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Celebrating Women's Leadership the Penn Way

Leadership has many faces, and at a recent three-day conference celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Trustees' Council of Penn Women, the myriad styles -- and results -- of women's leadership were given voice.
   First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Hon'93, the symposium's keynote speaker, noted that the very term "women's issues" was somewhere between "unfortunate" and inadequate. "After all," Clinton said to about 950 council members, students, and staff at Zellerbach Theater, "don't fathers worry about how long their wives and newborn babies can stay in the hospital when they deserve care? Don't men want to
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take time off when a family member is gravely ill? Don't sons want to ensure that their elderly parents have adequate health-care coverage in the later stages of life?"
   Clinton, who was given the council's Beacon Award for leadership, said that while the answers to those questions may seem self-evident, "it has been women who have raised these issues and made them ones that are not just private, personal concerns but public, political concerns, as well."
   Before the 1996 presidential election, Clinton recalled, some commentators referred derisively to several issues raised during her husband's campaign, such as family and medical leave, as the "feminization of politics." In her view, the increasing attention to issues "that are really at the heart of how we lead our lives" should be described "not as the feminization of politics but as the humanization of politics."
   According to Cokie Roberts, special correspondent for ABC News in Washington, the gender gap was first observed in a major election in 1980, when men voted for then-president Ronald Reagan by about 11 percentage points more than women did.
   "The gap has been seen in every election since then in one way or another, and that's been highly significant," Roberts said. In 1982, 26 members of Congress were defeated because of the women's vote, and in the next couple of years, military pensions for women were approved, the first domestic-violence law was passed, and the first child-support-enforcement law was passed. Similarly, the increased presence of women in Congress has made a tremendous difference in the passage of such legislation as the assault-weapons ban.
   Several other leaders -- including Faye Wattleton, Hon'90, president of the Center for Gender Equality and former president of Planned Parenthood, and Rebecca W. Rimel, president and CEO of The Pew Charitable Trusts -- shared their insights as a way of celebrating the anniversary and mission of the trustees' council. A national network of Penn alumnae, its 139 members were chosen for their commitment to the institution and for leadership in their chosen professions. Over the decade they have contributed more than $13 million to Penn; advocated the hiring and promotion of more women faculty, staff, and administrators; funded education grants; and used their expertise in some 40 different fields to mentor college students and recent graduates.
   President Judith Rodin, while paying tribute to the council's achievements, took a moment to advise future women leaders not to be squeamish about wielding power: "Get in someone's way. Don't whisper your story -- shout it. And be willing to stand your ground.
   "I urge each of you to take advantage of the opportunities for leadership that we offer here at Penn," Rodin concluded. "Once you have seen the difference you can make, stay involved. You are the next generation of council members, and tomorrow's students will be counting on you."

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Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 12/11/97