This Women’s History Month, we’re chatting with McKinsey leaders about their role as women in the workplace and beyond. Today, we’ll hear from Lareina Yee, a senior partner in the Bay Area who advises technology companies on growth and organizational transformation. As a leading expert in gender and diversity, Lareina became the firm’s first diversity and inclusion officer. For more Q&As throughout the month, bookmark this page.
Tell us about a career-defining moment.
One of the most significant defining moments was my very first promotion at McKinsey. I was a business analyst, which means that you’re kind of done in two years, and I was having such a great time. The significance of getting the associate promotion meant it felt like I belonged here, and it felt like I could build a career. I was so excited for that. That very first promotion meant a lot to me.
What are you most proud of?
I am very proud of being a co-founder of Women in the Workplace. Every year, women I don’t know will come up to me and say, “Thank you. Thank you for putting data and facts to my lived experience. Thank you for giving me something I can bring back to my company, in terms of highlighting things that are wrong, but also what could be better.”
For me, the human stories are so powerful—when women come and say, “You know, that specific thing, that microaggression, that happened to me. Thank you for calling it out. Thank you for helping me think through it.” We do Women in the Workplace for women to thrive in their careers, and hearing these stories just makes me more motivated to do the report again the next year.
What’s a big or surprising lesson that you’ve learned as a woman in the workplace?
One of the lessons I’ve learned is the power of vulnerability and hope as a leader. I think I spent my earlier years being so buttoned-up, always wanting to be tough, and have everything organized and well-prepared. What I realized is while those qualities are really important, as a leader, when you show your vulnerability, when you show that you’re worried, or that you fear something, when you share how you feel, it gives permission for everybody else to also share how they feel.
That creates a completely different culture. It takes the culture beyond performance to one that operates as a team, almost as a family. So that’s something that I’ve learned and to be much more comfortable about as I’ve gotten older. Also as a leader, remember to always give your teams hope. Vulnerability and hope would be two things that I have learned over time.
How do you stay energized?
I don’t think it’s surprising that women are burning out at record rates. I, myself, have three children. The oldest one is 20, and the middle one’s in high school, and the little one is eight. The juggle between home and work are significant things that happen each day. What I try and do is carve out restorative time. I have my introvert come out and get that time to think, reflect, and recoup. That can be exercise, dance, running, taking a walk.
The other thing I do is I call my friends. That also makes a huge difference, just being able to talk through something and to have that sense of human connection. But I don’t think getting that restorative time and avoiding burnout is easy. It’s a lifelong project to get it right.
What advice do you have for women in their professional journeys?
The advice I would give younger women is that it is a marathon, not a sprint. And there are two things that are helpful in the journey: having a big dose of grit and resilience. It’s not all roses on the way up, and we talk about this in Women in the Workplace. There are a lot of challenges.
And, by the way, both men and women face these challenges. Having that sense of the ability to get something wrong, and get back up, the ability to work through challenges, that’s a huge piece of how you make it in the professional world. That inner capacity to get up again, try, keep learning-- that is really, really essential. And that will fare you well for that long marathon.