Event review written by Louie Castoria, Co-Managing Partner in the San Francisco office of Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck LLP, a national law firm, and director of the firm’s West Coast Professional Liability Practice Group. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Insurance Educational Association.

She gives away $200,000,000 to worldwide charities in a year, while promoting workplace diversity and helping women reach leadership positions in traditionally male businesses, but her last name isn’t Gates or Buffett. It’s Fuller, Jacquelline Fuller.

At a May 10, 2017 event organized by the PLUS Foundation’s Women’s Leadership Network in San Francisco, Ms. Fuller shared her experiences and lessons learned in giving and growing. Kelly Nugent, Senior Claim Counsel at Travelers in San Francisco, and vice-chair of PLUS’ Northern California Chapter Steering Committee, gave the welcoming address. Katherine Catlos, Co-Managing Partner of Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck LLP’s San Francisco office and a member of the Chapter’s Steering Committee, conducted a relaxed, sit-down interview with Ms. Fuller, who also took questions from the audience.

As president of Google.org and vice president of Google.com, Ms. Fuller directs the internet giant’s charitable efforts, helping organizations in developing countries and disadvantaged communities. These include donations of money, to be sure, but also the company’s vast computing muscle. As it turns out, having money is only half a solution, knowing where to apply it to its greatest effect is as important.

Fuller is also the U.S. Director of GiveDirectly.org, a not-for-profit company that facilitates money transfers from individuals to those in need, freeing donors from exchange rate and banking red tape, with the result that 91 cents of every dollar donated goes directly to the recipient family, usually in about 30 minutes.

Developing diverse and balanced leadership teams

Google, famously founded by two men, as were Hewlett-Packard and Apple, is committed to “changing the narrative,” as Ms. Fuller put it, internally and in the broader society. Through Google.org, it aids public and private groups to mine their data and better understand how they can be agents for change.

She gave the example of police departments trying to explain the high rate of incarceration in the U.S., particularly of people of color. The assistance isn’t limited to number-crunching—Google.org is looking for ways to use virtual reality to better train public safety officials in ways to build empathy with members of the public.

Fuller explained that diversity and inclusion directly improve business performance, in addition to their egalitarian goals. Google’s internal studies have shown that programming teams that include at least one woman are more effective in their work than male-only teams.

Women are doing well at the college level in science, technology, engineering, and math—the “STEM” subjects—though over 90 percent of the professors in such classes are male. Colleges that have de-gendered their curricula have increased the percentage of women graduating with STEM degrees. Fuller cited courses that switched from traditional assignments based on games such as Stratego and poker to real-world problems, such as reducing the infant mortality rate in Kenya. Women at the University of California at Berkeley now comprise 40 percent of the graduates in STEM majors.

The discussion turned from the classroom to the boardroom. Ms. Catlos asked what can be done to improve women’s and minorities’ representation at the highest levels of management. Ms. Fuller referred to studies in which men and women were given identical scripts to read to a survey group. Overall, the men were highly rated for decisiveness and confidence, while the women were called “bossy” or worse for saying the same words in the same tone of voice. Surprisingly, the study found that women judged the women speakers as harshly as the men did.

These preconceptions can devalue women’s ideas in group settings. Women are more commonly interrupted while speaking, and others sometimes adopt their ideas without attribution to them.

Fuller gave a telling example. She was among a group of high-level donors who were called to Washington, D.C. for a meeting about the ebola threat. A meeting was held in the Executive Office Building, across from the White House. It so happened that the three top donor-representatives were women, but in the meeting the men monopolized the discussion, and cut off women who tried to participate.

After the meeting ended the group was ushered across the street to the Cabinet Room in the West Wing. The meeting began again, though this time with a moderator. Some of the men started to dominate the discussion, but were cut short by the moderator, President Obama, who said that the comments would be taken in the order of charitable donations, largest to smallest.

The moral of the story, according to Ms. Fuller, is that “the discussion about leadership needs to be with men as well as women.”

She shared other observations regarding gender issues in the management:

  • Some organizations give training to identify implicit biases among high-level managers.
  • “Change sometimes comes down from the top, but the demand for change comes up from the bottom.”
  • It helps to become “the other,” as Ms. Fuller did when, in a prior position at the Gates Foundation, she was asked to move her family to India for a time. She found it eye-opening to become a foreigner in a polylingual society with very different social conventions.
  • Some commonly used words should be avoided, such as referring to a group of men and women as “guys,” or a group of women as “girls.” With transgender rights gaining recognition, it is rude to presume that a person wants “he” or “she” to be the applied pronoun. “It’s basic human courtesy,” in Fuller’s view, “to ask the person, ‘Which pronoun do you prefer?’”
  • Fuller noted that she has had both male and female mentors, in roughly equal proportion, and advised, “Have male allies who are agents for change, who will point out to a person who tunes out women speakers, ‘You, know, you just cut her off, and that’s something you’ve done in other meetings.’”

On that last point, a member of the audience asked what strategy can be used when there is no one in senior management who will speak up for women. She advised that peer groups can provide ideas to deal with such situations, as well as emotional support. A peer network need not be within the same company—a fact duly demonstrated by the PLUS Foundation’s event—the important thing is to find others who have faced or are facing similar issues. “Iron sharpens iron,” she noted.

The art and science of giving

Ms. Fuller debunked some common misconceptions about charitable giving:

  • Wealthy people are not, on average, more generous than non-wealthy people. Although the wealthy donate more total dollars to charities, they donate a lesser percent of their net income than other do.
  • People in need in the developing world rarely use cash donations to gamble or buy drugs. They have more pressing problems, and are in a better position than relief agencies to use unconditional cash donations to address those problems. Statistically, the outcomes of cash donations are better than those planned by relief organizations. (GiveDirectly.com, though a young nonprofit, has distributed over $100 million to date.)

Ms. Fuller’s presentation was inspiring, sometimes humorous, and thoroughly riveting. The PLUS Foundation’s event provided a needed link between discussing  diversity and inclusion, and actionable strategies to promote those goals.