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Women Executives in State Government Leadership Awards Gala, Washington, D.C.

          Good evening. Thank you, Beverly (Watts), for that introduction.

          I have always been an enthusiastic supporter of Women Executives in State Government (WESG) and it’s great to be part of your national conference again this year.

          As I look across this room, I am inspired to see such a gathering of women from across the country who hold prominent positions – both elected and appointed – in their own communities. By establishing a strong base at the local level, we are building a network across the country that will ultimately create greater opportunities for all.

          Your organization provides an important connection for women in today’s world. Through the services offered by WESG – such as peer_to_peer exchange and networking opportunities; high_quality management and leadership training – you are bringing together talented women from different disciplines, in both the public and private sectors. You are helping to create the leaders who are making a difference across America.

          And the American public is ready for women leaders. In fact, according to a recent Washington Post article, women are strong contenders in at least a dozen of the 36 states where the top job – the Governor – is on the ballot in November, twice as many as ever before. And the opportunities in state government also go beyond elected office – some of the greatest experiences can be had as a state commissioner, cabinet advisor, head of a state agency, and more.

          But we can’t sit back and celebrate our success yet. While there has been a great deal of progress, there is still so much room for more. As Maureen Reagan once said, “I will feel equality has arrived when we can elect to office women who are as unqualified as some of the men who are already there.”

          So let’s talk for a minute about what else we can do. I believe there are three major ways we can each make a difference: as mentors, as role models, and as leaders.

          First, we have to be mentors.

          We women don’t have an “old boys” network – and I’m not suggesting we establish an “old girls” network – at least not by that name. But we do need to be intentional about opening doors to capable women whenever we can.

          I am happy to say that President Bush has set an excellent example. I am one of four women in the President’s cabinet – serving with Gail Norton at Interior, Ann Veneman at Agriculture, and Elaine Chao at Labor. And there are more women in senior positions in this White House than in any other Administration in America’s history.

          As I have made my way in public office, I have worked to provide new opportunities to the talented women I know and who have come to my attention. I’m proud that as New Jersey’s governor, I appointed the first woman to serve as a governor’s chief of staff, the first to serve as attorney general, and the first to serve as chief justice of my state’s Supreme Court.

          Then just yesterday, I had the pleasure of administering the oath of office to Jane Kenny as the Regional Administrator for EPA’s programs in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. I’m sure many of you know Jane and understand how happy I am that she has joined me for a third “tour.” Her experience in state government will be of great value to EPA and to the people she serves.

          And if you were to come to one of my weekly senior staff meetings here in Washington, you’d notice more women around the table than men. My deputy administrator, my chief of staff, my deputy chief of staff, and many of my assistant administrators are women – very talented women. There are a few men around the table too – I do believe in equal opportunity – but the majority are women, and that’s not a coincidence.

          I also think we need to be conscious about being role models.

          One of the things I really enjoyed doing every year when I was governor was speaking to Girls State, a program run by the American Legion Auxiliary to encourage civic leadership skills among high school girls and help them build the confidence to pursue their goals, in any field of endeavor.

          But it’s more important that they see women leaders acting with integrity, strength, independence, and resolve. They need to see the vision that drives ambition, the purpose that warrants sacrifice.

          And they also need to see that women can lead – and that as leaders, we possess a unique set of experiences and perspectives that differentiate us from male leaders. Women do bring a different approach to problem solving. We need to recognize and honor that. Women tend to be more open in the way they make decisions. We are usually more willing to reach across traditional boundaries to forge solutions.

          These skills are needed at every level in public and private life, both for the diversity they bring and the balance they provide. But these skills are not, by themselves, enough, especially as women seek to move to the next levels of leadership.

          To reach the top, women leaders also need to be tough when the situation demands. Let me be clear – when I say “tough,” I don’t mean, “like men.” I’m talking about the kind of toughness that strong women have always possessed – the toughness that comes from a calm self-assurance, a steady faith in one’s abilities, and a firm reliance on one’s inner strengths.

          Tonight you will recognize four individuals for their outstanding contributions to assist women and to advance them within the public and private sectors. These leadership awards – presented to a woman in state government, a person in the public sector, a person in the private sector, and a governor – recognize the value of exemplary leadership. Please accept my congratulations for these well deserved honors.

          At this point, I will wrap up my remarks and let you get on with the evening’s festivities. I understand you have a lovely dinner waiting in the wings. Thank you again for the opportunity to share in tonight’s celebration.

          Good night.