women’s History Month, NBCUniversal is spotlighting Joint Diversity Council (JDC) member Jadine Chin Nielsen, President of the Asian American Small Business Political Action Committee in California, and Chair of the Patsy T. Mink Political Action Committee in Hawaii. She also serves as Vice Chair of the Asian American Education Institute in California, and is a member of the Hawaii Small Business Advisory Committee and the Board of Directors of Planned Parenthood of Hawaii. In addition, she is an elected member of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) from Hawaii, and serves as Vice Chair of the DNC Asian American Pacific Islander Caucus, and Western Regional Representative of the DNC Women’s Caucus.
Created in 2011, the JDC provides advice and support to the Comcast NBCUniversal executive teams as the company continues as an industry leader in diversity. The JDC consists of national leaders in business, politics, and civil rights representing the interests of African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, Women, veterans, Native Americans, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ community.
Q: Who were your role models growing up?
My mother and paternal grandmother were my role models growing up. They didn’t speak English but worked hard and used their skills as seamstresses to make a living. They sewed made-to-order Cheongsam and other Chinese-style clothing, often with elaborate embroidery and complicated Chinese fasteners or “frogs.” The garments were wrapped up in brown paper, tied up with string and, as a child, I helped deliver them to Gump’s and shops in San Francisco Chinatown to be sold to tourists. I remember how proud my grandmother was when Dinah Shore wore her Cheongsam on “The Dinah Shore Show,” the NBC variety show.
Watching my mother and grandmother, I learned the value of hard work and doing what you can be proud of – and love doing it at the same time.
Growing up, I had a number of great teachers, but soon realized that no one in power encouraged me or looked like me. I remember deciding in high school that I better learn to type if I wanted a job as a secretary because that was what I thought was attainable for me. I worked as a secretary for several years and loved it.
My career didn’t take off until I began working for U.S. Senator Alan Cranston. I started as his San Francisco office receptionist. Throughout the years, I was promoted to various positions and eventually became the Senator’s California State Director, which was a new position created for me. I understand that at that point in time, I was the first woman and first Asian American State Director for a U.S. Senator.
Working for Senator Cranston, I learned how important it is to listen and respond to people – and to assist them whenever you can. I learned the value of being knowledgeable and prepared to engage in open discussions on tough issues – and to never be afraid of speaking the truth. I also learned how important it is to be positioned to fight another day – to win and lose gracefully.
It was in the political arena where years later I met my first professional female role models – in Congresswomen Patsy Mink (Hawaii) and Maxine Waters (California). They were powerful women with heartfelt platforms focusing on the rights of people of color, women and their families. They awakened me to the spirit and importance of political involvement – that one person can make a difference. Moving forward, I became increasingly focused on the critical need to elect more women and people of color to local, state and federal offices in order to have our voices heard. I believe America is a great country – and we have the right and responsibility to vote. Voting leads to changes – changes in the U.S. Presidency, Congress and Supreme Court, and in my life.
Q: As the President of the Asian American Small Business (AASB) Political Action Committee (PAC) in California, what is your mission and what are your goals?
The AASB PAC endeavors to identify, support and elect candidates to California State and local offices who demonstrate a commitment to improving the economic and regulatory climate for Asian American small business owners and entrepreneurs. Frankly, my colleagues and I formed the PAC in 2006 because while there were organizations that helped elect women, Hispanic Americans, African Americans, LGBTs to political offices, there wasn’t a PAC devoted to helping to elect AAPI candidates. In fact, in our first year, the New York Times wrote about the effectiveness of the AASB PAC with helping to elect Asian Americans to state office, including John Chiang as California’s State Controller and three of the five members of the Board of Equalization. When we started, eight AAPIs served in the State Assembly and none in the State Senate. Today, thirteen members of the Assembly, three members of the State Senate, three Constitutional Officers, and one U.S. Senator are AAPI.
Q: What difficulties did you run into while planning the first corporate strategic plan on diversity and inclusion for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation? What were some of the key highlights of the plan?
As with Brian Roberts and David Cohen at Comcast NBCUniversal, diversity was championed at the top with Chairman Donna Tanoue at the FDIC. I was her Deputy and worked with the senior staff to develop the first Strategic Plan on Diversity for the Corporation. It was comprehensive and meaningful. We established the FDIC Diversity Steering Committee, defined and communicated the vision and goals of our diversity efforts, implemented Career Development and Corporate Recruitment programs, enhanced internal and external selection processes, and devised effective performance tools to measure accountability and diversity progress over time.
In pushing through the Diversity Strategic Plan, we had to have clarity of purpose and focus our energies on moving forward while not losing key players in the process. It was important that there was genuine understanding and support for the diversity efforts at all levels. Among the challenges we faced were establishing a positive working relationship with all involved in the changing leadership of the senior staff and strengthening their management skills. We brought in a nationally recognized and respected diversity consultant who worked extremely well with the new team. While there were hiccups along the way, in a relatively short time, many women and people of color were promoted to key positions within the Corporation.
At my first meeting with the FDIC senior staff, the FDIC Chairman and I were the only women and people of color at the table; a little over two years later at my last meeting with the FDIC senior staff, there were many women and people of color at the table.
Q: What career or life advice do you have for young women who may still be in school or just starting off their careers?
I would like to encourage more young women to get involved in the political process, regardless of what career paths they choose. I want them to understand the connection between who sits on the Supreme Court and how they live their life. I want them to understand how casting their vote and getting others to cast their votes could determine whether they have affordable health care and educational and employment opportunities.
I also want to educate them about the women and men on whose shoulders they stand who helped pave the paths they’re taking. And, finally, I want to advise them to take seriously the impact one person can have in political office, in a corporation and at any table where policy is being made – and that it’s critical for them to encourage and promote women and people of color so all our voices are heard.
Q: You’re an avid reader. What do you like to read?
From when I was a little girl, I loved books. I think reading is fundamental to understanding what’s going on around you. In books, you’re transported to another world and often into another person. Whether a novel or a biography, you learn about other people’s lives and how they deal with their challenges. From time to time, you identify with the protagonist and that’s when you learn something about yourself. One of the first books I remember having an impact on me was Studs Terkel’s “Working” which was published in 1974 and is a compilation of oral histories of men and women who talked about their jobs. It was fascinating because what came through to me was it doesn’t matter what title or job you hold; it does matter that you love what you do and find satisfaction doing it.