First Women in Leadership

Ambassador Emily Haber leads discussion on the role of women in leadership. Photo by Jessica Latos

On May 8th, Her Excellency Emily Haber, Ambassador of Germany, hosted a dinner for the Meridian Global Leadership Council on the topic of First Women in Leadership. Distinguished catalyst speakers included Ms. Michele Norris, first female African-American host of an NPR broadcast, All Things Considered; President Sylvia Mathews Burwell, first female president of American University; Ms. Kaywin Feldman, first female Director of the National Gallery of Art; and Ms. Lisa Blatt, the female attorney who has argued the most cases in front of the Supreme Court. The discussion was introduced by Mr. Patrick Steel, CEO of Politico, whose staff is comprised of 52% women and boasts the largest female-led political newsroom in the country.

Ambassador Haber highlighted some experiences in her career as the first female State Secretary at the Foreign Office as well as the first female Ambassador of Germany. She shared instances attending meetings in Washington, DC, where the host would greet her male colleague as the Ambassador or ask, “When is the Ambassador arriving?” Other catalysts echoed similar stories and shared experiences being one of, if not the only, woman or minority in their workplace. Michele Norris offered her personal outlook, “I have been the first, one of a small number, or the only in so many newsrooms… If I am opening a door, I have the responsibility to hold it open for the one following me.” Sylvia Mathews Burwell shared experiences of being a young first as an undergraduate, the first female president of the oldest social club in the United States, and highlighted how early family support and social expectations can shape assumptions about what is possible. Kaywin Feldman mentioned the disparity in gender of leadership in the Arts and the often-sub-conscious biases that can influence judgements of leadership, including the pervasive critique of gravitas. “Gravitas is always used to describe men, never women.” Lisa Blatt, describing a trend she noticed in the legal profession, especially constitutional law, commented, “Parity is nowhere to be seen.” She theorized that arguing before the Supreme Court does not call for advocacy or problem solving, traits that women stereotypically exhibit more than their male counterparts.

The remarks by the catalysts kicked off stimulating round-table conversations among the guests ranging across various topics including being the first woman in a position of power, the changing gender expectations across generations, maintaining a sustainable work and family balance, and creating opportunities for women who follow.

Other notable guests included Ambassador Vlora Citaku, the youngest MP in the first post-war Kosovo Assembly and first female Ambassador of Kosovo to the US; Ambassador Sylvie Lucas, the Ambassador of Luxembourg; Ambassador Karin Olofsdotter, first female Ambassador of Sweden; and Ms. Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President of the United States.

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Project summary

First Women in Leadership | May 2019
Number of Visitors: 5
Number of Attendees: 50
Regions: Europe and Eurasia
Countries: Germany, Republic of Kosovo, Luxembourg, Sweden
Impact Areas: Business and Trade, Cultural Diplomacy, Empowering Women and Girls, Public Diplomacy
Program Areas: Convening
Partners: Diplomatic Corps, Individuals/Donors, Public Sector