Hillary Clinton’s Advice for Young Women

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Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at a launch event hosted by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for a new organization, the U.S. Global Development Lab, on April 3, 2014 in New York City. The U.S. Global Development Lab will bring together 32 partners from across the public, private and non profit sector with the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030. Photo: Andrew Burton

Hillary Clinton talked about sexist double standards and the economic case for gender equality alongside IMF managing director Christine Lagarde at Tina Brown’s Women in the World Summit last night. There’s a full video of the panel, moderated by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, available hereHere are some highlights:

On the economic benefits of feminism.

For many of us, the argument for women’s equality was first and foremost a moral argument and it was a political argument. But I think where it is now as an economic argument is many respects a maturing of the case that women’s rights are human rights but also a very important way of enlisting greater support. You are well-known for your writing that the world is flat. Well, it can’t really be flat if you have half the population discouraged and discriminated against when it comes to economic activity, because you will not be as productive. It’s very strategic. Where women are more equal, you have less instability, fewer conflicts, greater democracy, and more accountable government, these go hand-in-hand ... That’s true even in the US. It’s not just true somewhere else, I mean the percentages are not as great here, what we’re learning in the US with Sheryl Sandberg and Lean In and a new report out of Google in the last 48 hours, the way women are treated is subtler but no less damaging, not only for the individual woman, but for the economy as the whole.

On double standards in public life.

I remember as a young lawyer, and this was so many years ago, I read a column in the paper in Arkansas and it was advice about the workplace. One of the questions was “Dear so and so" — and the writer was a man — “I’ve got a promotion so for the first time I’m going to have an office and I don’t know how to decorate it. Do you have any ideas how to decorate it?” The answer was, “I can’t tell from your initials if you’re male or female. If you’re a man, put pictures of your family so everyone will know you’re a responsible, reliable family man. If you’re a female, don’t have any pictures of your family because then they’ll think you won’t be able to concentrate on your work.” That was so long ago and some of those attitudes persist. If they persist in an open and transformational society as ours in the 21st century, you know how deep they are. That’s why it’s important we surface them and why we talk about them and help men and women recognize when they’re crossing over from an individual judgment, which we’re all prone to make and have a right to make about somebody, into a stereotype, applying some kind of gender-based characterization of a person.

On being a woman in the boys' club.

You have to find ways to raise these issues that are truly rooted in sexism or old-fashioned, irrelevant, expectations about women’s lives, not just to score a point, but to change a mind. I’ve had that experience of talking about women’s issues and seeing the eyes just glaze over and the mind just wandering. You have to find ways to bring it back: “Oh, I know you have a daughter, you must be so proud, what do you want her to do?” You have to think of ways to keep focus on what it is you’re trying to convince the other person, predominantly a man, to believe.

On going too easy — or too hard — on yourself.

Too many young women I think are harder on than themselves than circumstances warrant. They are too often selling themselves short. They too often take criticism personally instead of seriously. You should take criticism seriously because you might learn something, but you can’t let it crush you. You have to be resilient enough to keep moving forward, whatever the personal setbacks and even insults that come your way might be. That takes a sense of humor about yourself and others. Believe me, this is hard-won advice I’m putting forth. It’s not like you wake up and understand this. It’s a process.

On gendered self-doubt.

At this point in my life and career, I’ve employed so many young people. When I say to a woman, “I want you to do this, move up, take on this extra responsibility,” almost invariably they would say, “Do you think I can? Do you think I’m ready?” Well, I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think they were ready, but that’s often the first response from a young woman. When I’ve asked a young man to move up, he goes, “How high? How fast? When do I start?” There is a hesitancy still about women’s work and women’s worth that we’re going to have to continue to address so more women can feel free to pursue their own ambitions and be successful.”