Angela E. Oh serves as an Attorney Mediator with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, where she is engaged in resolving disputes regarding civil rights in the workplace, housing, and public accommodations. Previously, Ms. Oh was the Executive Director of the Western Justice Center Foundation, a non-profit that advances peaceful resolution of conflict by providing training and skill-building in mediation and dialogue facilitation.
How would you approach the relationship between affirmative action and women’s leadership today? My view on affirmative action has shifted. When I first got involved, it was about inclusion and increased capacity to manage complexity in our society. The discourse has too often ended up in debates on “quotas”, stereotyping, and meritocracy – conflating the goal of inclusion and competence. In the interim – we have achieved representational access in key arenas – but institutional shifts in the paradigm of privilege have not changed. Today’s discussions about the need for new “agreements” in society cannot go under headings like ‘affirmative action’ because the term itself engenders a kind of blindness and deafness that cannot be penetrated, once the term is used. Immediate reactions of pro/con; worth/unworthy; competent/incompetent arise. In connection with women in leadership roles – we have to recognize that there has been progress and more women are gaining access to opportunities that were once simply unavailable. For those women, the challenge is to perform the job, to expand the consciousness of colleagues, to be aware of their presence as a product of both personal and collective actions, and to make themselves available to others as a mentor/cultural translator.
What does women’s leadership mean to you? The capacity to play a key role in supporting a vision, mission, or goal with integrity. In her being, a leader will hold the space for all persons to recognize their value to the whole and will, in fact, demonstrate that the whole is in the individual and vice versa.
How would you define your leadership style and why? I would honestly have to say that there is no “style”. I have adjusted to conditions as needed, and in some instances there has been success and in others, utter failure. The failures have been my most interesting moments because the situation required a serious and honest examination of assumptions, relationships, and personal capacity. The journey is one that has required deep determination in my efforts to understand – no matter how difficult the inter- and intra-personal challenge. My general approach these days is to understand the ground/parameters of the effort at hand, to learn the talent and skills that others hold, to maintain clarity of decision-making and communication, and to be prepared for the unexpected at any moment. I have learned that you can plan things to the smallest detail – what they call “the nth” degree – and things can still move in a direction that was entirely unknowable at the start. To be ready and to appreciate when what was envisioned comes into being, is my mode of operation these days. In answer to the question, “Why?” – I think it’s because I’ve actually experienced the most incredible – on the extreme ends of the spectrum of “good” and “bad”, and now it is clear that one can only do her best, and appreciate when things turn out well for the whole.
What has been your greatest accomplishment? Maintaining a few good, old friendships over the past 34 years. Given that people tend to move, make different life choices, and go through all kinds of personal change in the course of a life – it is remarkable to be with old friends who have always been there and who also recognize the value of relationship. I have done many things and received many accolades – more than half of them being for reasons having nothing to do with my leadership – but it was staying connected to my basic self throughout these years that I think has been my greatest accomplishment. No temptation to seek or to pursue things much beyond doing what made sense for me to do, in that moment. I like this fact about my life.
What does it mean to you to be a “successful” woman? To be able to practice a basic, and very important thing: to be calm under all conditions.