ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz talks “ban bossy” and “having it all”

Don’t whine. Bossy is not bad.

Those were among the snippets of advice from ABC News chief foreign correspondent Martha Raddatz, who was interviewed Thursday morning by Ted Olson, former U.S. solicitor general and one of the lead lawyers who successfully urged the Supreme Court to overturn California’s Proposition 8, which would have banned the right to same-sex marriage.  The event was held at the Washington office of Gibson Dunn, where Olson is a partner, in conjunction with Women In Law Empowerment Forum.

The conversation largely centered around Raddatz’s experiences as a trailblazer in broadcast journalism. She is one of few female  foreign correspondents for a major news network, and in 2012 moderated the vice presidential debate between Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Vice President Joe Biden (D).

Raddatz said she is a big proponent of work-life balance for men and women, but that there is no such thing as “having it all.”

“I hate these terms, ‘have it all,’ ‘ban bossy,’ ‘lean in,’ ” she said. “I like what’s behind them. But you are all individuals, you all have your own challenges. Everyone deals with them differently. ‘Have it all’ means if you want to be a partner  in a law firm and you want four kids, it’s going to be really, really tough. But you can do it.

“You are never going to have it all because that makes me think everything is going to be wonderful in every realm of your life, and it’s never going to be,” she said. “But if you decide you want a great career and be a mother, you’re going to fail some days as a mom or a dad, you just are. But I think if I had wanted to stay home and be a traditional mother, I’d probably fail at things too. We’re all going to fail at some things.” 

She encouraged men and women to network together to address issues of work-life balance with their managers.

“One of the things is women sometimes don’t talk about it, because you don’t want to be ‘that woman,’ ” she said. “You have to network about issues you have, you have to let your leadership know. Your bosses will not know about those issues unless you tell them in a way that is professional. You really do have to network together, particularly women, to let people know…bring in men when you do it because men have to understand it too. And men have the same issues today. I think men today do [understand] a whole lot more intuitively than they did [years ago]. It’s just a different generation.”

She stressed discipline and professionalism, and simply getting the job done. While traveling with the military to report in war zones, for example, she doesn’t ask for help carrying body armor or other equipment, she said. 

“In a way, proving yourself in a war zone isn’t as hard,” she said. “I can keep up with them, and a lot of my male colleagues can’t.”

But she acknowledged that women are perceived differently than men, and they should be aware of that.

“Women are looked at and judged differently,” she said. “There is a different bar. I don’t want to be perceived to be too aggressive. I can spend 20 minutes trying to get an answer out of someone, but at some point I’ll look like a jerk — especially as a woman,” she said, referring to the short window of on-air time that reporters have with interview subjects. “You have to be aware of that.”

Regarding the recently launched campaign by Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg to ban the word “bossy,” Raddatz said, “I don’t want to ban bossy. I want to embrace it. I want to make it a good word.”

And she added one more bit of advice for success: “Don’t whine. We’ve all been up for 24 hours. Don’t start a conversation that way.”

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for the Capital Business section of The Washington Post. She previously worked at the LA Daily Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit Free Press, the Wichita Eagle and the San Mateo County Times.
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