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October 31, 2010

1st Female White House Press Secretary Aims to Empower Women

by Faiza Elmasry

Dee Dee Myers hopes to change the world by boosting women and girls

Dee Dee Myers was the first woman - and one of the youngest - White House press secretaries.

Now, more than a decade after her service in the Clinton Administration, Myers is focused on empowering women in the U.S. and worldwide.

White House years

Never take it personally; never lose your sense of humor. That's the motto Dee Dee Myers lived by as President Bill Clinton's press secretary.

"Being the first woman was a little harder for me to establish my authority and my credibility in a culture, in Washington, which is pretty traditional," Myers says. "I definitely faced challenges and I sometimes felt I had more responsibility than I had authority, which I think is a problem a lot of women face. But I fought back and, over time, I was able to make things work better for me and most importantly for the president."

Myers was inspired by her mother and other successful women.

"My mom always told my sister and me that we could do whatever we wanted," she recalls. "She finished her master's degree and went back into the workforce, when I was in high school. So she was a great role model for me and my sister as well. And as I grew up in politics, I saw a lot of women moving up. That gave me the confidence to think that I might be able to make that next level. I don't think I've ever thought I would end up in the White House."

Myers says she was also lucky to have great mentors, both women and men.

"One of my most important mentors was one of my first bosses in politics, the former mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley, who really treated me like a grown up when I was very young, with great respect and really taught me a lot about how to deal with people. And I'll always be gratefull," Myers says.


Empowering women


After leaving the White House in 1994, Myers worked as political commentator on cable and TV networks. She has also lectured on politics, the media and women's issues.

"I'm still interested in politics, but empowering women has become my passion because I think it can truly change the world," she says.

That's why Myers wrote a book, "Why Women Should Rule the World."

"I chose the title to sort of get people to think about what might change if women ruled the world," she says. "But the argument that I make is not that women should rule in place of men, but that women should rule alongside of men because we can talk for hours about how empowering women in the world is the single most important thing we could do to promote economic development globally and political stability and peace. I think there is no more generally effective way to change the world than to educate and empower women and girls."

However, she notes, women who have been successful - in business or politics - are not always willing to be mentors and help other women advance.

"I think in many ways that's getting better, but I think there is room for improvement," she says. "One of the things that I think women have to recognize is that there is enough room for everybody. I think sometimes that competition comes from insecurity. I don't think women give themselves enough credit for all that they contribute and all that they bring. I think sometimes women are more reluctant to take risks than their skills or talent or ambitions suggest they ought to be."

New campaign

To encourage women to help themselves and each other, Myers became a spokeswoman for the Empowering Your Confidence campaign. Sponsored by Jones New York, which sells clothes for professional women, the online campaign offers encouragement and advice from women who have 'made it'.

"One of the things it says to women is, 'Own your success, be confident, know what it is you can contribute to the workplace, to community and to family and be proud of it,'" she says. "You find more about the campaign at jny.com/empowerment. There is a lot there including something called 'the little black book on career advice.' We gathered anecdotes and advice from more than 100 women, from a bunch of different professions, talking to other women about what they think will help women to succeed."

Dee Dee Myers says working with this campaign is another way for her to reach out to women everywhere, helping them realize and reach their potential to not only succeed in their chosesn careers but also to change the world.