Do women separated by party, principle and vocation have more in common than not? When the conversation turns to the challenges faced and rewards gained when working toward leadership roles, it seems so. Or perhaps, as one of the high-powered women in a discussion on “CBS This Morning” offered, women strive for consensus.
In Wednesday’s installment of the show’s “Eye-Opening Women” series, which I watched later on video, Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state for President George W. Bush and CBS contributor, Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, and “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl were joined by interviewers Norah O’Donnell and Gayle King, who added thoughts of their own. Charlie Rose sat this one out.
The picture of Republican, Democrat and media members sharing ideas and knowing chuckles – for 10 minutes, anyway — certainly contrasted with rancorous partisan gridlock in Washington. Even when one took issue with a point made by another, no voices were raised nor accusations hurled.
After Jarrett suggested more female officials might get Washington moving, she said, “They collaborate better, they don’t mind compromising. I think they’re reasonable.” Rather than contradicting the statement, Rice added to it: “But I think women in positions of power, and Valerie you know this, you have to have the whole set of tools in your toolbox. Sometimes you can compromise and build consensus, and sometimes you have to say no, we’re doing this differently. And you have to be tough.”
When Jarrett was questioned by O’Donnell about the number of women in the Obama White House, she said: “If you look at the appointments that he’s made, both within the White House, in the cabinet and the judicial appointments, there’s definitely equality. And he thinks that decision-making is better when you have a diverse group of people surrounding you.”
It was an answer that led to a funny anecdote from King about a female Harvard Business professor who when asked what men could do to advance the cause of women, said, “the laundry.”
On morning TV, it seemed a perfectly logical follow-up and a sign that no matter how much I wished, I was not going to hear a back-and-forth between Jarrett and Rice on which of their bosses should get more credit for finding and killing Osama bin Laden.
Though all noted the slow progress and numbers gap in the male-female ratio in Congress, optimism was the preferred mood. “If you really step back and go back to when the women’s movement really started,” said Stahl, “the gains are astronomical. They’re astonishing, what we’ve accomplished.” She seemed content to defer to the political players sitting next to her. “These two women that you have this morning have been at the decision-making level, which is huge.”
It might be because they have fought many of the same battles to rise in male-dominated professions in a testosterone-fueled city that trades in power relationships. They downplayed the scars but had plenty of advice for younger women looking to make a mark. Certain themes surfaced beneath the smiles.
“It’s very important that women feel that they are accepted in the workplace and that women put themselves out there,” said Rice. “I found when I was a young specialist in international security, had I been waiting for a female, black, Soviet-specialist role model, I would still be waiting.”
“You can’t let the fear of failure stop you from trying,” Jarrett echoed. “And I think so many times women wait for permission – you can’t do that. You have to put yourself out there, you have to have a tough skin, you have to be able to accept rejection and get back up and bounce back in the game.”
It’s hard to imagine five men, even in 2013, debating the desire to be liked in the workplace. “I do think women are different from men,” said Stahl. “I think this need to be liked is something that’s holding younger women back, going back to college.”
“Yes, everyone wants to be liked,” said Rice. “Men sometimes just hide it better, that they want to be liked. But when you enter a position of power, you have to want to be respected.”
O’Donnell, smartly previewing her “60 Minutes” debut interview with Sheryl Sandberg, quoted a formula in the Facebook executive’s book that the more powerful a woman gets, the less she is liked. Jarrett countered, “I think if you work hard on earning respect and being decent, then you’ll also be liked.”
“Mothers need to tell their daughters that they can do it all,” said Stahl. “But not at the same time sometimes,” said Jarrett, who said she never stopped working but altered her work style depending on how old her daughter was. “I think that life is full of trade-offs and you can’t necessarily do everything at one time.”
“People say, ‘why did you never get married?’ said Rice. “And I always say, well I never found anyone that I wanted to live with – it was not a statement about my work life. But the key is, there is some sequencing in life. There will be times in life when you have to focus in and do something in a hard way, and there are other times in life when perhaps you can step back and do other things.”
The sign of true equality, I’m convinced, will be when a discussion such as this one does not inevitably end by pondering if it’s possible to – say it together, now – “have it all.”
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3