Interview With Ruth Mantell of The Wall Street JournalSecretary Condoleezza Rice
October 28, 2008
SECRETARY RICE: How are you?
QUESTION: Good, how are you?
SECRETARY RICE: I’m just fine, thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you for taking some time for me today.
SECRETARY RICE: No, of course. I’m happy to do it.
QUESTION: Okay, great. Just so you know, I actually have you on speaker phone right now.
SECRETARY RICE: Okay.
QUESTION: In a private conference room, though.
SECRETARY RICE: All right.
QUESTION: And I will tape our conversation just to make sure that I get everything down okay.
SECRETARY RICE: That’s fine.
QUESTION: Okay, great. Let me tell you a little bit about what we’re doing. The Wall Street Journal online is running a series of mini-profiles about prominent women leaders and talking to them about key points in their careers --
SECRETARY RICE: Right.
QUESTION: -- where they are today. And we’re also writing about cultural obstacles that they may have overcome.
SECRETARY RICE: Okay.
QUESTION: So let’s just start right off, and I’m really looking forward to hearing your responses. And my first question will be: What was the key turning point, career move, management profile – excuse me, management decision or life event that got you to where you are today?
SECRETARY RICE: Right. Well, I think from my point of view, obviously, finding what I was passionate about was the key for me. And I thought that passion was concert piano. (Laughter.) And after a kind of serious look at my prospects, I found, fortunately, in a class a course on international politics taught by a Soviet specialist. And what really it says to me is that, first of all, it means that when you are searching for your passion, you can’t let it be limited by what others think you ought to do. Because there was no earthly reason that a black girl from Birmingham, Alabama ought to want to study Russia. And yet that’s what really – really did fulfill – was fulfilling for me and what I was passionate about. And so I think that decision, obviously, was a very critical one.
But I would not have been in a position to do that without extraordinary parents. You know, I’m often asked, “Well, have you made sacrifices? Have you had to make tough choices?” And of course, we all do, but nothing compared to the choices that my parents made to give me every opportunity that they possibly could even though they were teachers, educators, who, you know, made very little money, but managed to give me every opportunity for every kind of lesson known to humankind. So I would say that it’s not so much things that I did, but I really was set up for it by great parents.
QUESTION: Okay, great. Now, I want to move on to you in your official capacity.
SECRETARY RICE: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: When you are traveling in your official capacity, how are you treated globally? And are there places that you go to where official negotiations are complicated by local attitudes towards women, and how so?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’m obviously treated very well. And I think people have recognized – you almost become the Secretary of State and that is without gender. It’s – you’re the Secretary of State.
But of course, there are places where attitudes toward women, particularly in the Middle East, are not always very enlightened. It doesn’t tend to affect me, because I’m being dealt with as Secretary of State. But I’ll tell you a way that I think it’s actually been positive. I can’t tell you how many places, conservative Muslim states, where a leader or one of the ministers will say, “My daughter follows what you do. Would you send her a note?” Or in a couple of cases where people have actually brought their daughters or wives to meet me. And I always find that really gratifying, because it means that perhaps these leaders or ministers who are in very conservative societies still hope for something different for their daughters.
QUESTION: All right, great. What piece of advice do you have for young women today who want to advance far in politics?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’d go back to the first: find something you love to do and don’t spend time thinking about whether or not it’s going to advance you in politics. If you don’t love what you do and you’re not passionate about what you do, you’re not going to advance very far; I don’t care what you do. And so I always tell, whether it’s my students or young officers who come to see me, find something that you’re passionate about.
The second thing is not to try to plan too far ahead. You know, people come out now – in ten years they want to be in X, Y or Z position. There are so many variables in life that you may or may not ever get there. It’s not that you can be aimless and unfocused, but I always say plan for the next thing that you want to do, and plan and do it well. And concentrate on doing that well and enjoying it and seeing where it leads you rather than thinking – trying to think four or five steps ahead, which is almost never going to work.
QUESTION: Interesting. Okay. You are the first black woman to serve as Secretary of State.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
SECRETARY RICE: Thanks. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: What sorts of new perspectives do you bring to State Department decisions?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I would mention, two. I don’t think my decision making is different because I’m black and female, although, you know, I’m a package. You know, I’m 5’ 8”, I’m a woman, I’m a minority. You can’t sort of disentangle those and say, well, what if I were a 5’ 7” white male? You just – you’re – it’s all integral to who I am. So it’s very hard to know how it does or does not affect my decision making. But it does make me more aware of a couple of things.
The first is the absolute necessity of America having a diplomatic corps that is as multiethnic and as multireligious as the United States itself is. Because what kind of message are we sending if the Foreign Service doesn’t look like America? And so I’ve been very active in trying to improve the access of minorities to the Foreign Service and the outreach of the Foreign Service to minorities, because I’m a great believer that there are a lot of people out there who could serve in the Foreign Service but perhaps they’re not in the usual networks that you find those people in. I’ve said on occasion that I can go a whole day, maybe sometimes several days, and never see somebody who likes like me, and that’s not good.
The second thing is, I think I’ve been able to bring some perspective of America’s long journey for a multiethnic democracy that works from the time of our founding, where we clearly had a birth defect called slavery, to now when you’ve had two African American Secretaries of State and one white woman. In fact, in 12 years, there’s not been a white male Secretary of State.
And I can bring that perspective to struggling democracies or to places where multiethnic democracy isn’t really working, or places where racial issues have been sort of pushed under the rug. I was very pleased when I was able to sign an agreement on discrimination with the Brazilian minister for – I think he’s called for issues of inclusion and race – we can get the actual title for you – or when President Uribe called me from Colombia to tell me about his first appointment of an Afro-Colombian to his cabinet, or the pride that President Sarkozy takes from the fact that the third-ranking woman in the foreign ministry in France is a French woman of African descent.
And I think people look to America for that kind of progress, especially given our history. And I think I’ve been able to embody it and to say these issues aren’t easy and we’re not perfect, but they’re important issues.
QUESTION: Okay, great. You have championed the expansion of democratic governments. Which countries and governments are providing the best professional opportunities for women right now, and which are the worst?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don’t know about – you know, I don’t try to – I wouldn't try to grade people on this. I’ll say this: I see an increasing number of women ministers in highly responsible positions throughout the Muslim world, in Pakistan, in – where there’s a long tradition of women in government, including, for instance, you know, obviously, Benazir Bhutto. But also you see these women ministers in some of the Gulf states, the UAE. You see a lot of women in the foreign ministry in Egypt. You’re beginning to see a lot – Jordan is another place that you see a lot of women in responsible positions. So I think it’s changing in the Muslim world.
QUESTION: Okay. Which countries would you say are providing good professional opportunities?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, those are ones that are providing good opportunities.
QUESTION: Okay. Well – okay. And which are the worst, then?
SECRETARY RICE: You know, I’m not going to try to grade people. But I think women will start to make their mark. And even in highly conservative societies like Saudi Arabia, I’ve noticed that very often when I go to a press conference, a number of the journalists are women.
QUESTION: Okay. Just a couple more questions. Thanks for taking your time.
SECRETARY RICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton are both prominent women – excuse me – politicians and have been lightning rods for commentary during the presidential campaigning. They are also both mothers.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Yes. I’d like to get your perspective on, for women leaders, how important is it to have a family, how important is it to show a maternal side?
SECRETARY RICE: A maternal side? (Laughter.) Look, I think women have choices and different life circumstances, and so I don’t think that if women are single or have children or don’t have children that that is necessarily a factor. I think it’s remarkable what both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin have done with their families. I even know Chelsea Clinton because she went to Stanford, and she’s a terrific young woman. But, you know, I really think this is one that women shouldn’t be asked any more than men are.
QUESTION: Okay, great. And my last question is, I’m wondering what sort of a relationship you have with Madeleine Albright, as you know, the first woman Secretary of State and daughter of your mentor.
SECRETARY RICE: Right.
QUESTION: I’m wondering if your relationship with her has changed over the past two terms. And also, did she pass advice on to you as a woman about how to succeed in a male-dominated presidential cabinet?
SECRETARY RICE: Not really, on that question. But no, Madeleine and I have a good relationship. We’ve seen each other a number of times socially. We share this history through her father. You know, we don’t agree always on politics, but we have a friendly relationship.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, great. Was there anything else you wanted to add about important moments in your life that helped get you to where you are, or maybe any other --
SECRETARY RICE: No, I think – look, I think it happened pretty early for me, and then because I really – I didn’t have a, quote, “plan,” I was fortunate that certain circumstances arose that allowed me to get here. But I think I prepared for it by finding something I loved, working hard at it. Clearly, you – I think sometimes women are not – or they believe that there’s something wrong with, you know, networking and getting to know people. Of course, you need to get to know people. In my life, getting to know people like Brent Scowcroft mattered to me – and George Shultz, another person who’s mattered a lot to my career.
But I think the key is you have to find something that you love to do, and you have to be good at it at each stage, rather than trying to plan for ultimately where your career is going to lead.
QUESTION: Great. You know, I actually do want to ask one more question.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you think media coverage of Sarah Palin and/or Hillary Clinton has been sexist?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, look, we have – we obviously still have issues with gender role, and I do think that there are questions and comments that have been made about each of them that probably would not be made about men. And – but that’s kind of the way life is. You can’t separate the fact that these are high-powered women from the fact that they’re – high-powered figures from the fact that they’re women. And those questions will come up.
But I think for the most part, if people continue to concentrate on what they stand for and what they are saying and what they propose to do, that that’s been the bulk of what has been out there. But yeah, I think there are some questions that arise principally because they’re women, but it’s – that’s just life.
QUESTION: Which sorts of questions might those be?
SECRETARY RICE: Look, I think there are a lot of – there’s a lot of commentary on social graces and the like that I think most men wouldn't pass that test. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Actually, do you think the coverage of Sarah Palin’s wardrobe has been sexist?
SECRETARY RICE: No, I’m not going to – I’m not going to talk further than that.
SECRETARY RICE: Okay?
QUESTION: Okay. Well, thanks very much for your help.
SECRETARY RICE: Okay, thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: Bye-bye.
Released on November 10, 2008