Two American University alumnae engaged an audience with wit and bi-partisan wisdom on March 29 as part of the AU School of Public Affairs' women's history month discussion series.
Patricia de Stacy Harrison (CAS/BA '68), former co-chair of the Republican National Committee and current President and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, advised aspiring young women to ignore negative aspersions in a (still) male-dominated capital.
"We spend too much time worrying about are we assertive, are we aggressive, are we bossy," Harrison said. "It doesn't matter. There will always be people who don't like you and that's just life. What worked for me was that I would constantly ask myself, 'What do YOU like? "What do you NOT like?' "You have your own moral GPS and you take it with you everywhere you go and then you won't ever be lost."
Mindy Myers (SPA/BA '98) executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's independent expenditure campaign and former campaign manager and chief of staff to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), noted that "There are only seventeen women chiefs of staff in the Senate. Too often, when you talk to lobbyists, the men on phone are getting paid more than the women on the phone, and that's still a real problem in this town."
Answering questions from audience members and moderator Liza Morris (SOC/BA '95) the two women were asked about diversity - and the persistent lack of diversity - in government and in media.
"The idea of diversity in the workplace frequently is approached from the wrong perspective like it is something to check off in a box," said Harrison. "What is important is that the story that is being told - who you see in the story - is that it helps you to connect with someone who looks like you and someone who doesn't look like you. Diversity covers not only race and heritage but also economic and geographic diversity. If we don't connect to one another, and to our different stories, then we're all going to be in our separate cones - as we perhaps see today - and we're not going to be in a civil society. You can't have a civil society unless you have respect for one another's stories."
Each woman was asked what advice they would give to their former selves as they launch their careers.
"Chill out!" Myers responded. "I was very stressed out when I was here about what would be next, what my career would be. Honestly, if I ever was organized enough to lay out a plan, it wouldn't have led to the things I have been doing."
Relating her progression from interning for Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colorado) - to the White House office of legislative affairs during the impeachment of Bill Clinton - to Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000 - Myers said that "one thing led to another in ways that my 20-year-old self never would have guessed."
"You have to fake confidence in yourself until you get it," said Harrison, who received an honorary doctorate from SPA in 2017. "What does a roadblock tell you? That there's a road behind it! You have to be an optimist. You have to feel that the world is not against you."
"Every place you work, you may not stay there but it gives you an insight into areas of commitment that you can take with you. Don't wait 'til you're prepared - you'll be 92!"