Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. It is absolutely a delight and an honor to be back at Brown, especially to be introduced by a woman whom I admire greatly, and I know how respected and loved she is here on this campus. You know, you have a lesson every single day about women in leadership watching Ruth Simmons as she leads this great university. She’s been a role model, an inspiration, and just an all around wonderful human being, and I am grateful for her friendship and for her example.
I want to thank Michael and Ellen for the inspiration behind this forum on women leaders. It’s a wonderful gift that they are giving to Brown and not only to women students and faculty but to men as well; because the issue about the roles, rights, responsibilities of women is one of the most important that we face in our world today. We are here on this evening in this grand assembly to inaugurate a lecture series, a forum that has the potential for really asking a lot of the hard questions. Is there a difference between women as leaders than men as leaders? What are the obstacles that remain not only in our own country to the fulfillment of young girls and boys’ God given potential but, increasingly, it is important to us to understand the obstacles that prevent half the people in much of the world from having the opportunities that we take for granted here. So I thank them deeply for their friendship and support over many years and, particularly, for this great act of philanthropic leadership in focusing on women leaders, and it goes to show the loyalty that Brown inspires in alums. I was telling Ruth before I came in that I am always struck at how enthusiastic about Brown students are as I meet them. I have interns and many young people who work for me, and Brown is obviously a place that challenges, inspires, provokes, encourages in so many ways. I want to thank Professor West and also to recognize the Mayor and my colleague Senator Reed as well. You are very lucky to have that kind of leadership here in Providence and in the state. Earlier I saw the two congressmen, and I work closely with both of them as well.
You know the idea of having a separate forum and even having this inaugural lecture on women and leadership has caused me to reflect a lot about what we mean in the 21st century when we talk about either women and our roles, our identities, our hopes and dreams, the remaining challenges we face individually or mutually, and what we mean by leadership as well. Now leadership means all kinds of things, and you heard from Ellen and Michael and even Ruth in their remarks talking about some of the attributes and characteristics, but every one of us could make our own list, and I hope you will. I hope that maybe mentally you can start making that list now or later this evening, or tomorrow, or next week – think about what it means to be a leader.
Now there are people whom we all know as we go through school who seem to have leadership capacity. They’re the person that little kids or even in high school you gravitate toward. There’s something about them – maybe it’s on a sports team or in student government or maybe it’s an extra curricular activity – what are those intangibles that we look for in leadership? Well, oftentimes what is leadership in one area of your life may or may not translate over to another. I loved Ellen’s comment that, you know, leadership is not only important in the boardroom but it’s important in the family. We all have opportunities literally every day to make a decision about whether we will take the responsibility for leadership. A group of friends may be standing around and someone says something unkind or bias about an individual or a group of people. Do we let it go by or do we say, “Hey wait a minute. We don’t want to do that, or why would we say that, or maybe you didn’t know that she’s been having a hard time.” You know some might say well is that leadership? In my book it is. Anytime that a person steps out of that area in space that is uniquely our own, reaches across that divide to create a relationship or to request that something be done or to offer that a task be done together – that is leadership.
Now when we think about leadership on the broad, national, public level, it means standing for what you believe and inspiring others to do the same. Even when people do not agree with you, it is important that you decide what you think is right, and you decide how you will pursue the particular perspective that you agree with. Now I know that leadership sometimes carries a cost. It requires standing up for your views even when they are not popular. And certainly at a university campus, part of leadership and part of life is listening and talking, and I certainly respect that, and I respect, especially, the freedom of speech that is the hallmark of any university. But I think that as we talk about leadership, particularly at the beginning of this century in our country, there are many challenges that are not easily addressed. There are no easy answers when we think about our position in the world, when we think about some of the problems we have here at home. But I’m very proud of the fact that women are assuming positions of responsibility increasingly here at home and around the world. We are a steady and growing presence. I’m very proud of the fact that women are now earning more than half of the Bachelors degrees awarded in our country, that women own nearly half of all the privately held businesses, that in every sphere of life here in America, women are stepping up and being willing to take responsibility for their decisions and their views. I certainly take responsibility for mine. And I deeply respect the fact that not only in our country, but more importantly, in other places around the world, women are exercising leadership at great personal cost.
Women are breaking new ground in their efforts to not only articulate but obtain the rights of humanity and citizenship. You know when I gave my speech as I was privileged to do in Beijing in 1995, it was an effort to try to articulate an agenda for women so that women’s rights were seen as they truly are – equivalent to human rights, and as we said then, women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights, and in the last 10 years we have seen a lot of progress. We’ve seen many countries begin to change their laws. We’ve seen domestic violence be called for what it is – a crime not a cultural issue. We’ve seen inheritance laws change so that daughters can inherit property just like sons. In so many places in the world, finally, we are seeing women for the first time viewed as equal human beings, and from that point forward, we cannot ever retreat.
Think of some of the women’s names that you’re familiar with. Not only like Rosa Parks, a great woman leader whom we lost last year, but think about Wangari Maathai who became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her work fighting deforestation and promoting sustainable development. She lived for years at great personal risk, and she isn’t stopping. She has run for the presidency of her country. She’s been elected president of the economic, social and cultural council of the African Union. Think about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, an extraordinary woman of unbelievable courage who stood against the insanity of the violence promoted by Charles Taylor and let loose upon Liberia. She was steadfast in her opposition, and she’s now the first woman elected a president of any African country. In her first month on the job, she has gotten former president Charles Taylor extradited to face war crime charges which is exactly where he belongs. Think of Michelle Bachelet, recently inaugurated as the president of Chile. A woman who faced not only personal risk but saw her father killed by the military government and to go into exile, returned and became a political activist and worked not only on behalf of her values but to form a coalition to bring people together around some of the common needs that her country faced.
There are many examples, some not so well known, of women taking these positions, and after the Beijing conference, I hoped to start something called “Vital Voices” because I realized coming out of the Beijing experience, that we have started something moving –- all of these women who had come to China who had been in many ways putting hope before experience, thinking that something would come out of this long journey that they made together. And during those days in Beijing, there were lots of high points but lots of difficulties where there were conflicts behind the scenes, disagreements about what should go into the agenda, but out of it came a platform for action, and women all over the world began working together. And yet we didn’t want to leave them alone. We didn’t want to say well good luck. Go back to your country where you’re not permitted to vote. Go back to your country where girls as young as 11 and 12 are sold into marriages. Go back and good luck. Instead we determined to remain not only in contact but in solidarity with women who were willing to become leaders. And so Vital Voices began the process of reaching out – going to Africa, and Asia and Latin America and even Europe. Going to the former Soviet Union, holding conferences, bringing women and men together to see what kinds of opportunities could be made available for not only women but for those who were seeking a better future.
I traveled extensively meeting with these women leaders, oftentimes in very private places. I remember being in El Salvador after the bloody and horrible conflict finally ended there, and I was in a room with women who had been part of the guerilla movement, one who had a nom de guerre because she was a leader of the military opposition to the establishment and women whose families were very much killers of an establishment that had been engaged in this long civil war. And I said, “how did you ever come together? How did you decide that you would finally end this violence?” And one of the women, one of the former guerillas, said, “we just finally as women decided we had enough – we had to take a chance. We didn’t know whether it would work, but we had to try.” I’ve been with women who have been in other military conflicts from Eritrea to Sri Lanka. I’ve been with women who have served in elected positions because their fathers or their husbands before them were in office and were assassinated. I’ve been with women who’ve been imprisoned and tortured because they were fighting for human rights, and I always come away not only moved and depressed but deeply humbled and ask myself: Would I have taken those risks? Would I have been willing to walk that road that those women walked? Today across our world, the freedom and democratic promise that we hold out is especially important to women because if we do not unleash the potential of women, give them the opportunity to be leaders in their countries, we are less likely to create a world that is safe for us and our children.
So grabbing at the definition of leadership cannot just be rooted in our own national experience, it must be global. We live in an inter-dependent world, and we have to have leadership that can reach across national, religious, racial, ethnic, sectarian, tribal lines. So understanding what leadership is – bravery, not bravado; tough choices, not just tough talk; confidence not ideology; a richer understanding of the commonality that we should emphasize that brings people together not pushes them apart. It’s a rare situation that can be summed up so simply as to say, you are either with us or against us. Life is much more complicated than that.
And I am one of those who believes fervently it really matters what America’s leadership is because we stand at a point in history where we have some hard decisions to make as to what kind of country we will be, and what kind of values and ideals we will represent. We’re going to have to decide whether we seek a new direction for America that honestly addresses the challenges we confront. A rise in global competition and global trade is putting at risk the dream and reality of the American middle class. Our energy independence is distorting not only the world economy but the strategic interests of the United States and other nations. Competing for limited energy supplies, competing for water, the specter of global warming, all of those hang over our nation and those who would be our leaders.
As a senator from New York, I know very well the reality of terrorism. September 11 did mark a turning point in our country. It did give rise to a new sense of insecurity as well as a sense of urgency. Defending America against the threat of terror and the grave danger of powerful weapons in the wrong hands presents a challenge on par with any our nation has ever faced – a world where evil and nihilistic ideology is dedicated to murdering innocent people and as many Americans as possible cannot be ignored or denied. But what is required is leadership based on evidence and facts – leadership which is not a one-way conversation but a dialogue seeking out the smartest strategies and ideas. Using technology to be certain but also using common sense and using human experience as well. The double-edged gift of technology means that we can literally communicate at the click of a mouse. It means that we can map the human genome and know what every one of us is susceptible to and who are ancestors were. I’ve often thought that we should make DNA testing mandatory so everybody would find out we are all fundamentally related, and maybe that would end some of the attitudes we have about each other.
But whatever challenge is most pressing to you, and the list is long, each one requires that we have the opportunity to take advantage of the best brains, of people willing to work hard, and that means women have to be at the table. It means that women have to be part of every decision process. That means especially beyond our borders, that anything we can do to promote and support women assuming responsibility for their own lives and playing a role in their larger society has to be one of our highest priorities. As technology changes our lives, women have had the unique experience of finding much more time in their lives. You know 50 years ago, I remember very well helping my mother hang sheets in the backyard of our house. We didn’t have a dryer; we washed dishes; we did a lot of work every single day and week, and most women in the rest of the world still do so much of the work: carrying firewood, fetching the water, tending to children and domestic animals, planting and harvesting, and yet their work is not even considered by most economists to be part of their nation’s gross domestic product. I once had an economist in Africa tell me that even though we saw women working everywhere, their work did not really count, and I suggested to him that if the women of Africa, Latin America, Asia, America, anywhere in the world stopped working, he would see quickly how much their work counted for.
So we stand at the brink of all of these changes, but change can either be done to you or you can harness it and make it part of the great cycle of human progress. That’s part of the struggle we face today. Is it any surprise that those who would use terror also want to turn the clock back on women? Is it any surprise in our own country that those who face difficulties coping with modernization of the economy, of society, of the changes that come at us from all directions would want to chip away at the rights of women? So this is not by any means a foreordained conclusion that women and leaders belong in the same sentence. It is instead a continuing, never ending commitment that each of us must make. It’s never been more important also that we have leaders who help us face hard truths, and make hard choices and do the hard work of preparing for the future. Stephen Colbert the other night said it best: “Instead of making decisions based on the facts, our leadership makes facts based on the decisions.” I think of the failure of our government in response to Katrina. The refusal of leaders in Washington to create the independent commission that I have proposed to actually face the facts and learn from the mistakes our government made. That massive failure was unworthy of America, and we should get a full understanding of why it happened to make sure it never happens again.
I think of the refusal of our leaders to face our nation’s mounting fiscal crisis. Congress has just raised the debt limit to $9 trillion. That is a massive transfer of responsibility onto each of you who is a student here tonight. It is also a continuing deterioration in our own ability to control our fiscal destiny. We borrow $60 billion a month from China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and other countries to cover the costs of our debt and our deficit. You know the old stereotype said that women couldn’t do math. Now we know that Congress can’t add or subtract. It’s also true that this administration is resistant to basic research and scientific evidence. Facts about mercury in our air and water are denied or ignored. Emergency contraception is politicized, and the FDA is turned into an ideological battleground instead of an agency that should be making decisions based on science as to whether drugs are safe and effective.
Scientists who speak out against global warming and urge us to take action are muzzled. Websites containing information about the threat of mercury and our bodies, particularly for pregnant women is removed from government websites. Now I think, and I’ve said for many years, that Washington is being turned into an evidence-free zone, and real leadership means facing uncomfortable truths. And yes, it means making tough choices which is what we need instead of just tough talk. Tough talk doesn’t help our soldiers who lack body armor or have to wait for armored Humvees or who are issued a pistol but not a holster. Tough talk doesn’t help with the 2.8 million manufacturing jobs we’ve lost in the last five years. The administration has basically told our auto companies and auto suppliers and the one in ten American jobs that are connected to them – you’re on your own. The bottom line – leadership means more than declaring mission accomplished, it means actually accomplishing missions that are in the best interests of our country.
Now leadership will become even more difficult in the years ahead because of the deficit. The President has proposed the largest cut to education in the history of the Department of Education, and Congress recently enacted the largest increase in the cost for student loans in the history of that program. They’re adding costs to healthcare for children and healthcare for veterans instead of investing in homeland security from our ports to our transit systems to our bridges or our tunnels, instead of making sure that every single person who wants to go to college and is willing to work hard, can afford to go and stay and graduate in a timely manner. Instead of doing any of that, the highest priority among our leaders in Washington are tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans at the cost of services and investments for all the rest.
Now, there are many different realms for leadership, but I come today as an elected official hoping and urging that people become involved in our political system and play a role in choosing leaders. It is maybe momentarily satisfying to yell at the television set because you’re frustrated at what’s going on. In fact, you know, Bill and I now have TIVO, and we rewind it and yell again, but we have a system of government, thank goodness, we have a constitutional democracy if we can keep it against the most extraordinary claims of executive power that we have seen in the nation’s history. And if you agree we need a new direction in our country, not just a new direction for your life, not just a new major that you’re going to study, but a new direction for our country, the only way we get that is through the electoral process. And that means I hope that every single one of you is registered to vote, and you will vote. Will you always feel like you have the best possible choice? Of course not. You know what? No perfect people run for office; no perfect people hold office, but each one of us as a citizen has an opportunity to help chart the course of history by making those decisions between imperfect human beings and looking for the right kind of leadership with the right priorities with a vision you can agree with – a can-do spirit that says what is this talk about how America can’t deal with our energy crisis? What is this fatalism that we can’t deal with global climate change? Previous generations of Americans and their leaders didn’t have that attitude. It is time for us to decide we’re going to solve the problems we face just as our parents and our grandparents did before us. But the only way that can be done is if we have leaders who, number one, admit we have problems, number two, will seek solutions, build a consensus, and then make the tough decisions that will lead us in the right direction.
And let me finally just say a word about the challenges that still exist for women in balancing our lives. I think they exist for men too, but there aren’t lots of articles written about that. You know many years ago before the vast majority of you were born, I was a young lawyer, and I was anxious as you will probably be when you get in that job or you finish that training or professional schooling, and you’re out there, and you’re trying to decide what it all means and how to do it. And in those days, about 25 or 30 years ago, young women who were entering the work world wore these absolutely horrible outfits. We wore these terrible – you remember those, Ruth? those, those skirt, those skirt suits with these blouses, with these ribbons tied around our neck, I guess as some sort of substitute for a tie or something, but it was a very bad fashion problem that we all had, and there was a column that was in the local newspaper that was syndicated, and it, you wrote in, and you asked for advice about how you were supposed to dress or other things associated with your professional life. And I will never forget. It was about 1983; my daughter was about three years old, and somebody wrote in and said you know I’m about to get a big promotion, so for the first time, I have my own office space, and I’m wondering what is appropriate for office decoration. And the response was well since you signed with your initials, I can’t tell whether you are a man or a woman, and my answer is different, wrote this man. He said, if you are a man, and you have a family, put a lot of pictures of your family in your office space because people will see that and think to themselves this is a stable person with good family values. But if you are a woman, don’t put any pictures of your family in your space because people will think you can’t keep your mind on your job. So I immediately filled my space with lots of family pictures.
But I raised that old story just to make this point: one of the most common questions I’m asked when I sit down with my interns – some have come from Brown and from many other places every semester and during the summer, it’s almost inevitable that during the course of the questioning, a young women will raise her hand and say, “well Senator, how do you balance family and work?” And my answer is that it is easier for me than it was for my mother. I think in some ways though young women my daughter’s age are asking this question with even greater urgency. And let me start by saying there is no one answer. There is no cookie cutter; there is no manual or set of instructions. You have to follow your heart and do what you believe is right for you. And for some that will be a choice to be a full time parent, and as Ellen said, manage your family and manage all the relationships and the activities that keep a community thriving and growing. For others it may be a decision that you will be focused completely on whatever your vocation is, your passion, and for the vast majority of you it will be working and family and trying to figure out how to make that a whole. Now there has been a lot written on college campuses recently that it can’t be done and all I can tell you is don’t believe everything you read because it would certainly be news to the many, many women who work for me, whom I know who have worked out this balance in their own lives. And it would certainly be news to the millions and millions of women who do not have a choice – who get up every single day and work as hard as they can maybe in partnership in marriage but sometimes all by themselves to support their children, and I would hope that we could make it a little easier for everyone – for women, for men, for children, because we make it about as hard in our country as possible for people to do the most important job there is in any society and that is raising and nurturing the next generation. You know since the Family and Medical Leave Act was passed during my husband’s administration, more than 50 million men and women have taken advantage of it. Well I think it needs to be updated; it needs to be expanded somewhat. There should be time available for teachers’ conferences and doctor’s appointments, to be involved in your children’s lives and to increasingly care for your aging parents. You know, we are, many of us, in what’s called the sandwich generation which is quickly becoming the suffering sandwich generation because as we live longer, we will be caretakers longer. I met a 70 year old women who was caring…. a 75 year old woman who was caring for her 55-year old daughter who had a serious car accident and her 95 year old mother. So do we want to walk away from the work of caring and compassion? I don’t think so but in order to make it possible, we’ve got to have more recognition of its importance and more support for those who are undertaking its responsibilities.
Now opening the door to new kinds of leadership, indeed new kinds of lives is always difficult because each of you will be a pioneer in your own life. No one will live your life; no one will make the choices that you have made ever in the history of the world before or after. So although you may have friends who are pursuing one route, that may not be what is best for you. And the same goes for leadership. Some people think from the moment they’re born or certainly when they’re a teenager or in their 20’s that they want to be a leader, that they want to be an elected leader… others, it just happens – they see a need; they think about it; they enter into whatever the responsibility requires, and we’re seeing what changing leadership can mean. In a project at my alma mater, the Wellesley Centers for Women, interviews with female leaders from across professions, ethnicities, and different financial backgrounds, reveal that as women obtain positions of leadership in corporations, universities and elsewhere, new styles of leadership emerge – more team oriented, less hierarchical, for example. So leadership is changing to keep up with the changing world. It is hard in our world today to just order people to do something and expect them to do it without questioning, and so you have to give reasons; you have to give context, and you have to listen.
I want to end with a story that helped me to make the decision I made. Early in 1999, speculation was growing that I would enter the senate race in New York, and I was by no means convinced I would or that it was the right thing to do. There were so many things to consider. Obviously, no first lady had ever sought public office. I had never run for office myself. I wasn’t even really sure I could do it. It was an incredibly difficult decision. And every time I decided I wasn’t going to do it, something happened which sort of threw the door open again. In March of 1999, I went to New York City and joined Billie Jean King at an event promoting a documentary about Title IX and women in sports – the example, might I say, of what legislation can actually mean in giving women the opportunity to have athletic experiences as they now do here at Brown. Now lucky for me, though, athletic ability was not required for my attendance at that event. We gathered at a local school appropriately in the Chelsea neighborhood – this is getting a little eerie – joined by dozens of young women athletes and all of us were assembled on a stage like this under a banner which said, “Dare to Compete,” which was the title of the film about women in sports. Billie Jean King spoke and then, a young women volleyball player came to the microphone to introduce me. She said a few words, introduced me; I approached the microphone; I shook her hand – she was much taller than me. She leaned over; she whispered in my ear, “dare to compete Mrs. Clinton, dare to compete.” I had told countless women that they should compete. I had encouraged them in athletics and academics and even seeking electoral office. I had raised money for women running for office; I had spoken for them; I had done everything to support them and now here was this young women telling me what I had told so many others before. So I decided to take the risk, and obviously it’s a risk no matter who you are, but for me it was risk played out in front of the entire world. But it turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Now of course leadership doesn’t mean running for office, though I highly do recommend it. We need a generation of leaders like all of you. We need to have more citizen leaders as each of you can be in whatever walk of life you choose. Because we’ve got to answer three tough questions: How do we keep our economy strong in a more competitive world; how do we keep our communities safe in a more dangerous world; and how do we protect our values in a rapidly changing world. So I’m calling on each of you to see yourselves as leaders – to define it in your own way but to be willing to pursue the risks, the rewards, the challenges of leadership. Now it’s something that you do very well here at Brown – from the new curriculum to the innovative service programs, and everyday you’re gaining your own perspectives. You’re sharing them with your friends and classmates, other students here and literally around the world, the Daily Herald, in your classes, on your blogs. Some of you are communicating to a broader audience than most people who have ever lived have even dreamed of. So I know that you’re ready to take up the challenges that await. Sure the world’s changing. Sure there’s uncertainty; there always has been. There are no guarantees in this life. But America has always risen to the occasion, and I am confident we will again with a new generation of leadership that dares to compete, that dares to reach across – listen to each other and work together – to confront tough acts, make tough choices, and plan for the kind of future our country and each of you deserve to have is what I have always believed America stands for. That possibility. We can raise the bar, and we can pull ourselves and each other up to it. Thank you and God Bless You.