By Elizabeth E. Thorp
Photography by Conor Doherty | April 20, 2015 | People
Now that women have power, what are they doing with it? Six influential Washingtonians talk equality, mentoring, success—and sometimes, fashion.
Rima Al-Sabah - UN Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations.
Women are running Washington. Literally. We have the first-ever female mayor, Muriel Bowser, along with a female chancellor and chief of police. Add more women in Congress than ever before, and the power shift is apparent. Women have crashed the old boys’ clubs, broken the glass ceiling, balanced the budget, and brought home the bacon and fried it up in a pan.
Ninety-five years after the 19th Amendment guaranteed all American women the right to vote and 42 years after Roe v. Wade, how can women leverage their power? What are the next steps?
Capitol File gathered six smart, savvy, and influential Washington ladies for a discussion on women’s influence and power: Rima Al-Sabah, philanthropist and Goodwill Ambassador to the UN; Muriel Bowser, mayor of the District of Columbia; Amy Dacey, CEO of the Democratic National Committee; S.E. Cupp, conservative political commentator and cohost of CNN’s Crossfire; Kristen Soltis Anderson, cofounder of Echelon Insights and a leading GOP pollster; and Jacquie Dalton, COO of Metropolitan Jets. The rendezvous point: The Sewall-Belmont House and Museum on Capitol Hill—what better place to photograph Capitol File’s Women of Influence than the nation’s first feminist library? One of the premier women’s history sites in the country, it is home to an extensive collection of archives and artifacts that documents the continuing effort by women and men of all races, religions, and backgrounds to win equality for women under the law.
Muriel Bowser - Mayor of the District of Columbia. Dress, necklace, and earrings, Mayor Bowser’s own.
How have you seen women evolve since you’ve been in Washington?
Mayor Muriel Bowser: We’re very proud to have women at the top of our government. Prior to becoming mayor, I served on the DC Council, which was dominated by men. We were lucky that the men on the Council were supportive of issues that impact women, children, and families. As a woman in a leadership position, I have a unique opportunity and responsibility to inspire and engage other women, and I am dedicated to doing just that.
Rima Al-Sabah: Women here, and all over the world, are becoming more and more comfortable with their influence, their capabilities, and the opportunities they make for themselves. Things have been changing for some time, but now the process is accelerating. Women are occupying higher seats of power in Washington, and it’s incredibly exciting to watch and interact with them.
Amy Dacey: We have a much larger number of elected women in Congress, and I have seen many of my female peers become leaders of large organizations. And there’s still much more to accomplish.
Kristen Soltis Anderson - Cofounder, Echelon Insights. Dress, Veronica Beard ($595). Intermix, The Shops at Georgetown Park, 202-298-8080. Brass Square Peak ring, Jennifer Fisher ($165). Barneys New York, 3040 M. St. NW, 202-350-5832. Dulsa sandals, Jimmy Choo ($950). The Collection at Chevy Chase, 240-223-1102
Women are literally running Washington. Now that we have power, what do we do?
Jacquie Dalton: Move forward. Now that our voices are being heard, our obligation is to represent all [people], not just women.
AD: It’s not enough to have a seat at the table—you need to lead the discussion. Women in leadership positions driving the conversation are essential, from business to politics to the media.
Kristen Soltis Anderson: Mentor the women coming up behind us. I try to have at least one coffee meeting a week with a young woman who is just getting her footing in Washington. Changing culture doesn’t happen overnight, and empowering the young women who arrive in DC fresh out of college, who will be in our shoes a decade from now, is an important responsibility.
What’s the biggest issue for women in the workplace today?
S.E. Cupp: I’ve always marveled at how cavalierly some men wield power. Ego and greed can be ruinous forces. Power is a responsibility and a privilege. Women and men alike in positions of power should always simultaneously be asking, “Am I doing enough?” and, “Have I done too much?”
MB: Without a doubt, the biggest challenge for working women is quality affordable childcare. Also, we’re still fighting for pay equity. Women still make less on the dollar, and we must continue to fight to change that.
RA: Gravitas. The assumption of many people is that men have more authority and expertise than women. You see this in workplaces across the world.
AD: Equity on all fronts. We need to know our worth and build a solid negotiating strategy.
We’ve crashed the glass ceiling—why the lingering pay gap?
AD: As a manager, it’s a constant struggle to manage salaries overall. You sometimes inherit decisions that were made prior to your coming on board. One of the biggest obstacles [as women] is asking for compensation. I have struggled with asking for a salary that reflects my experience and abilities [and] I try to help women who struggle with this.
KA: Much, but not all, of the pay gap is attributable to things like differing educational and career choices between men and women. Getting more women into the high-paying STEM fields would be incredible. Getting more women to demand fair pay from their employers is also important.
JD: We undervalue ourselves and, I believe, are inclined to take lesser pay for increased flexibility. I’ve also noticed that when women ask for raises, they speak about their job performance in a quality-of-life context rather than about contributions they make to the company. Interestingly, I’ve never witnessed a man make this mistake.
What are your business priorities this year?
AD: This will be an incredibly challenging year for us at the DNC. We are going to elect the 45th president of the United States, and I don’t take that lightly. We will need to build the best nominating convention ever, have the resources and support for our nominee, and help all candidates up and down the ballot.
KA: Last year, I launched an opinion research and analytics start-up, Echelon Insights, and this year we’re focusing on growing the company. We’ve launched a dashboard called Optimized Listening that analyzes social media data to give an in-depth view of what issues are driving the news and which audiences are most engaged.
RA: I am honored to have been appointed recently as a Goodwill Ambassador in the US for the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. Today, there are overlapping crises and humanitarian emergencies in the Middle East that have global implications and need to be urgently addressed. UNHCR and its partners provide lifesaving assistance on the ground to the most vulnerable, and it’s my passion to help.
Amy Dacey - Chief Executive Officer, the Democratic National Committee. Milano knit dress, St. John ($895). Nordstrom, Tysons Corner at Fairfax Square, 703-761-1121. Brass Slide cuff ($180) and Brass Tarn cuff ($175), Miansai. Barneys New York, 3040 M. St. NW, 202-350-5832. Thick brass-cylinder ring, Jennifer Fisher ($315). Barneys New York, SEE ABOVE
What other women do you admire?
RA: I admire Teresa Heinz for her unflagging devotion to helping people in so many different ways throughout her life. She has been everywhere and seen everything, and she remains focused on others with an enduring kindness that is quite remarkable.
SC: I admire women who have gotten ahead while still managing to be good people. That includes a long list of friends and colleagues: Krystal Ball, Alisyn Camerota, Candy Crowley, Donna Brazile, Harris Faulkner, Sherri Shepherd, Joy Behar, Michele Bachmann, Carly Fiorina, Rebecca Kutler, and countless others.
KA: I admire women who are risk takers—whatever industry they’re in. For instance, Elise Stefanik, who just became the youngest woman ever to become a member of Congress, took a huge risk in jumping into her race. When she first announced, she was facing an incumbent, which requires a lot of bravery given how hard it is for a challenger to win.
What’s your business philosophy?
SC: In my business, if you’re lucky to be around long enough, you work with everyone—twice. I always encourage young journalists to value and nurture their professional relationships. I also advise to say “yes” to as much as you can. My business is often one of opportunity. Being available is sometimes just as important as being good.
MB: I set impossible expectations. I hired a great team and support them in every way possible. I also hold them accountable. I’m the same leader I was as council member and advisory neighborhood commissioner, and now as mayor. The best attribute I bring to the job is being myself: I’m a person who’s focused on results, which is what our residents expect and deserve.
AD: I believe in building a strong, cohesive team with clear goals and expectations. I also believe in supporting [our] senior staff to problem solve and encourage them to work through their challenges.
KA: “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is something I believe in strongly. To really have influence, you don’t want people to fear your wrath: You want them to admire and respect you—to really want to live up to what you expect from them.
Jacquie Dalton - Chief Operating Officer, Metropolitan Aviation. Silk ruffle blouse, Burberry Prorsum ($1,150). 970 I St. NW, 200-463-3000. Skirt, Donna Karan New York ($895). Neiman Marcus, Mazza Gallerie, 202-966-9700. Arceau watch, Hermès ($3,050). Tysons Corner at Fairfax Square, 202-966-9700. Sandals, Tamara Mellon ($795)
How do you decompress?
JD: Yoga, reading, and cooking. I’m a major homebody, and that usually surprises people because I have an outgoing personality in my career, but there’s no place I’d rather be than on the mat, in the kitchen, or by the fireplace after-hours and on the weekend.
AD: I love getting together with friends to laugh and not talk about politics sometimes.
SC: I get outdoors: long walks, hunting, fishing, hiking, boating. I crave vastness.
KA: I’m a fan of the Netflix binge-watching session. We are in this era of incredible television. There are so many shows that I have never watched—Scandal, Homeland, Friday Night Lights—but that are on my list.
What is your favorite thing about DC?
KA: The incredible access to some of the world’s smartest people. It’s easy to poke fun at how the standard DC small-talk question is, “What do you do?” But the fact is, everyone in DC is doing something incredibly interesting and trying, at least in some small way, to change the world.
MB: From Anacostia’s panoramic views to the tranquility of Rock Creek Park, I have too many favorite things about Washington to name just one.
AD: I love the energy, witnessing democracy in action, and the opportunities here; it’s amazing to think of the history and what’s happened in this city.
JD: Being smart is in style here. I haven’t met a person yet who cares more about their Jimmy Choos than about the state of our union. But make no mistake—they still love their shoes!
The 2016 presidential election is looming. Will we have a woman in the White House?
AD: I think we [the Democrats] will have a strong nominee, and no matter what, this will be a challenging cycle and presidential race.
SC: That’s not the kind of criteria that motivates me. Hopefully we have a qualified leader in the White House!
KA: As a pollster, I know better than to make strong predictions based on what the polls show us a year and half out from Election Day!
RA: I can only watch and be fascinated by the process, but I think a woman president is an inevitability, and a good one.
Hair by Peggy Ioakim; Jacob Broadstreet (Bowser). Makeup by Kari Ellen; Laura London (Bowser). Styling assistance by Connor Childers