BET Chairman and CEO Debra Lee shared her personal experiences growing in business as a woman at a panel on career ladders and leadership at the White House Summit on Working Families, held by President Obama Monday.
The summit, co-hosted by the Center of American Progress and the U.S. Department of Labor, was held to spark a national conversation about creating solutions for today's workplace that benefit the 21st century family.
Lee said she believes younger women of today are more prepared to ask for a salary that they deserve. "Well, I've seen a growing trend of young women being better prepared to do that and more willing to do that and saying I'm not going to accept a position if I'm not paid fairly," said Lee.
Lee, who was general counsel and then chief operating officer before leading the company, admitted that she had not planned to be a CEO, as she did not have as many role models in those executive positions.
"When I became COO, it's funny, it was a new position and our founder Bob Johnson was CEO at the time. He asked me if I wanted to be CEO and I was like, 'Yeah that sounds interesting. You know, it'll get me out of the legal profession,'" Lee said. "I found out three guys at the company had already asked for the job. I was like, 'But there was no job.' How did they even know to ask?'"
This experience showed Lee that society has to teach girls how to speak up for what they want.
"We have to train young women that you can be anything. And luckily I had parents who taught me I could be anything I wanted to be," Lee continued. "I just didn't know how to define my wants. I didn't know what the possibilities were."
Lee was also joined by other leading women on the panel, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA); Dr. Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation; Katherine Phillips, Paul Calello Professor of Leadership and Ethics at the Columbia Business School; and activist Gloria Steinem.
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(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)