Council on Women and Girls Blog

  • Women in Foreign Policy and Politics

    How to find a mentor. How to face a difficult challenge.  The definition of success. These were just a few of the topics covered during the two events we held yesterday in honor of Women’s History Month. Here at the White House, we’ve had a whirlwind Women’s History Month, which has been full of discussions, events, and even a film screening.

    In just the past two weeks, we’ve welcomed guests to a mentoring panel event and an East Room celebration with President Obama and the First Lady, highlighting President Obama’s commitment to supporting women and girls. Just yesterday, we hosted a group of students at a panel and screening of the “Makers: Women Who Make America” documentary. We closed out the month with two great events focused on career development.

    Women in Foreign Policy

    First, the East Room was transformed into a foreign policy classroom as we welcomed college and graduate students from across Washington DC for a discussion on Women in Foreign Policy. Our panel of seasoned practitioners shared stories and advice about breaking into foreign policy and national security careers. The panelists included:

    • Linda Etim, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa for USAID. In this capacity, she oversees the Office of Sudan and South Sudan Programs and the Office of West African Affairs. Prior to joining USAID, Linda served as the White House Director for Sudan, South Sudan, and East African Affairs.
    • Caitlin Hayden, Spokesperson for the National Security Council here at the White House. Caitlin also has spent time at State, focusing on press, speechwriting and South and Central Asia policy. She also has worked as the spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.
    • Michele Flournoy, Former Undersecretary for Defense for Policy.  In that role, she was the principal adviser to the Secretary of Defense in the formulation of national security and defense policy, oversight of military plans and operations, and in National Security Council deliberations.
    • Maria Otero, Former Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, U.S. State Department. In her position, Maria oversaw U.S. foreign policy issues of democracy and human rights, trafficking, rule of law, crisis prevention and response, global criminal justice, countering violent extremism and much more.

    Nia-Malika Henderson, a national political reporter for The Washington Post, moderated the panel. The panelists offered some bits of advice for the young women in the audience:

    Learn languages. Don’t be afraid to take the unbeaten path. And travel to another country, in order to be the global citizen you need to be to represent the United States.

    See below for the full video.

    African American Women on the Hill Panel

    Later in the afternoon, we hosted an African American Women on the Hill panel.  African American women working in Capitol Hill or other political and policy organizations for a lively discussion with a panel of White House staffers, who shared their stories about how they became passionate about public service, how they ended up at the White House, and how they define success. The panelists, which included Danielle Crutchfield, Assistant to the President and Director of Scheduling and Advance, Racquel Russell, Deputy Assistant to the President on Economic Mobility and Urban Affairs, Tonya Williams, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Legislative Affairs for the Vice President, encouraged the audience to stay true to themselves, to reach out and help others as they professionally advance, and to learn from every opportunity.

    It is our hope that the events provided guidance, encouragement, and perspective for all who attended. If their energy and enthusiasm is any indication, our next generation of leaders is ready to tackle the challenges of the 21st century and change the world. 

    Avra Siegel is the Deputy Executive Director of the White House  Council on Women and Girls

  • Women in Silicon Valley Leading the Way

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from The Commerce Blog

    Yesterday, I met with women who are fostering entrepreneurship and innovation in our economy through their leadership at top venture capital firms in Silicon Valley.

    We discussed the need for more girls and women to be able to find opportunities in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, where women comprise less than one-fourth of the workforce. We also discussed how women are investing in and leading startups and businesses in key areas that support U.S. competitiveness, such as clean energy, healthcare, telecommunications, bioscience, and other fast-growing fields.

    It's clear that women investors play a crucial role in helping ensure that the best private-sector ideas - including those coming from women entrepreneurs - get the resources they need to help build companies and create jobs.

    Strengthening the role of women in business and technology is an important goal of the Obama Administration, supported by the White House Council on Women and Girls. The Commerce Department, for its part, offers post-doctoral research opportunities, scholarships, and unique experiences aimed at encouraging girls to consider fulfilling and rewarding careers in STEM fields. 

  • Announcing AAPI Women Champions of Change

    We know that the American people are the source of some of the best ideas and most innovative solutions. That’s why the White House Champions of Change series spotlights ordinary citizens who are demonstrating extraordinary commitment to their community, their country, and their fellow citizens.

    Across the country, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander women are doing extraordinary things to create a more equal, safe, and prosperous future.  In business, the arts, civil rights, health, and so many other fields, AAPI women are helping to improve the lives of their fellow Americans.

    This May, on the occasion of AAPI Heritage Month, the White House Office of Public Engagement, White House Council on Women and Girls, and White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders will honor a small group of AAPI women as Champions of Change. And we want your help! Members of the public are invited to submit nominations online until Friday, March 29, 2013. A small group of AAPI women who represent diverse experiences and backgrounds will be honored as Champions of Change and invited to the White House for an event in early May.

    Click here to nominate an AAPI woman as a Champion of Change before Friday, March 29, 2013 (Note: Under “Theme of Service” please choose “AAPI Women Leaders”)

    If you have any questions or concerns, please contact For the latest news on this and other efforts by the Obama Administration to engage the AAPI community, please sign up for updates.

    Tina Tchen is Chief of Staff to the First Lady and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls. 

    Ruchi Bhowmik is Deputy Cabinet Secretary.

  • Working Toward a Tech Sector that Reflects America

    Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Technology Inclusion Summit, hosted by Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Level Playing Field Institute. It was an amazing gathering of private and public partners who are united in their efforts to expand opportunities for training, education and jobs in technology.

    President Obama has always believed that technology is an essential part of growing our economy, creating jobs and remaining globally competitive. The President continues to be committed to encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit in our country, starting with setting a goal of 1 million Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) graduates over the next decade. This effort also means that we need to collectively act to knock down any barriers that stand in the way.

    Last August, during the Tech Inclusion Roundtable, participants came up with some great private-sector initiatives to help drive innovation across every community. Whether it was pioneering new educational tools for students of all ages, bringing technical training to underrepresented communities, or mobilizing tech company CEOs to establish mentoring programs for young people, every one of these initiatives and ideas has the potential to shape America’s future.

  • National Freedom Day: A Commitment to End Modern Slavery

    Today is National Freedom Day, commemorating President Lincoln’s signing of the joint resolution that led to the Constitution’s 13th Amendment banning slavery in the United States. It is a day when freedom for all Americans is celebrated. Yet, almost 150 years later, while one form of slavery has been abolished in our country, another has quietly flourished around the world.

    From forced labor to sex trafficking to child soldiers, modern slavery entails the use of force, fraud, or coercion of another for the purposes of exploitation. An estimated 20 million men, women and children around the world, including thousands in the United States, are living in bondage, confirming that the fight to end slavery is far from over. Today we reflect on what we’ve accomplished and recommit ourselves to what President Obama called “one of the great human rights causes of our time.”

    USAID has been committed to combating human trafficking for over a decade, programming more than $180 million in nearly 70 countries since 2001. Our efforts are part of a larger government-wide approach that has involved nearly every federal department and agency. Today, we are expanding our commitment, answering President Obama’s call to end this barbaric human rights offense.  

    A year ago at the White House, we launched a new Counter-Trafficking in Persons Policy (C-TIP), focusing on concrete, measurable principles and objectives that include increasing institutional accountability within USAID and leveraging innovation, 21st century technology, and partnerships to combat trafficking. 

  • Encouraging Women to Lead in Public Service

    We recently had the privilege at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to welcome our fellow Americans to a series of open house events here at our headquarters in Washington, D.C. This was part of a larger effort by Federal agencies to host activities for members of the public visiting our nation’s capital ahead of the Presidential Inauguration. Along with showcasing the important work of our own employees, the open house events also allowed us to solicit new ideas from leaders and citizens across the nation on important issues that face our country.

    OPM Women's Roundtable

    Moderator Eleanor Clift (pictured at left) guided the discussion featuring (from left to right) Representative Kyrsten Sinema, Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget at DOI Rhea Suh, Policy Director to First Lady Jocelyn Frye, and Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chávez. (Photo from Office of Personnel Management)

    One of my favorite events here at OPM was our “Women in Public Service” roundtable which featured Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), Director of Policy and Special Projects for the First Lady Jocelyn Frye, Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget at DOI Rhea Suh, and Girl Scouts Chief Executive Officer Anna Maria Chávez. The panel event tackled how we might encourage and sustain more women taking leadership tracks within public service – whether that means government service, elected office, the non-profit world, or volunteering with their communities.

    At the beginning of the President’s term, women made up 29 percent of the Federal government’s senior executive service positions. That is now up to 34 percent. That’s a tremendous improvement and a great start, but we’ve got more work to do. That’s why it was so thrilling to hear this panel and our public guests discuss how we reduce the barriers women still often face within their tracks to positions of leadership.

    We were also glad to help job-seekers navigate the Federal hiring process with our find and apply workshop and our Veterans employment training. A tour of our Innovation Lab, and a short session with our facilitators let us showcase the efforts we’re making to spur innovations that get better, more efficient government. And discussions on disability employment and Hispanic employment issues brought together leaders from the public and private sectors to share ideas about what we can continue to do and what we can do better to boost recruitment among these two underrepresented groups. Apart from discussing our work and gathering great ideas, the dialogue with participants at each event reinforced the continued importance of our efforts to look beyond the Washington Beltway for best practices which can serve the American public. 

    Liz Montoya is the Chief of Staff at the Office of Personnel Management