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Winter welcome 2016

You Have the Capabilities the World Needs

By Ellen Merrick Petrill, ’77, ‘78

“Build yourself strong shoulders,” recommended Dr. Amy Zegart, co-keynote speaker at the 11th Annual Stanford Women Winter Welcome on January 20, 2016.  “Be ready to help each other. I didn’t get here alone.  I’m standing on the shoulders of women like Martha Crenshaw and Condoleezza Rice.” Amy was speaking of her co-keynote speaker, colleague and friend, Dr. Crenshaw, with whom she co-taught Political Science 114:  International Security in a Changing World, and of Dr. Rice, the professor who inspired and advised her in her PhD career in political science at Stanford.


 Dr. Martha Crenshaw encouraged us to remember the women who have gone before and to support women now. “Women need to help each other out.  Have you been in a discussion when a woman brought up an idea and heard silence?  Then a few minutes later a male makes the same point and everyone jumps on it.  Don’t let that moment pass; we need to come in to support.  Tell the group, ‘Mary said that.’”

These two renowned professors in intelligence and terrorism took off their professional mantles and became Martha and Amy to the audience of about 90 Stanford women.   Martha and Amy are both Senior Fellows at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and Professors, by courtesy, of Political Science.  Amy is Co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation. They shared details of their lives during the intimate evening, telling us how they found their career paths and offered advice to navigate obstacles.

The Stanford Women Winter Welcome brings together Stanford women of all ages and roles, from freshman and sophomore students to upperclass women to alumnae who graduated in the decades spanning the 1940s to the 2010s, and faculty and staff of the University.  Cap and Gown hosts this event annually to welcome the youngest women of our community to Stanford where women have been part of University life since the beginning in 1891.  The Winter Welcome is not simply a greeting but a thoughtful welcome with personal talks by leading women faculty and staff and table discussions among students, alumnae, and faculty and staff about choices, support, and challenges.

At Stanford, the placid duck image prevails, while the real story is that there is mad paddling under the water, likely by everyone. It will not stop after college for most, and advice to help us thrive in that environment is helpful.

“Be deliberate about your choices.  You choose!” encouraged Amy.  “Your dissertation topic will set your career. I studied the creation of national security organizations after World War II.”

Martha told us, “I chose to do my dissertation on guerilla warfare, even though nobody studied that, because it interested me.”  Nobody discouraged her from that topic because what women studied in those years (late 60s/early 70s) didn’t matter.  It was believed that they would just follow their husbands.  “Later in the 1970s when highjacking, bombings and kidnapping occurred more frequently, more people focused on it but it was not mainstream.  Then when 9/11 happened, terrorism was the number one threat, the phone rang off the hook.  Many terrorism “experts” popped up, but they knew nothing.”

Both told us to speak up, drop self-doubt and self-effacement, and not be afraid to promote yourself.  Who else will?  “You have to interrupt,” advised Martha. “You may have been taught that interrupting is rude.  But if you don’t interrupt, you’ll miss opportunities to contribute, to have the important idea.  Don’t be silent.  Learn to be a ham by speaking up.  Be tough.  Don’t let others’ opinions bother you – do what you are doing because you chose it; it interests you.”

“If I don’t talk, I’m not present,” revealed Amy.  She told us she still works on that daily. “You didn’t ask a question?  But a man did? That same question.”  About self-doubt, Amy admonished, “Believe in yourself and your ambition.  Don’t settle.  Lean in, but also sit back and think and plan.”

As far as balance, Martha told us, “You have your career,” which for her was teaching and research, “and you have family and children.  You have a lot to do and you do it because you have to get it done.  It doesn’t have to be perfect nor cost a lot.  It takes perseverance.”  

Be an optimist but be aware of unconscious bias.  In Amy’s first year as a PhD student at Stanford, the Political Science department chair decided to hold a faculty-student event to build camaraderie.  It was a basketball game.  Amy quipped, “Basketball?  I’m the only female in the group. So I went to the chair, a lovely man, and told him, ‘I enjoy watching basketball, but I don’t play it.’”  He changed the event.  

Martha told us about how co-authoring articles with men is hard on women.  The publication doesn’t count toward tenure as for men.  The assumption is that the woman didn’t do the work that the man did.  She thinks this is unconscious bias.
Even women demonstrate unconscious bias.  When Amy told a woman about the coming of the United States Secretary of the Air Force to Stanford, the woman assumed the Secretary was male. The Secretary is a woman.  Be aware of these biases we and others may have and work to remove them.

When Amy ran for student body president at Harvard, she was devastated when she lost.  But then she realized the man who won had campaigned hard and had not taken any vote for granted.  The loss led to her role with a top university official in forming Harvard’s women’s leadership project, a group that holds a leadership conference each year created for and by women at Harvard.
Amy ended with her final advice:  “If you help another woman this year in one small way, you will have made a difference.”


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