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Keynote Remarks by Jane Harman at the Women in Public Service Project Inaugural Institute

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The Wilson Center's President and CEO Jane Harman gave keynote remarks at the Women in Public Service Project's (WPSP) inaugural Institute which brought 49 female delegates from around the world to Wellesley College for a two-week long intensive training, networking, and mentoring program. During the speech Harman announced that WPSP, co-founded by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, will be joining forces with the Wilson Center.





June 22, 2012

Thank you, Farah, and good afternoon!  As the first head of the Woodrow Wilson Center … who happens to be a woman … I’m delighted to be here with you and Ambassador Verveer for some special announcements and to celebrate the completion of the inaugural Women in Public Service Project Institute.

My congratulations to the Institute’s first 49 graduates.  The delegates we just heard from used words like “magical,” “opportunity,” “network” and “transformation.”

When you arrived two weeks ago, many of you possessed remarkable abilities, but, after days of amazing programming – thanks to our resident rock star and sister Rangita de Silva [LEAD BRIEF APPLAUSE] – you return to your countries with new skills. And I’m proud of the participation of Wilson Center scholars who contributed to the proceedings.

My hope is that you will use the skills you honed here not only to better your communities and nations, but also to inspire others – some younger and some older, who have plenty to learn from your fresh perspective.

You have so many ways to reach them which were not available to me:  Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and blogs among them.  These were the weapons of the Arab Awakening … these technologies in the hands of courageous, idealistic, indefatigable, undeterrable young women (and men).

So many things you are doing track my own life.  Serving in Congress was a job I had dreamed of since, as a high school sophomore, I attended the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. There I met Eleanor Roosevelt and witnessed the nomination of John F. Kennedy for president. 

Mine is an immigrant family. My medical doctor father was a refugee from Nazi Germany and my freelance writer mother was the daughter of Russian immigrants.  My parents placed a high value on education and instilled in me the view that public service was the highest of callings.

So I got active in the Young Democrats in high school and became their President.

And then I headed east to Smith College, which offered a nurturing environment in which I began to develop confidence as a leader.  Smith gave me the tools to think critically and reach higher.  I decided to become a lawyer, but I had to take the law school entrance examination at all-male Amherst because Smith didn’t offer it.  I felt well-prepared for my Harvard Law School interview, and was accepted.

At Harvard, I pursued my political interests and marveled at being one of only 30 women in a class of 550.

Life after law school has not always come up roses, but there has been a clear trajectory, and I’ve never stopped reaching.  I began my career on Capitol Hill as chief counsel and staff director for the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, served as deputy secretary to the Cabinet in the Carter White House, and was special counsel to the Department of Defense.

After all that, I practiced law and dreamed of running for Congress.  My chance came when I was 47 years old.  It was my first elected office since I ran for Junior High School treasurer – and lost.  It was 1992, the political “Year of the Woman” that also saw California elect two female US Senators for the first time. 

My focus in Congress was security – which reflected the fact that my district makes most of America’s intelligence satellites.  After three terms, I ran for Governor and learned a big lesson:  political advisors and pollsters will always tell you that you can win … but the short story is that I lost in a brutal three-way primary and had to give up my congressional seat.

But being out of Congress opened new doors.  I was appointed to the National Commission on Terrorism, a position I used to gain expertise on the growing terror threat around the world.  Our Commission predicted a major terror attack on US soil. 

Back in Congress in 2000, and in a senior intelligence role, I traveled to most of the world’s most volatile places:  Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and North Korea, to name a few. 

As the towers were falling and the Pentagon fire was burning on 9/11, I was walking toward the US Capitol.  My destination was the intelligence committee rooms in the Capitol dome—the place most believe was the intended target of the fourth plane which, thanks to the heroism of its passengers, went down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 

My staff called to alert me that the Capitol had just been closed, as were the House office buildings.  So most of Congress and I milled around on the lawn in front of the Capitol. There was no evacuation plan…

It was often a challenge to balance being a Member and a mother, but I felt the conflict more than ever that morning. I frantically tried to reach the youngest of my four children who was then in a DC high school … there was no cell phone coverage. 

We have surely come a long way in the nearly 11 years since 9/11. And I am proud of my own role in coauthoring the 2004 intelligence reform law. That bipartisan legislation refashioned the intelligence community’s 1947 business model to create a joint command among America’s 15 intelligence agencies.  It was one of my proudest legislative achievements, and the experience allowed me to forge a strong friendship with Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins.

By collaborating across party lines and across Capitol Hill, and by sharing the credit, we showed that big issues can be addressed and good policy can be developed by the United States Congress.  Sadly, that experience is rare—and, eight years later, almost non-existent.

The experience also reinforced my view that security is a women’s issue.  What I mean is that women instinctively “get” security.  We are the lionesses, who protect hearth and home, but our first instinct isn’t to press the confrontation button.  And, as in other policy areas, women are qualified to sit at the security table.

Now, I am applying the lessons that I learned from California to Capitol Hill to my role as Director, President and CEO of the Wilson Center – a living memorial to America’s only PhD President that fuses his passion for policy and scholarship. 

Woodrow Wilson had to be persuaded by his daughters to support women’s suffrage.  But when our Constitution was amended in 1919, he said:

"We have made partners of the women in this war.
Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering
and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of right?"

No doubt he would have embraced the goals of the WPSP as well as the Council on Women World Leaders, which relocated to the Wilson Center last September. Founded in 1996, the Council is a network of 48 current and former female heads of state that works to increase the number and visibility of women at the highest levels of government around the world.

In just the past year alone, we’ve welcomed President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, President Atifete Jahjaga of Kosovo, Prime Minister of Thailand Yingluck Shinawatra, and, most recently, Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt of Denmark.

And I am thrilled to join the Sister Colleges and the State Department in announcing today that the Women in Public Service Project will make its new home at the Wilson Center. This move will “nest” Secretary Clinton’s vision and accelerate work towards the goal of 50 percent female public servants worldwide by 2050!  

The Women in Public Service Project will work side-by-side with the Council at the Wilson Center. There are natural synergies between the two programs. Both nurture and recognize women leaders, and both will serve as force multipliers in empowering women to serve their communities and their nations.

And I’m especially delighted to add that a familiar face will be joining us at the Wilson Center to lead both of these programs – someone who needs no introduction to this group:  Rangita de Silva.

Throughout her impressive career, Rangita has worked globally with a vast network of academic institutions, civil society, and government organizations to develop innovative programs to help and promote women. We are thrilled that she will be joining us at the Wilson Center.

And, to celebrate, I have brought along a bookbag … from her new employer.

The Wilson Center’s gain is also Wellesley’s gain, as we will work closely and collaborate with all of the Sister Schools.  Training, mentoring, and putting more women at the decision-making table is, as Secretary Clinton often says, “not just the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do,” and I am confident that the Wilson Center is the ideal place and platform for doing so. 

And by the way, I was in Beijing in 1995 as part of a small congressional delegation for the World Conference on Women and heard then-First Lady Hillary Clinton say:  “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights!” 

Those words amazed and galvanized the audience as I’m sure Secretary Clinton’s words galvanized all of you when she opened the Institute.

I am lucky to have a platform where I can continue to contribute my ideas on policy, and work on policy boards at the Defense and State Departments as well as the CIA. 

And, I am so fortunate to have an amazing blended family of eight kids, 11 grandchildren and one brand new step great-grandchild!

Over all the years of dreaming, thinking, doing and parenting, I have learned some lessons about leadership, and I’ll close today by sharing some of them:

One, leadership is inside out.  It starts with your own head and heart.  If it doesn’t, people will sense it and will not trust you. 

Two, leadership takes work.  Lots of work.  You have to trust your own instincts and marshal your arguments.

Three, failure is your friend, and learning from tough experiences will set you up for even greater success.

Four, leaders never give up.  Think Aung San Suu Kyi – whom I met recently in Bangkok – or Park Geun-hye, a fearless woman whose New Frontier party just won the most seats in parliament in South Korea, making her the frontrunner for President in elections later this year.  Her mother was assassinated when she was 22, and her father, then President of South Korea, when she was 27.  She survived a knife attack and went on to devote her life to public service.  I met her couple of months ago.

Five, leadership is lonely – especially for women.  You have to assume that you won’t please everyone and will make enemies.  That’s hard.

Six, when you succeed as a leader, your most important obligation is to mentor and help those who come after you.  I hope I’m doing some of this today.  Sadly, women don’t always support each other.  As Madeleine Albright says:  “There is a special place in Hell for women who don’t help women.”

Finally, never forget that leaders live real lives.  Some of you are married and have families.  Others will soon start your own families.  But all of you have families and loved ones.  They need you, too.

My beloved husband, Sidney, died a year ago at the young age of 92.  I like to say that his age was inverted – he was really 29!  An entrepreneur, author, professor, government official, arts patron, avid golfer, magazine owner, father, grandfather and accomplished amateur magician – his life spanned the 20th Century and the first decade of the 21st.

He never stopped questioning the status quo, and had some rather pithy things to say about leadership as well.  Said Sidney:  “I am my own invention.  You will not be able to invent yourself until you know what you believe in.”

So ... look inside yourselves, find your passion, pursue it, and never, ever quit.

My late mother once told me that the years between 40 and 60 would be my most exciting.  But she was wrong … there is lots more to do!  Think Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom I was proud to support for President.

The Wilson Center recently honored Secretary Clinton with our Public Service Award, and Christine Lagarde – another powerhouse of my generation – introduced her.

We may not be able to navigate Twitter like you can, but we’re still in the game, and as passionate about it as ever.

What an honor to share this stage with you – to hand out your diplomas – and to watch with pride as you embark to change the world.


About the Author

 Jane Harman image

Jane Harman

Director, President, and CEO, Wilson Center

Jane Harman, the Director, President, and CEO of the Wilson Center, is an internationally recognized authority on U.S. and global security issues, foreign relations and lawmaking. A native of Los Angeles and a public-school graduate, she went on to become a nine-term member of Congress, serving decades on the major security committees in the House of Representatives. Drawing upon a career that has included service as President Carter’s Secretary of the Cabinet and hundreds of diplomatic missions to foreign countries, Harman holds posts on nearly a dozen governmental and non-governmental advisory boards and commissions.

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