Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Broad Influence & The True Impact of Women in Power

Cari E. Guittard, Huffington Post

Humility, collaboration and behind the scenes hard work is a hallmark of many women in power in DC. I experienced this dynamic firsthand when I worked for Charlotte Beers during her tenure as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy at the State Department post 9/11. Appointed by then Secretary of State Colin Powell to 'Win the Hearts and Minds of the Arab World' Charlotte, an advertising legend from Madison Avenue, worked daily with Condolezza Rice, then National Security Advisor, Karen Hughes, who served as Counsellor to the President and Mary Matalin, Counsellor to the Vice President. Each of these women are truly remarkable, accomplished, forces of nature in their own right and yet they came together to get the work done where they could. It was a sisyphean task on most days. Given the intensity of the post 9/11 environment and the serious implications of nearly every issue that they collectively dealt with, it always amazed me how often the male senior staff would focus and comment on what one of them was wearing on any given day or how their hair looked. As many who have worked there know, Washington, DC is a place where fashion goes to die and conformity is key.
Charlotte, who was in her 60s at the time became known for her unique style that was decidedly Madison Avenue - edgy, feminine, fitted and full of bright colors. She rocked everything she wore and she always said she wore what she felt comfortable and confident in. I remember vividly being regularly asked by male colleagues at the White House what Charlotte was going to wear one day for various press events. "She absolutely cannot wear her black leather skirt. Please make sure she doesn't wear anything too out there." To this day I still don't know what 'too out there' meant and as far as the mini skirt which actually was a couture knee length pencil skirt, I remember responding, "Well if I had Charlotte's legs I'd be wearing the same thing and if you are this concerned with what she is wearing you should tell the Under Secretary directly."My tone was unmistakable. We have work to do. Back the f**l off so we can get on with it. Thankfully, I never heard about that skirt or her wardrobe again. And in true Charlotte fashion she proudly wore a similar leather skirt on the cover of her book, I'd Rather Be in Charge.

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