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What Women Want: Immigrant Women-Leaders' Perspective

10/14/2013 04:30 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

What Women Want

Men have been puzzled for centuries about what's going on in a female brain. Even Sigmund Freud felt unequipped to answer the question, "What do women want?" And although researchers speculate and at times use technology to dig into women's sexual psyche, accurate answers are not there yet, or look like Mel Gibson's opportunistic and deceitful character in the movie, "What Women Want." This is why family counselors freely dispense trivial "insights" into what women want: time, appreciation, understanding, and fun--which are universal for all humankind, not just for women.

I much prefer to listen to women directly. Katharine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post, responded, "To love what you do and feel that it matters"; or Martha Stewart: "To start ... businesses"; or former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm addressing women in politics: "We can either be at the table or on the menu"; or Evita Peron, proudly: "I am my own woman."

This is about women overall though. But what about the immigrant subset of American women, now over 12 percent of the total? The US needs talented immigrants--and women constitute 51% of all immigrants--to contribute to America's well-being. So it makes good business sense to gain greater insights into what they want.

What Immigrant Women Want

Sources, along with my own book research, indicate that immigrant women are seeking much the same thing as native-born women, with important stylistic variations stemming from cultural differences and childcare options:

1. Freedom of choice: the wealth of opportunities available in the New World helps realize their full potential, often unfeasible in their home countries;

2. Lower gender barriers/glass ceiling: it's more manageable in the US than in many home countries;

3. Stability: 84 percent of citizenship-eligible women are initiating the citizenship process for their families;

4. Economic well-being: by 2012 over 13% of all women-owned firms were held by women-immigrants;

5. Education: 11 percent of immigrant women have a master's, professional, or doctorate degree, compared to 10.2 percent of the native-born. Prospects of excellent higher education draw many to America;

6. Children's future: women often earn additional income to send kids to college;

7. Career: women need to balance abandoning the traditional feminine passivity of many cultures with retaining some of their cultural ways--a hard equilibrium to maintain.

Whatever Your Little Heart Desires

We are more apt to step in and help others when we perceive these others as individuals. So, let's look at those who really made it in America.

Weili Dai, from China: wants harmony in business and family

A President and co-founder of Marvell Technology Group, a heroine of women-in-technology circles, named number 88 on the Forbes list of "The World's Most Powerful Women," Weili was called a little trouble-maker in her Shanghai family, as she was the youngest child of three and the only daughter with her own mind. Basketball taught her to be competitive, focused, and team-playing, so when she came to the US to pursue education, she brought both her good genes and trained skills.

For Weili, working hard and often living on coffee and green tea for days is synonymous with the Asian tradition of putting family first--while driving her company's operations to achieve perfection. To achieve harmony, Weili mastered her own methodology of multitasking, based on a "sense of pride." She feels that "you can't let down others" and "leaders need to do more." A strong decider and an inclusive leader known for integrity, she manages to always take the calls from her children, no matter where she is. Leading Marvell from scratch to a globally competitive position with 7,000 employees is what America needs. Hats off, ladies and gentlemen!

Deepika Bajaj, from India: wants to build identity and realize her full potential

A telecom engineer, Deepika came to the US one month after her wedding and promptly started as a Systems Analyst at AT&T. She got her MBA, to move up the ranks. It was her feeling that being an immigrant woman was "not double-trouble, but rather, a double-advantage": she was applauded for her accomplishments as a professional who found a balance between East and West. Her creativity led her to start her own company, Invincibelle; soon, however, there was no money left to continue funding her start-up, so she wrote two books, and returned to corporate America.

The lessons she learned were to take reasonable well-balanced risks with fall-back plans. Most importantly, she realized that her experiences were possible only in the USA where it's normal to try things out, fail, and learn--without feeling an unbearable shame of failure, as in many other cultures. As a result, her loyalty to America grew. Deepika is now responsible for Capcom USA's mobile & PC business, and also advising to social mobile games incubator Yetizen--and her potential is on the rise.

Let My Women Go!

Remember a mother advising her daughter before the wedding day, in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding?" She said, "We came here for you. So you could live. I gave you a life so you could live it." That's a quintessential truth behind all immigrants: the children will live a better life in the land of the free: integrating, contributing to the well-being of this country, and being appreciated for that.

This ultimate desire of all immigrants, men and women, could be fulfilled sooner rather than later with a little help from our lawmakers: just add a clause into a currently "sexclusionary" immigrant reform. As presently written, S.744 would break up families and discourage the best and brightest women from immigrating. Set the women free from the Procrustean constraints of immigration rules that don't allow them to join husbands already in the US, or bring children into the US, or utilize public resources to learn about the US culture. Remember, American people are hungry for politics that works. Our women immigrants deserve better and we should know better!