Connie Chung, Television Journalist
Connie Chung talks about her family's move from China to Washington DC, her first job at a local television, the rigorous hazing women were subjected to, and how she made history as the first Asian person to co-anchor a major network's national news.
Margaret Cho, Comedian
Mazie Hirono, U.S. Senator, Hawaii
Fei-Fei Li, Professor at Stanford University & Chief Technologist at Google Cloud
Maya Lin, Artist, Architect & Memorial Designer
CONNIE CHUNG: The business that I've been in requires sticking your neck out. You can't sit back and wait for the story to come to you. You have to go pursue it. Dig, push, and be bold.
My parents and my four older sisters were all born in China. They arrived in Washington, DC. Less than a year later, I was born. In China, all you want are boys. So when they had yet another girl, it was like, eh, all right. I always wanted to be the son that my father never had. So I was going to make Chung memorable. With five girls, I could never get a word in. So I was the quiet little sister.
I'm Connie Chung.
They couldn't believe it when I got into television news and I had to speak to the world. And my father was such a news buff. We would watch Uncle Walter every night, Walter Cronkite. He was the man. So early on, when you could only see my hand holding a microphone-- that's Connie's hand. He was just eating it all up.
It was a little local station, and the only job they had open was for a secretary. And I thought, oh god, typical. I did that for several months, but they had an opening for a writer. It was the late '60s. The Civil Rights Act had passed in '64. There was a heavy push to hire women and minorities. So I became the writer in charge of the assignment desk.
There was this one reporter who was really lazy. So I'd say, why don't you watch the desk, and I'll do the story? I know you don't want to do it. So then I'd do stories. They finally let me go on the air, and then a short time later, CBS News, the network, was getting such pressure to hire women.
So in 1971, I was hired along with Michele Clark, black, Leslie Stahl, a nice Jewish girl with blond hair, and Sylvia Chase, a shiksa with blonde hair. Everybody was a male. I mean, everybody, the staff, the producers, the executive producers, the Bureau Chief, the people we covered on Capitol Hill, the White House, the State Department, men.
We all went through a very rigorous hazing period. There were camera people who, they didn't want to take orders from us. Or else I'd be covering some senator on Capitol Hill, and he'd say, "Well, sweet little lady, what sweet little question do you have for me?" And I just stuck it to him. They pitted the women against each other. Who would get the woman job? Leslie Stahl and I would frequently be told to go cover the First Lady doing something that we knew would never get on the air.
Ed Bradley would go up to the assignment editor and say no. But I really had a hard time saying no. There is this mentality on my part-- the good little girl, fear of being fired, fear of being uncooperative, fear of being the five-letter B word. Every step of the way, there were issues being a woman. The only way we could move forward was to do our job and do it better than anyone else.
- Here's to Connie Chung.
- (SINGING) Here's to LA. News to LA. And from our newsroom comes the history of the day.
- This is the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather and Connie Chung.
DAN RATHER: Good evening, and welcome, Connie.
CONNIE CHUNG: Thank you, Dan. When I was first told that I would be co-anchoring with Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News, I couldn't believe it. Walter Cronkite was my idol, and I always wanted to be Walter Cronkite. I didn't think that that would ever happen. There are always these self-doubts, but I felt like I did know how to do the job. But it was very clear from the beginning that Dan Rather didn't want me there. He would not have wanted anyone there. He was very gracious upfront.
DAN RATHER: See you tomorrow.
CONNIE CHUNG: But you ask someone who's been in the job forever to move over and make room for somebody else, it's a recipe for disaster. It was a constant battle. I would have appreciated it if the boss had said, you know, it's over. I want to tell you face-to-face. But that didn't happen. They told my agent, and then he told me.
DAN RATHER: I'd like to take this moment to wish my longtime friend and colleague, Connie Chung, good luck and godspeed.
CONNIE CHUNG: I lost my dream job. It was completely devastating. Remarkably, though, my husband and I had been working on adoption for a couple years. The firing occurred on a Friday. The next day, we get a call that our son was going to be ours. It was, oh my god. My life just went flip. Lose the job, get our son. Woo! I had a baby when I was almost 50. It worked well for me. Everything that happened in my career was meant to be.
One thing that women really need to remember is sing your praises the way the men do. Sing your own praises. I was indispensable. You're welcome.
[MUSIC PLAYING] MAZIE HIRONO: I was born in Fukushima, Japan. And for all intents and purposes, I wouldn't be sitting here if my mother hadn't made a decision when I was young that she needed to get is away from an abusive husband. That was my father, and I never got to know him. She had tremendous courage at a time in Japan where women just didn't do this sort of thing.
Just before I was eight years old, we literally got on a boat-- a ship-- and sailed to this place called Hawaii. I remember my grandmother coming to Yokohama Harbor, and how much I cried. I cried every day for days on end on this ship because I missed her so much.
And I had no idea what to expect when we landed. We had literally one suitcase.
When I came here, I spoke no English, and I was totally discouraged from speaking any Japanese. In those days, we were not encouraged to retain our language or particularly our culture.
I always felt different. I felt much more mature than a lot of kids my age, because I had a mother who was struggling to support all of us.
The expectations for women, when I was going to high school, was that politics was not on the agenda. But during the, you know, time that I was in college, I began to protest the Vietnam War. And that's the first time that I questioned what my country was doing and opened my eyes to politics as a way to make social changes.
It took me 10 years of running other people's campaigns, getting a law degree, before I thought, well, I think I should be a candidate. That's very much in line with the experience of a lot of women, particularly women of my generation. It took us a while to decide that we had something to bring to the table.
And I became the first female, Democratic nominee for governor in Hawaii. My Republican opponent was also a woman, and it's only the second time in the history of our country that the nominees both happened to be women.
I congratulate Linda Lingle. Linda, I know that you're going to do your very best for the people of this state.
It was my first loss, but it was a big one. We were outspent by a lot.
I know how disappointed you are.
I remember that night, I said, I think I have one big race left in me. And I tell people what I learned from that race and that loss was how to win.
I really had to think about, do I want to stay in this relatively safe seat, or do I want to go into the unknown? And of course, I picked the unknown, because that's what I do. [CHUCKLES]
I was very focused on what I needed to do, but I take nothing for granted. And so up to the last day, I'm thinking, OK, let's just win this thing. I never thought that I had it in the bag. I never think that way.
REPORTER: Hawaii elected its first female US senator, Mazie Hirono. She's also the first Asian-American woman to be in the Senate. Hirono won in a landslide victory.
MAZIE HIRONO: At my election night gathering for this Senate race, my mom had had this looked in her face. And I said, Mom, you're thinking about what it was like when you came here many years ago and our struggles. So we both had tears in our eyes.
There's nothing I could do in my life that would be as hard as what she did, bringing us to this country. My mom showed me through her example that one person can make a difference.
ANDREA JUNG: I'm a daughter of two immigrants. So I grew up in a very authentic Chinese household with a lot of traditional values. But they were ahead of their time. I mean, if you got to back to a traditional Chinese heritage or Asian heritage, you know, one might think that this concept, of kind, of women walking a step behind men or not taking important roles. I had grandmother and a mother who used to tell me from when I was extremely young that girls can do anything boys could do.
When I graduated from Princeton, I actually wanted to do something idealistic, like join the Peace Corps. My family didn't have that much money. And so I think they thought, well, that might be nice. But you need to go get a job. I remember through most of my career being either one of or the only woman around an executive table.
My very first interview with Avon was in 1993 with the, then, chairman. His name was Jim Preston. And he had a plaque behind his desk that had four footprints, a bare foot ape and then a barefoot man. And then a wingtip man's shoe. And then a high heel. And it simply said, "The evolution of leadership."
And I asked him before the interview was done, I love that plaque behind your desk. Do you really believe that? And he said Avon is a company that is mostly about women. And we should be one of the first companies someday to have a woman running this company.
The brand at that time was perceived as sort of your grandmother's brand, a little bit of ding dong-- Avon calling. And we did a tremendous amount of heavy lifting to modernize that brand today, from product formulas, product packaging, all the way to some terrific celebrity spokesperson.
I was actually passed over for the job. And I had a life moment-- a career moment If you dive deep in yourself and say, OK, someone else is going to come in and lead the company. And I'll either have to be extraordinarily supportive of that person. Or I can go off and do my own thing. And that decision to stay with a company that I love was probably one of the more important decisions I've made in my life.
About 18 months later it was about 10:00 PM at night. And I got a call from the, then, lead director of the board. And he said, well, congratulations, Madam CEO. And I remember waking my daughter up, who was young at the time, and saying, I've just become the CEO of Avon. And she said, you're joking, right? Go back to sleep. You're dreaming.
Being the first woman CEO, I felt it was a privilege. You know, we have over 6 and 1/2 million independent representatives. And they're mostly women. So I felt the responsibility of showing them that women can make it. I had someone tell me that she was a victim of domestic violence. And that only because of Avon was she able to get her life back together and today can support her children. And today is really a leader in her community.
And every one of those moments. I feel like, wow, I had the chance to be a part of something that actually did something good. There are still fewer women than men in every echelon of business, but it's changing. And it's changing for the positive. And whether it's Meg or whether it's Ginni Rometty at IBM or Ursula at Xerox, some extraordinary women running some very large companies. And that is great, great progress.
FEI-FEI LI: My role is to be the thought leader of AI and machine learning. One of the most important things for me is not only to advance AI, but also to democratize AI.
My childhood was spent in the southwest of China in villages at the outskirts of the city called Chengdu. So it's a very cloudy city. You don't see starry nights too often, which actually made me really long for those few nights that have clear sky. So I always had that very early sense of wonder of what nature is, who we are. Then as I entered school, just the sheer beauty of math and science just always attracted me.
The transition from China to America was quite a shocker. Typical immigrant story that you have to start from ground zero. And I pretty much learned English from scratch here. One big difference of American school is the books are so much heavier. I had to carry all these, you know, volumetric dictionaries to survive my day.
There was one thing about Princeton that was absolutely my dream is I've always been the nerdy kid. So you know, I would never be so popular because I'm not part of any sports teams. But that intense intellectual environment-- I was like a fish in the water, suddenly.
Visual intelligence is the primary sensory system for humans to use to survive, to work, to communicate. Solving the core fundamental problems of visual intelligence is solving intelligence. If we want to ever make robots do tasks for us or with us, robots need to recognize objects.
Most people were skeptical. So we had pretty scathing reviews for grants to support this project. I didn't spend too much time thinking, oh, my god, these people don't like it. Should I do it or not? Because I know in my mind this will change how we think about machine learning. It was staggering for a while. We ended up employing tens of thousands of online workers across more than 150 countries in the world to help us assemble this data set.
The field of AI, as well as the greater field of STEM, is massively lacking diversity. We need to be mindful that human values define machine values. If our training data misses a big population of our world, that would have grave consequences.
When we have a diverse group of technologists, it's more likely that the technology will reflect our collective values. How do we encourage the future generation of technologists? If we communicate the humanistic value and how it will make our world better, we can hope to encourage more diverse groups of students to feel passionate about AI, then become tomorrow's technology leaders.
SHERYL WUDUNN: The moral challenge of this century, of our time, is the gender inequity, the brutality that so many girls and women face in the world because of their gender.
My husband and I got married, and he was posted, of all places, in China. Everybody thought, wow, wouldn't it be great to be a journalist and write about China? But China is a hard place to cover. I mean, there's no transparency. You have to be extremely careful, specifically when you were writing about the democracy movement, when you were talking to, quote unquote, "dissidents."
Nick was actually on the Square. I remember the foreign editor calling me up, and I said to him, oh my god, Nick's out on the Square. And he said to me, Sheryl, calm down and do me a favor. Start counting the dead. Thank goodness I did that because I got to the hospitals before other people did. And that ended up becoming one of the most pivotal pieces of data throughout the crackdown is how many people did they kill.
The day after, there was one military unit that somehow still felt that they hadn't demonstrated their power, marching down right past our compound where we lived. And they just sprayed the entire compound with bullets, machine guns all the way down. I have never been so terrified in my life. It just felt that you had no place to hide.
When we started roaming the countryside, and we were finding out that there were 30 million missing baby girls in the Chinese population and not a word had been written about it, we started thinking, my goodness, this is this uncovered horror. But, you know, we thought this is just discrimination peculiar to China. And then Nick started traveling to Cambodia, where he looked into the sex trafficking trade and found some horrific things there. I mean, I saw someone at 13 years old. She was kidnapped and taken to a brothel, forced to work there seven days a week. She wasn't paid a dime. The brothel owner gouged out her eye. Is that slavery? I mean, what else do you call slavery?
If you just forget about the morality of it all, if you just look at the most practical ways of trying to fight poverty, and even fight terrorism, educating girls and bringing women into the formal labor force is one of the most effective ways of accomplishing that. It's a really dramatic effect.
The brutality that goes on against women in the developing world and other parts of the world, when I see with my own eyes and when I hear with my own ears, you just can't turn away, and you just can't walk away.