Written by Jan Jaben-Eilon Tuesday, June 05 2012
Snapshot: Betsy Myers, Author, Former Senior Advisor on Women’s Issues to President Clinton and now Director, Bentley University’s Center for Women and Business
Betsy Myers, founding director of Bentley University’s Center for Women and Business, just published a book, “Take the Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring Out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You.” Her career has long centered on women and business, some of it in the political world. As a senior official in the Clinton administration, she was the president’s senior advisor on women’s issues. As deputy assistant to the president, she launched and was the first director of the White House Office for Women’s Initiatives and Outreach. She also worked on Clinton’s re-election in 1996 and helped shape the administration’s legislative agenda on issues such as domestic violence, reproductive choice, breast cancer and women in business.
Prior to joining the Clinton administration, Myers spent six years building Myers Insurance & Financial Services based in Los Angeles. She specialized in the small business and the women’s markets providing insurance and retirement planning.
Myers also served as the associate deputy administrator for entrepreneurial development in the U.S. Small Business Administration. She implemented the SBA’s national requirements under President Clinton’s Welfare to Work Initiative and was responsible for the agency’s technical assistance, management and distance learning programs. In a previous post, she served as the director of the Office of Women’s Business Ownership at the SBA, where she was an advocate for the 7.8 million women entrepreneurs in our country. In 2003, Myers served as executive director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
More recently, she served as chief operating officer of President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Connecting with women voters around the country, she also served as the chair of Women for Obama.
She lives in the Boston area with her husband, daughter and two dogs.
Womenetics: What is leadership to you?
Betsy Myers: Leadership is about getting the work done, whatever it is you want done. Everyone is really a leader. At the very least, you lead your own life. We decide how we’re going to act in the world. Leadership is what matters to you today, figuring out how to be your best self.
Womenetics: Why did you found the Center for Women and Business? Aren’t there other organizations encouraging businesses to promote women?
Myers: The Center was the brainchild of the president of Bentley University, Gloria Cordes Larson. This is a business university in which business is intertwined with liberal arts. We need business leaders, but we need them to know about psychology, history, literature, etc.
We have a lot of corporate partners, and we’ve seen a shift in the conversation of businessmen away from having to convince them that women should be at the table. They tell us that they’ve tried other ways to increase women in leadership roles, and we decided we should do this in partnership with men. There’s also been a shift in that they see the business reason for increasing the number of women in the boardroom. We also partner with other women’s groups that work to increase the number of women in top positions in business.
Womenetics: What is your long-term goal for the Center?
Myers: If we can say in a few years that the 20 to 25 companies we work with are starting to have 30 percent of women on their boards, that’s when real change will happen.
Womenetics: In your book, you write about how leaders impact the feelings of those around them. What kinds of feelings?
Myers: Our feelings determine our motivation. As leaders we must be conscious of our behavior. When employees feel they are understood and included, they do their best, most productive work. Polls show that 50 to 70 percent of Americans are unhappy in the workplace, and 84 percent are looking for new jobs.
Womenetics: Both men and women can become leaders, you write, but the leadership traits you describe – collaboration, cooperation and relationship-building – are more often associated with women. Are these traits more natural to women and must be learned by men?
Myers: That’s a funny thing. My book talks about men with those traits. When you respect others, you bring out their best. I think this is gender neutral. I spoke about many men, like President Bill Clinton. It is a leadership style that is necessary today.
Womenetics: You write about collaboration, and I can’t help but think that the word “compromise” has become a negative. What do you think of this development?
Myers: It’s one of those things that is unbelievable. Everything we get done is through collaboration, with clients and constituents. In Washington, we’ve come to a place where Sen. Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, says we must do everything to make Obama fail. It’s gotten so bad that Democrats and Republicans sit on opposite sides of the room during committee meetings. It was very disheartening to hear that Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana lost in the Republican primary to someone who said he’s against compromise. Lugar was willing to work with the other side of the aisle. Until voters say we’re going to reward those who will work across the aisle and not reward those who vote only for their own party, things won’t change. Otherwise, we get extremists, and we are not an extremist country.
Womenetics: When are you going to run for office, as (former Attorney General) Elliot Richardson once asked you?
Myers: I used to think that I wanted to run for office, but I love what I’m doing in leadership. That’s where my passion is and particularly while people are being so uncollaborative. I have to ask myself, what contribution can I make? Before I go into anything, I assess whether I can be a success at it. I am not sure I could get anything done where there’s no collaboration.
Womenetics: What kind of household did you grow up in that both you and your sister (President Clinton’s Press Secretary) Dee Dee became involved with politics?
Myers: Our parents were not involved with politics. Our father was a Navy pilot who went to work for Lockheed. Our mother dropped out of college to have children, but then went back to finish and got her master’s degree. From our father, I learned discipline and to work hard. From my mother, I learned about unconditional love and taking risks. Dee Dee and I have discussed this. We didn’t discuss politics at the dinner table, but I ran for office in high school and in college. I was always more interested in the electoral side and Dee Dee in campaigning.
Womenetics: Who has most influenced your life?
Myers: My mother - her going back to school and getting a voice inside the house and out. It showed me that it’s okay to change direction in life. We have had similar interests in women and leadership. She looks at life from the sunny side; her mother was like that, too.
Womenetics: What keeps you awake at night?
Myers: Raising a healthy, happy daughter. Being a mom is the most rewarding, most intense experience. I didn’t realize you can love someone so much. There’s no playbook. Every kid is different. I’m preparing this soul for adulthood.
Womenetics: What are your hobbies?
Myers: Hanging out with my family and our two puppies and going to power yoga. That’s all I have time for. I also like to go to new restaurants with my husband; we’re foodies.
These women are also taking the lead in their homes, relationships and the world of politics all at once:
Anita McBride chose to balance two kids, a traveling husband and her own personal agenda when she was provided with a new opportunity to work as chief of staff for Laura Bush.
As British Consul-General, Atlanta, Annabelle Malins not only gets to hold a title that sounds well-suited for a member of a king’s court, but also sets an example for women diplomats in the United States.
Tim Bernanke is one of the first names that come to mind when thinking of the Federal Reserve Bank, but what about Dorothy Collins Weaver? This trailblazer went from being chair of the Federal Reserve Bank in Miami to CEO and co-founder of Collins Capital Investment, Inc.
Jan Jaben-Eilon was a founding staff writer of the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Since then, she has been the international editor of Advertising Age magazine and has written for such publications as The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Washington Journalism Review, and Consumer Reports. She is the author of soon-to-be-published (There is) Life After Cancer. Jan and her husband have homes in Atlanta and Jerusalem.