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Women in Foreign Policy and Politics

How to find a mentor. How to face a difficult challenge.  The definition of success. These were just a few of the topics covered during the two events we held yesterday in honor of Women’s History Month. Here at the White House, we’ve had a whirlwind Women’s History Month, which has been full of discussions, events, and even a film screening.

In just the past two weeks, we’ve welcomed guests to a mentoring panel event and an East Room celebration with President Obama and the First Lady, highlighting President Obama’s commitment to supporting women and girls. Just yesterday, we hosted a group of students at a panel and screening of the “Makers: Women Who Make America” documentary. We closed out the month with two great events focused on career development.

Women in Foreign Policy

First, the East Room was transformed into a foreign policy classroom as we welcomed college and graduate students from across Washington DC for a discussion on Women in Foreign Policy. Our panel of seasoned practitioners shared stories and advice about breaking into foreign policy and national security careers. The panelists included:

  • Linda Etim, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa for USAID. In this capacity, she oversees the Office of Sudan and South Sudan Programs and the Office of West African Affairs. Prior to joining USAID, Linda served as the White House Director for Sudan, South Sudan, and East African Affairs.
  • Caitlin Hayden, Spokesperson for the National Security Council here at the White House. Caitlin also has spent time at State, focusing on press, speechwriting and South and Central Asia policy. She also has worked as the spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.
  • Michele Flournoy, Former Undersecretary for Defense for Policy.  In that role, she was the principal adviser to the Secretary of Defense in the formulation of national security and defense policy, oversight of military plans and operations, and in National Security Council deliberations.
  • Maria Otero, Former Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, U.S. State Department. In her position, Maria oversaw U.S. foreign policy issues of democracy and human rights, trafficking, rule of law, crisis prevention and response, global criminal justice, countering violent extremism and much more.

Nia-Malika Henderson, a national political reporter for The Washington Post, moderated the panel. The panelists offered some bits of advice for the young women in the audience:

Learn languages. Don’t be afraid to take the unbeaten path. And travel to another country, in order to be the global citizen you need to be to represent the United States.

See below for the full video.

African American Women on the Hill Panel

Later in the afternoon, we hosted an African American Women on the Hill panel.  African American women working in Capitol Hill or other political and policy organizations for a lively discussion with a panel of White House staffers, who shared their stories about how they became passionate about public service, how they ended up at the White House, and how they define success. The panelists, which included Danielle Crutchfield, Assistant to the President and Director of Scheduling and Advance, Racquel Russell, Deputy Assistant to the President on Economic Mobility and Urban Affairs, Tonya Williams, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Legislative Affairs for the Vice President, encouraged the audience to stay true to themselves, to reach out and help others as they professionally advance, and to learn from every opportunity.

It is our hope that the events provided guidance, encouragement, and perspective for all who attended. If their energy and enthusiasm is any indication, our next generation of leaders is ready to tackle the challenges of the 21st century and change the world. 

Avra Siegel is the Deputy Executive Director of the White House  Council on Women and Girls