by Lil Tuttle
CBLPI’s Michelle Easton, Jeanne O’Connor and Cindy Rushing joined about 200 other women at an invitation-only Women’s Empowerment Panel discussion in the East Room of the White House yesterday.
Attendees were welcomed by K.T. McFarland, the president’s Deputy National Security Advisor, who introduced Vice President Pence. During his remarks, the Vice President recognized Kellyanne Conway for her achievement as the first woman to run a successful presidential campaign. She received a standing ovation from the audience.
Pam Bondi, Florida’s Attorney General, moderated the discussion with panelists Betsy Devos, U.S. Secretary of Education, Linda McMahon, Administrator of the Small Business Administration, Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and Seema Verma, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary for Transportation, would have been on the panel but for a celebration of the Department of Transportation’s 50th Anniversary which was scheduled at the same time.
Successful in her own right before joining the Trump Administration, each panelist shared insights from her own personal career journey.
Betsy Devos, responding to a question about the best and worst advice she had received, told the audience that advice to “re-think majoring in interior design” turned out ultimately to be good advice. She chose instead to major in political science, a decision that has served her well in her quest for education reform.
Her top priority as Education Secretary is to ensure every child has an equal opportunity for a great education.
Linda McMahon knows a bit about turning a small family-owned company into a corporate powerhouse. The former president and CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, which today holds more than 500 events each year, said her career turning point was when the business became a publicly-traded company. Prior to that she was unrecognizable to the public, so she could sit in the stands with WWE fans and hear what they had to say. It gave her great insight into what fans loved and didn’t.
Her top priority as Administrator of the Small Business Administration is to revitalize the American entrepreneurial spirit.
Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was told she was too young to consider running for the South Carolina House of Representatives, but she did it anyway. And won. As a legislator, she asked for recorded votes when it came time for legislators to vote on their pay raises, and she continued calling for recorded votes on all subsequent bills. Her colleagues punished her by stripping her of power, so she ran for Governor. She won that, too.
Her priority as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations is to stand up on behalf of U.S. interests in the U.N., including calling out nations when they are in the wrong.
Seema Verma contrasted the generational differences between her and her mother and grandmother, both of whom had arranged marriages and few educational opportunities. Seema founded a health policy consulting firm that worked with state insurance agencies and public health agencies implementing the Affordable Care Act. She watched prices go up, insurance choices go down, and insurance companies leaving the market.
Her training – a master’s degree in public health with a concentration in health policy and management from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health – and her experience confirmed that Obamacare is unworkable and should be repealed and replaced. Her priority is to see a quality health care system restored in the U.S.
Panelists related to the work-life balancing act faced by most American women today. Secretary Devos said family and profession simply flow, and it’s important to make sure you’re present in both at all times. Ambassador Haley suggested many of the same skill sets serve family and careers equally well. “If you’re a good wife and mother,” she said, “you will be good at your work.”