Top Five Pieces of Advice Given to Young Women at the Women in Public Service Colloquium

Posted December 20th, 2011 at 11:53 am.

Bryn Mawr Now guest blogger Sara Alcid ’12 was among the Bryn Mawr students who attended the Women in Public Service Project Colloquium on Dec. 15.

Much of the Women in Public Service Project’s Colloquium was focused on identifying and discussing strategies that will better enable young women to climb to positions of influence in public service. Many pieces of advice were offered to young women in the audience and watching the colloquium’s videocast by the program’s speakers and panelists, like Madam Secretary Hillary Clinton; Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund; Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State; Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations’ Development Programme and former Prime Minister of New Zealand; Atifete Jahjaga, President of Kosovo; Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services; and Gloria Steinem, a preeminent feminist activist and author.

President of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga encourages young women to challenge themselves to push their limits.

1). The piece of advice that was reiterated most throughout that colloquium was to “have confidence and belief in your vision” to bring about change in the world community through public service, put succinctly by Congresswoman Nita Lowey, a 1959 graduate of Mount Holyoke College. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Atifete Jahjaga, the President of Kosovo and Helen Clark, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand also emphasized the importance of believing in your vision and your capability to make your vision for public welfare a reality.

Farah Pandith, Smith College '90

2). Farah Pandith, a 1990 graduate of Smith College and now the US Department of State’s Special Representative to Muslim Communities, urged the Seven Sisters students, including sixteen students from Bryn Mawr, at the Women in Public Service Project’s Student Welcome and Reception event to seek out and foster relationships with mentors. Mentorship is one of the key tenets of the Women in Public Service Project and Pandith encouraged us to reach out to Seven Sisters alumnae for help and advice in navigating a career in public service. The Women in Public Service Project hopes to facilitate the formation of mentor-mentee relationships between experienced public servants and women just launching their careers by creating an online portal for this to take place.

3). Before departing to meet with President Barack Obama about legislation that would grant social securities to caregivers in the informal workforce, Hilda Solis, the United States Secretary of Labor, advised young women to “test your limits” by exploring different sectors of public service and challenging yourself to bring innovation and assertiveness to whatever position you hold. During a conversation that I had with Bryn Mawr alumna of the class of ’87 and Executive Director of San Francisco’s Department on the Status of Women, Emily Maruse, she also advised young women to test their limits and explore their capabilities by pursuing a number of different positions and fields during their 20’s in order to learn four key things about yourself: what you like to do, what you don’t like to do, what you’re good at, and what you’re not good at.

4). Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about the challenges of being a powerful woman in politics and noted that “it’s still hard” for women to occupy positions of influence, as they will often be the first woman or one of the first women in these positions

Madame Secretary Hillary Clinton speaks at the Women in Public Service Project Colloquium

and face a disproportionate amount of criticism from the media just because of their gender. Regarding the undue criticism that powerful women face, she advised us to “grin and bear it” for the sake of the young women who will come after us and will be able to more easily pursue positions of influence through the doors we open into male-dominated fields.

5). An unexpected, but important piece of advice provided by the former Prime Minister and current Administrator of the United Nations’ Development Programme, Helen Clark, was that women looking to become influential in the field of public service should develop a strong understanding of economics. Clark admitted that she regrets not studying and following economics as a young woman because she had to play catch-up when she reached senior standing in her career. Human welfare is bound up in economic sustainability and Clark advises young women to acknowledge and explore this connection sooner rather than later.

—Sara Alcid

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