By:Jan Mazotti Issue: Collaborative Women Section:Jewel Of Collaboration
Describe some of the barriers you have faced and how you have broken through them in your professional life.
There were certainly barriers and prejudice for women in politics in 1986. When I ran for Congress, people kept asking me how I could run for office when I had three children. I pointed out that my father ran for President when he had 10 children at home and no one asked him how he could run. When I ran for Lieutenant Governor in 1994 there were only four female Lieutenant Governors in the U.S. But after that election, 21 women were elected in that position. I think two things made this happen. One was the Clarence Thomas hearings with Anita Hill. It just enraged so many people across the country that women were being examined by all these men and that there was no one out there speaking for women in politics. So I think, there was a sense across the country that women needed to have a much larger role and voice in politics. I was also helped by the women’s movement generally and by having great women friends who strengthened me, who urged me on, and who gave me help in the tough times.
Two things are important for women in politics. We must first work politically to raise consciousness and awareness and you have to find friends who will support you.
Describe some of the innovations you have introduced and their effects.
Before becoming Lieutenant Governor I made Maryland the first state in the country to require community service a requirement for all students because I believe that young people can make a difference. They can be powerful and they can see problems and change them. What we found though was that too many young people didn’t believe that about themselves and had never had the experience of making a difference – so I wanted to give them the opportunity to learn how they could change the world for the better. Oftentimes we have issues in our own life, but we don't know there are bigger issues out there, because nobody talks about them.
For 22 years I wanted to improve the quality of people going into policing. So I worked on providing college scholarships to people who promised to be police officers for four years. When I became Lieutenant Governor of Maryland we became the first state in the country to receive and distribute those scholarships. In fact, one time when I was in Denver, a man walked up to me in the airport and said he was a graduate from one of the first classes and that now he was with the FBI. He thanked me and told me it was a wonderful program.
I was also focused on an anti-crime effort when I was Lieutenant Governor. The Attorney General and I started family violence counseling programs where we strengthened our laws on family violence and we trained 911 operators, police officers, District Attorneys, and judges. As we did this we realized that it was not enough to train people in the criminal justice system alone, we had to change the attitudes of the community. So I made sure that every single state employee received training in domestic violence so that they could recognize potential problems and say “it’s part of my business to understand what’s going on.” We wanted to change the culture on domestic violence.
I also worked on the issues of women balancing work and family. I had one conference, where Betty Friedan came, where we focused on working women with children. It was clear in many of the conversations that the biggest challenge was women juggling work, children, and elder care and that we had very few resources for these women. As a result, we started a number of community programs to help with these issues.
Was this before the Family and Medical Leave Act?
No, it was after. When we initially had this conference there was not much focus on the challenges of senior care. Instead, we were focused on the challenges surrounding working families with children. As we learned more, we added the conversation around senior care—it was sort of this unspoken conversation.
I remember... I was supposed to give a speech on our senior care initiatives to 45 women legislators. Instead of giving the standard speech I decided I would go around the room and let people tell their stories about taking care of their elderly parents. Thirty nine people had a story about taking care of an elderly family member. It really taught me that oftentimes we have issues in our own life, but that we don’t know there are bigger issues out there because nobody talks about them.
You come from a family of strong and powerful men and women. Do you think it is important for women and their work to be recognized? What are some of the underlying implications of these patterns and gender-based roles?
For a long period of time, women’s work was not really recognized or given the due that it really deserved. I think that we still have challenges in this country to recognize the importance of women. I’ve given a number of talks around the country and I usually start by asking everyone to close their eyes. Then I ask them to think of a powerful person. Then I ask them how many of them thought of women? What I have found is that even at conferences devoted to women, very few actually say, ‘Oh, I thought of a woman in power.’ So even today, we have challenges to actually recognize women as powerful.
Politics and government is where we make our most solemn common decisions, therefore the more that women get involved the more apt it is that politics will accede to the needs of women.
What are the implications of that?
The implications are that we still don’t have 50% parity in the number of women in Congress and the Senate. We only have about six women who are heads of Fortune 500 companies. We still have challenges with the adjectives that women still use for men—power, strong, and aggressive—where the adjectives for women often include kind, loving, sweet, beautiful. For women in power the adjectives often change and they are accused of being bitchy and those sorts of things. We are still struggling with trying to figure out the dichotomies of being female and powerful. I believe we will see change over the next 20 years as more and more women become powerful. And, I think we will see a range of character types of women in power.
How do you see women playing a role in the global economy going forward?
Many of the Fortune 500 companies, at least in the United States, are run by men. I think that is one of the great challenges right now. Typically, women are able to understand different cultures and traditions more easily and they try to get people to get along with one another and work together. I think women also bring verbal skills rather than command and control skills - again qualities that we will absolutely need in the global economy going forward.
How can we accelerate or advance changes in community service, overcoming adversity, and other social justice issues?
I think one of the things women can do is get involved in politics. If they’re not going to run themselves, contribute to political campaigns or organize events. Politics and government is where we make our most solemn common decisions, therefore the more that women get involved the more apt it is that politics will accede to the needs of women. As women started engaging in politics, you saw much more interest in childcare, in healthcare, the environment, and with education. As a result, women getting involved in politics has made a difference. The same is true in business. The more women you have, the more you can get the business to take into account the needs of women.
Who has inspired you in your life? Why? How?
I went to Catholic school as a kid, so I was always inspired by the nuns. As the recent healthcare debate escalated, I was particularly inspired by the nuns who stood up against the bishops and said, “We need healthcare.” I thought that was really fabulous because for so many years women, particularly in the Catholic Church, were treated like second class citizens.
I am certainly inspired by Madeline Albright and Hilary Clinton and what they’ve done around the world. I am especially impressed by Hilary’s determination to make women’s issues part of the foreign policy conversation. She’s pointed out that in those countries where women are well-treated they are less apt to get involved in terrorism. It is those countries where women are badly treated that are most apt to be terrorist countries. She’s made that connection very clearly and she’s also pointed out that when women get educated, their children benefit and so does the whole nation.
You’ve achieved all these things in life – what are you going to look back on and say you are most proud of?
It’s really hard to pick just one. I would say I’m most proud of three things. Starting the Robert Kennedy Human Rights Award, which was a way to keep my father’s legacy alive around the world, has been very rewarding. Making sure that Maryland was the first, and still only state that requires community service for graduation is something I am proud of. Many generations of young Marylander’s have learned that they can make a difference. And finally, I am proud of my work with the Maryland HotSpot Initiative. Through these collaborative efforts we reduced crime 35% in high crime neighborhoods and actually demonstrated that you could reduce crime if you put your mind to it.
Do you have a mentor?
No. When I started politics there were not a lot of women in politics or law. Today, I think women are much more fortunate because they have access to female mentors. When I went to college, for instance, I didn’t have a single woman teacher. But, when I went to law school there was a great woman who I worked with, Ruth Kovnat. We commuted from Santa Fe to Albuquerque together and remain good friends to this day.
Has collaboration played a role in your success? If so, how?
Yes! Absolutely! Working with other women who supported me and who helped me was very important. I was able to mobilize and move on critical initiatives because of collaboration. For instance, when we were trying to reduce crime I realized that you couldn’t just have the police involved—you had to get police, probation, parole officers, community designers, the citizens in the community—to really make change. Problems are not just single-minded. You have to get people to work with one another.