Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took to the stage at Thursday’s Women and Public Service Initiative and with a wry smile said, “Actually, it was 18 million cracks,” referring to the number of votes she received in the 2008 Democratic Primary.
Clinton was correcting Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, who had mistakenly said Clinton put “15 million cracks” in the glass ceiling during her 2008 run.
The event was the kick off celebration for the Woman in Public Service Program, a joint initiative between the State Department and the Seven Sisters women’s colleges — Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith and Wellesley.
Clinton announced the initiative on International Women’s Day, March 8, with the goal of encouraging more women to enter the public sector.
Much of the discussion throughout the colloquium was, ironically enough, about failure. Panelists argued that failure, like Clinton’s Presidential run, often bought success in the long term, such as being named Secretary of State.
“The willingness to fail is necessary to succeed,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, praised Clinton for her Presidential run.
“It’s quite rare…to see someone take that risk, she said, “It should inspire greatly.”
Sebelius encouraged the students gathered to take risks as they embark on their careers. Women, she said, often think they need one more course or year of experience before taking on a more challenging position.
When an opportunity comes along, Sebelius said, “to take a deep breath, and even if you don’t know what’s on the other side, go.”
Mae Carlson, a senior at Bryn Mawr, said being at the colloquium reminded her of how important it is for her to be surrounded by women in leadership positions.
“Now that I’m a senior,” she said, “I realize I had a lot of students to look up to. That’s important.”
The goal of the Women and Public Service Program is to make jobs in public service more accessible to women throughout the world. A key part of this effort will be summer institutes for women identified as leaders in their part of the world. Participants will take classes in public speaking and networking.
This summer, the first institute will be held at Clinton’s alma mater, Wellesley. The State Department will fund the travel costs of 40 women from Africa and the Middle East.
“We hope they will learn more about our democratic systems and rule of law,” Clinton said.
Additionally, the Program coordinators are working to make an online database of women working in public service who are willing to mentor and guide young women as they begin their careers.
The State Department will also be offering grant money to institutions that research the effects women have on building public policy. The emphasis on research was seen in the panel discussions, which focused not only on how to get women involved in public service, but why it’s important to do so.
Clinton cited India as an example. In 19933, a quota went into place that required women hold 1/3 of village council positions. Studies showed that with more women in power, the government was placing more emphasis on public services, like clean water.
Now, a majority of people report with more women in power there is less corruption and bribery.
She also said the World Bank has found that women are more likely to invest their earnings than men in their families and communities.
Verveer referred to investing in women as a “high yield choice.”
Rachel Ferrari, a junior at Barnard, said she enjoyed her day at the State Department and that she’s thrilled about the new initiative.
“It’s overdue,” Ferrari said, “I’m so proud to be a part of it from the beginning.”
Bryn Mawr senior Sarah Theobald said the Program marks the beginning of an effort. The biggest issue, she said, is increasing access to opportunities and resources.
“This is a good start at getting young women the access that they need and the hope that there will be a place for them,” she said.
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