The White House Project ignites the leadership of women in business and politics. We connect, coach, and educate an ever-expanding alumnae network of 14,000 nationwide. With a focus on women age 21-35, we activate the ambition, creativity, and skills necessary for innovative and effective leadership.

Posts Tagged: leadership


Leadership, Work and Family

From the very beginning of the White House Project, our goal was not just a woman president, but using the presidency (the only place you can convince Americans that women don’t already lead) as a way to propel a critical mass of women into leadership at all levels of government and industry. Why? Because the changes that we most need for women and men; the changes we most need to bring new values and ideas to the table; the changes that the recent much read article by Anne-Marie Slaughter now sees are needed in work-family policy will only be possible when enough women are at the tables of power.

Contrary to the image of early second stage feminism, work-family policy is where women like myself began.  I was in Iowa in the seventies and lobbied for affordable quality childcare.  Later, as leader of a large division of women’s programs at Drake University, I started classes for dual career families and followed by educating Iowa companies about alternative work arrangements including job sharing, permanent part time work, compressed work weeks…all with prorated benefits. Now and then we needed ways that women and men could share the work inside and outside the home. 

I was ahead of the times, but I got a second shot with The White House Project in the last decade. In our trainings across the U.S., we were honest with the diverse young women who invariably wanted to know what to do about their children while they pursued, or when they secured, a political office.

The women political leaders we brought in to encourage them always shared their own solutions.  And I shared my lived experience as a mother of five:  that “yes,” it did require sacrifice, but no permanent changes would occur in work-family policy if women were not in leadership in sufficient numbers.

Now a political appointee, Anne-Marie Slaughter, has put this out in the world using her own life and family as an example.  She left her top position in the State Department to go back and be there for her children, and is re-telling women the bad news that we can’t have it all.  But she is also saying what our White House Project message has been for fourteen years to 14,000:  If you want to permanently make these changes, then go lead in massive numbers to change these policies.

The good news is that we are not alone in seeking these changes.  Now more men are interested in trading money for time with family.  They want a different life – one with more family time and fewer stressors.  What does this shift do? It lightens women’s burdens and helps create a true partnership in the home. We have the opportunity for allies as never before in gaining traction for work-family policies 

But the message can’t be that we are making these changes because women can’t have it all; we need to make these changes so that our country CAN have it all. Our state governments can mandate paid family medical leave and build healthier citizens. And contrary to popular belief, our corporate institutions can make these changes and remain profitable not just financially, but in building communities that are healthy and safe.  Isn’t this why companies exist and why we incorporate them?

It’s wonderful that a woman leader at the top has begun this conversation anew, and it’s time for women and men throughout the U.S. to carry it forward.   But the surest way to get there is framed by the oldest slogan in our WHP life: Go Vote, Go Run, Go Lead, Go Girl!



  Marie C. Wilson is the founder and President Emeritus of  The White House Project.                                   





There’s been discussion on the Huffington Post lately about the lack of central (Gloria Steinem-esque) figures in the women’s equality movement. My main resulting question is, do we even need one?  

Pat Mitchell, CEO of The Paley Center for Media, called for all U.S. female leaders to be involved in gender justice movements because those women earned those top spots, they wouldn’t be maxing out the full potential of their positions if they didn’t specifically address the status of women today.  Surely every movement benefits from having influential supporters, but the movement for gender parity and women’s (read: human) rights seems like it would gain the most momentum simply from everyone who’s interested getting involved.

Birute Regine of eyed the topic more critically by saying that the women’s movement will benefit more from collective power, and citing Gloria Steinem herself as espousing those same values of shared leadership. Regine draws analogies between the direction in which the business world is heading and the leadership of social movements: the blueprint for successful business no longer requires a dominant powerful figure with a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. Instead, emphasis is placed on networking, the sharing of ideas, and mentorship (not coincidentally, many of the admirable qualities being talked about in female-owned businesses).

Most recently (and ongoing) in the United States, this type of collective leadership can be seen in the Occupy Wall Street movements. A significant amount of people had the same frustration with the same issues, and got together as a collective voice to enact change. The fact that there is no concrete leader perhaps gives the participants more agency in what they dedicate their daily lives toward changing. It’s a bit of a stretch, but imagine if the gender parity movement in the U.S. had one umbrella organization and everyone who was interested worked only for that, and followed the philosophies of one leader toward success. We’d miss out on a lot of fantastic organizations and their respective leaders’ visions for the future.

Right now we have one goal, with many different, creative routes being taken – nobody has to wait for one specific leader to get the ball rolling. Don’t hang around lamenting the fact that there’s no one knightess in shining armor for all of us – look around you at all the great people already working for change, and more importantly, be your own leader right now!


April DeJarlais is a Communications Intern with The White House Project.  


In My Opinion is a weekly segment in which Interns and Staff at The White House Project comment on recent issues and articles important to their individual leadership.

Shining Shoes Best Way Wall Street Women Outearn Men
Frank Bass

Men get paid more than women in 264 out of 265 major occupations. The exception? The service industry, where women get $1.02 to every $1 that men make. The lead paragraph of this piece was especially face-slapping, by saying that women can earn more than men on Wall Street – if they choose to shine shoes. Female doctors, lawyers, bankers all earn less than male counterparts. Interestingly, female receptionists also earn less than male ones, even though the majority of administrative assistants are females. I’m always curious as to how this is calculated, and why, for instance, a female doctor wouldn’t just research how much a male career peer earns and ask for that as salary. Obviously easier said than done, however – I know that if I were getting paid less than someone comparable to me, I would assume they were doing more work than I was and that they deserved it. So let’s stop assuming! It shouldn’t be embarrassing to ask for what your work is worth.

Senior Women Share Stories on Their Roles as Leaders
J.D. Leipold

Some people seek out power, and others demonstrate the ability to produce results and are subsequently given power. The five women in U.S. Army leadership positions featured in this article are a mix of both, but all showed strong and grounded approaches to being in powerful positions in a military branch. Major General Marcia D. Anderson – the first African-American woman to have such a title – emphasized the need to mentor those beneath her rank and show interest in them as people. Interest in the individual is certainly a sign of a great leader – too many of powerful people have been self-centered and manipulative of those serving beneath them. To borrow from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”, leaders must be able to “walk with kings – nor lose the common touch.” Of course, Kipling ends his poetic list of virtues by saying “You’ll be a man, my son!” if the moral achievements are reached. These featured Army leaders are showing us that being a woman isn’t so bad, either.  

Are Female Voters to Blame For the Failure of Female Candidates?
Keli Goff

Are political ties stronger than the bonds of sisterhood? Apparently yes, and essentially they should be – as one commenter on this article pointed out, voting for a woman on the basis of being a woman is as discriminatory as not voting for her for the same reason. Keli Goff’s piece on female support for female candidates raises multiple sides of the issue, such as women reporting that they feel more comfortable with a male boss and men supporting Sarah Palin in 2008 more than women.  Female candidates certainly have extra work to do, and White House Project president Tiffany Dufu was quoted in this piece as saying “Any individual who does not fit the leadership status quo has to meet a higher bar.” It appears that many Americans, regardless of gender, are comfortable with what’s normal – no surprise there. It’s going to take a step out of the comfort zone from both men and women to elect and trust female leaders, but that comfort zone can’t be an excuse to not take a chance. 


April DeJarlais is a Communications Intern with The White House Project 


In light of Women’s History Month I found myself pondering on women’s position in politics back home. Home is the Seychelles Islands, located off the East coast of Africa and just south of the Equator. Seychelles is mostly known as a tourist destination and it seems like half a world away. So what would this island gal know about women and politics or gender equality? Surely gender disparity is present everywhere, but what about Seychelles? Many might think the island lifestyle has meant a lackluster performance of women in politics. Rather, Seychelles currently ranks 5th in the world in relation to gender parity in national legislatures. This represents substantial steps for women in politics, more so when compared to the United States where women have actually lost ground in politics, making the US rank 74th worldwide for women’s political representation.

Living in an island state also presented its challenges. The cost of living is quite high as we have to import almost everything. There were times where we had to scour the whole island for the basic necessities! Instead of shopping malls and holiday resorts, I grew up with the sun, sand and the sea! Despite the insulated environment I am proud of my island heritage. I have come to appreciate what I grew up with and took for granted such as free healthcare, free education, and a secure pension – the very same issues that are currently on the forefront of politics in the US.

However, as we pay homage to the groundbreakers during Women’s History Month, let this be a call to all women that change is possible. Let us learn from these exceptional leaders in the same way countries can learn from each other. My country has shown women can be as successful and as accomplished as their male counterparts and, who knows, maybe a woman president may not be too far off in the future for this island state!

About Tania: Tania is originally from the Seychelles and she is currently living in Denver. She is obtaining a Master of Arts from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and interns for The White House Project. 


Admiral Grace Hopper nee Murray (1906-1992) is a woman of rare accomplishments who inspires us because she pursued her interests without reference to her gender. She is one of the earliest contributors to the field of computer science, male or female, and one of the first women to make a career in the Navy. She is the co-creator of the COBOL computer language, and coiner of the term “debugging.” She is one of the few women to have received the rank of Rear Admiral and even fewer with a Naval ship named after her.

Grace was curious and ambitious from the very start, once dismantling seven alarm clocks in order to figure out how they worked. Grace went to Vassar at 17 (having been rejected at 16) and graduated with honors in Mathematics. In 1930 she earned a Master’s degree at Yale for Mathematics and Physics and in 1934 became the first woman to receive a PhD in Mathematics from Yale University. Grace taught at Vassar until joining the WAVES (see April’s blog about WAVES founder Margaret Chase Smith below) in 1943 (Read more).

Grace’s contributed to the war effort by programming the Mark I to calculate the flight paths of artillery shells as part of Harvard’s Bureau of Ordnance Computation Program. Here she coined the term “debugging” when she solved a hardware malfunction by removing an actual moth from the machine! In 1946 she was released from active duty but retained a position in the Naval Reserves. She continued to work with the new and developing computer and her belief that computer language could and should be closer to English contributed to the creation of the widely used programming code COBOL. Grace returned to active duty with the Navy from 1967 until her retirement in 1986, achieving the rank of Commodore (later called Rear Admiral) in 1983 by special Presidential appointment. Grace spent much of her later Naval career and her retirement speaking about her experiences (Read more). 

Grace is said to have regularly repeated that “it is often easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” and I believe that she lived by those words (Read more). She did not feel the need to make apologies for her gender in order to pursue her goals. Reflecting on the recent NY Times article about finding a new spokesperson for the women’s movement, I believe that we need women like Gloria Steinem and Tiffany Dufu who are dedicated to promoting women on every level. However, we also need women like Grace who get up everyday and go to work in predominately male fields. These women are feminists just by acting out their lives and making it possible for more women to follow in their footsteps. Grace’s impact and inspiration are very real to me because my mother, as a young computer programmer in the Navy herself, had the opportunity to see Grace Hopper speak. Every computer we owned while I was growing up was named Gracie in honor of her role model.

My mother in the Navy

Do you have examples of inspiring everyday feminists to share with us?

About Kayla: Kayla will graduate from Columbia University this spring with a degree in Political Science and hopes to work in public policy. She is the Executive Staff Intern at our offices in New York.


In My Opinion is a weekly segment in which Interns and Staff at The White House Project comment on recent issues and articles important to their individual leadership.

1.) “Women’s Colleges Tap Underutilized Leadership Talent”

Written By Helen Drinan, President Simmons College

In this article, Author Helen Drinan explains how women’s colleges offer a safe place for young women to explore leadership development in ways that co-ed institutions can not. As a women’s college graduate myself, learning to adapt to all the ways in which women could pursue leadership roles in college was a challenge, albeit a welcomed challenge. After finishing my first year of college at a co-ed university, I knew I wasn’t putting forth my best effort and work. I knew I wasn’t comfortable in the co-ed setting as I was afraid to fail in front of my male peers. I was afraid my peers would see me as inadequate for the academics I was in; therefore, I performed inadequately. I decided to transfer to a women’s college. It was the best decision I ever made. Having the opportunity to attend a women’s college, opened my eyes to how important and necessary women are as leaders, and how well women work together. Most importantly, it showed me how I was just as likely as the next student to become a writer for the school newspaper and even become editor. The opportunities women are given in women’s colleges are limitless. The leadership positions are no less covetable, but perhaps more accessible. And that is important for young women to learn at that increasingly independent stage in their lives. This article helps young women understand that women are powerful leaders, powerful enough to lead colleges and universities. 

3.)  “Turning the Tide for Women: Vaginal Americans Rejoice?”
Written By Morra Aarons-Mele, Huffington Post

The recent discussion revolving around the globally bashed photo of the all male Congressional panel deciding the fate of women’s fertility has once again produced the question- where are the women? But this time women have taken their outcry online and to the media, leaving author Aarons-Mele wondering, can women now “rejoice”? Is the women’s health debate taking a turn? From what the media has to say about recent hearings on the debate, it seems as though women are now taking the stand, and It has been a long time coming. In the article, Aarons-Mele cites Nancy Pelosi’s past tweet of a recent hearing, “Today’s hearing on women’s health looks a little different than GOP’s hearing last week.” This has lead many to wonder, could things be changing fast? With many hopefuls keeping their ears and eyes “akimbo,” the women’s health debate may finally hear women’s voices. This has been a crucially important debate in the last few months as things get heated in Congress and as the 2012 Presidential Election comes near. The public outcry for women’s voices to be heard - alongside men’s - has had a positive effect on the direction the debate is turning. And young women, like myself, are becoming more and more aware of how possible it is for history to repeat itself; they are realizing that women need to be at the forefront of the issue, not sitting behind the panel.

 4.) “Afghan Men Get Schooled in Women’s Rights”

Written By Eliza Griswold

An uplifting article about a group of Afghan men who called on one woman to train them on respecting women’s equality. I was so impressed with the leadership of Jean Kissell, a woman who has selflessly dedicated over ten years of her life toward establishing women’s rights under Islam rule in Afghanistan, and who inspired the men in Afghanistan to recognize women’s equality. Not only was she helping women establish a leadership presence in their country, but she also engaged Afghans in how they would like to see their country run. This is an inspiring story about female leadership as it presents a story in which women are able to forge new paths and create networks, relationships and, ultimately, peace within a village under much duress. Kissell and her former student, Mohammad Nasib, helped to launch the nonprofit called the Welfare Association for the Development of Afghanistan (WADAN). As the article explains, the work of WADAN is crucial in these last few years before American troops pullout. Kissell has established an Afghan community founded on trust, relationships, and leadership.


About Sara:

I grew up in Eden Prairie, a suburb of Minneapolis, MN. After graduation I attended the University of St. Thomas for my freshman year. During which I decided that it just wasn’t the right fit for me. I transferred to its sister school, St. Catherine University, an all women’s college, where I flourished in English literature, poetry, theological studies, and women’s studies. I spent the summer of my junior year at New York University where I immersed myself in poetry, history and culture…and shopping of course. I have been with The White House Project for the past six months and I am enjoying every minute of it. I have had the great fortune of learning from some truly inspiring women.