Women Make Great Secretaries…of State

I don’t know about you but it actually felt a little funny to have Tony Blinken named as Secretary of State.  I mean isn’t that a job for a woman?

The lovely thing is that there is already a generation of women and men in the US that think that job is typically handled by a woman or person of color (or both!)  From 1997 to 2013, and under three different presidents, the secretary of state was female or a minority.  First Madeleine Albright was appointed by President Clinton, President Bush appointed Condoleezza Rice (and then Colin Powell), and President Obama appointed Hillary Clinton.  (After Clinton, John Kerry stepped in for Obama’s second term reverting the office back to white men.)  But it was a nice run for while–this means that my sons, for example, have had a majority of their lifetime under female Secretaries of State.

Why does this matter?  Well, we know that women can face backlash in negotiation for behaving in ways that are inconsistent with someone else’s perception of appropriate female behavior.  How do we change what people perceive as appropriate?  By having women in those positions and “normalizing” that behavior.  Lawyers, for example, do not face backlash for negotiating on behalf of clients.  First, it is socially expected (and shown all over popular television shows) that lawyers are assertive.  Second, negotiating on behalf of others is also socially accepted (if not expected of women.)  So…seeing women negotiating on behalf of our country has now also been normalized–and if this country starts to see more women in appointed leadership it might even some day be willing to elect them!

Moreover, we have story after story of women being incredible successful in these negotiations–as secretary of state, as U.S. Trade Representative (there have been entire case studies and numerous articles devoted to exploring the skill set of Charlene Barshefsky), as national security advisory (Susan Rice),  multiple UN Ambassadors, and our latest woman to watch, Wendy Sherman, likely the new Deputy Secretary of State who had previously negotiated the Iran deal.  Sherman noted that her early work as a social worker gave her great negotiation skills:  “For me that core set of skills was in community organizing and clinical skills and I only half joke that those clinical skills have been very effective with both dictators and members of congress… it does help to understand interpersonal relations and how people think and feel and have different sets of interests.”

As we reach the end of Women’s History Month, let’s not forget that there are very talented women negotiating on behalf of our country all the time–these are the stories and role models we need to be highlighting.  And they have a ton of good advice for all of us.

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