Debbie Wasserman Schultz
US Representative, Chair of Democratic National Committee
“Looking through the lens of another person…goes a long way toward avoiding conflict and being in a position to help.”
Who inspires you the most?
While I’ve had many people who have inspired me through the years, more recently, I’ve been inspired by my remarkable friend and former colleague, Gabby Giffords. Her resilience, perseverance and dogged determination to make a difference are truly inspirational.
What do you now know about yourself that you wish you knew ten/fifteen/twenty years ago?
I now value myself as a person more than I did before I finished college. I accepted too much drama in relationships when I was younger that dragged me down and that I didn’t have the strength to clear from my life, with both friends and with men before meeting my husband. Life is too short to allow yourself to be a doormat. Meeting my incredible, loving husband, Steve, showed me that relationships should have love, balance and support, which my younger self knew intuitively but didn’t actualize.
Fill in the blank: You can never have enough _________.
Empathy. Looking through the lens of another person, to understand how they are feeling from their perspective, goes a long way toward avoiding conflict and being in a position to help.
What City best describes your personality?
My hometown, Weston, Florida best describes my personality. Nothing is more important than family. Weston is a family-oriented community, which I like to describe as a “small, little, big town.” There is a small-town, close knit feeling in a warm but cosmopolitan environment in Weston.
What gets you through even the toughest days and what are you most grateful for?
What gets me through even toughest days is knowing that, through thick and thin, I have an incredible husband of 23 years and three sincere, smart, wonderful kids. I am most grateful for their love and support.
What socio-political women’s issue do you care about the most? Do you feel that women are typically presented fairly in the media? Why or why not?
The socio-political women’s issue I care about the most is economic equality and equality of opportunity. Adding accountability to the Equal Pay Act through passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act is essential to ensure that women can fight for equal pay for equal work. Creating ladders of opportunity for women to advance and establishing a bench of talent in a business environment that is not blocked, slowed or halted by their gender’s propensity for child-bearing or child-rearing is important. Young girls need more examples to light a pathway toward achieving their goals.
Despite separation between Church & State, religion still seems to govern decisions regarding women–abortions, birth control, etc. How do we shift power over women’s bodies to women?
Shifting power over women’s bodies to women will require voters who care about this to cast their ballots for candidates who believe that a woman’s health care decisions should made by the woman and her doctor rather than bosses or politicians. Women need to take personal responsibility for being informed on a candidate’s positions and we need to make sure we always take the time to vote. When women vote in record numbers, candidates are elected who prioritize the issues that matter to us.
What is your best read? Favorite character you would most like to be?
“Profiles in Courage” by John F. Kennedy remains my best read. He chronicles leaders who stuck to their principles, when it was difficult and when it could have and in some cases did, cause them to lose power or position. As an elected official who holds the public trust, a reminder of the importance of adhering to principles and doing the right thing, seems especially necessary in today’s polarized environment where political expediency too often trumps principle.
My favorite character that I would most like to be is Jo in “Little Women.” In the story, Jo was a headstrong and determined young girl, who was ahead of her time, goal-oriented and passionate in her approach to life, whether it was her love of writing, her family or the love of her life. Her character’s pursuit of goals was marked by doing nothing halfway, a trait which I aspire to in my own life.
What will it take for women to be viewed as equal to men?
We have truly come a long way in my lifetime where women have made dramatic strides in being viewed as equal to men. While perception of what women are capable of has come a long way, equality of opportunity has not matched what many people believe should be achievable for women today. We still lag far behind in the halls of power, both in government and business. Very few women lead Fortune 500 companies and the representation of women in Congress has improved but still has not reached even 20% of the entire 535 member Congress, while women make up more than half the population. And of course, we have yet to break through that highest and hardest of glass ceilings, the Presidency of the United States of America. It will take a combination of changes to alter this equal opportunity deficit that women face. Once change is that corporate leaders need to truly eliminate the so-called “Mommy Track” that women employees are often automatically placed on when they are in their child-bearing years. Family friendly policies should be adopted for both women and men so that mothers and fathers aren’t forced to a work environment that allows for work-life balance because many studies show that these policies create more employee loyalty and productivity and promote equality of opportunity. We should also adopt paid family and sick leave policies so that women (and men) can be good parents and good employees and be able to care for their family’s needs and meet their responsibilities at work, without having a financial burden force them to make poor decisions.
What is your best decision to date? Worst decision?
My best decision to date was to put my family first and build my busy work schedule that is within my control, around their needs. Making sure my three children are happy, successful in school and are growing up with the right value system to prepare them for life’s challenges remains my number one priority. When your family is strong, you can build your own personal success from that foundation.
Thankfully, I don’t have anything thus far that stands out as my worst decision. Life throws you ups and downs and it’s important to be prepared to the extent possible, to manage them.
Social media has exploded. How can women use it to market themselves without seeming narcissistic?
I think social media can be a powerful marketing tool as one part of an overall strategy to achieve your goals and make others aware of your achievements or abilities. Women are more often collaborators and team builders, so promoting oneself through social media can be best achieved through a healthy balance of taking and sharing credit. Additionally, choosing one or two social media tools to communicate, based on your target audience, rather than trying to cover many platforms is a more strategic and effective method of putting yourself on the radar. Being careful about the image you project through social media, throughout your life, is essential, particularly because anything posted online is permanent.
Write a fortune you’d like for all women to receive in a fortune cookie.
I saw a great sign the other day that is a perfect fortune for so many women: “Progress always involves risk. You can’t steal 2nd base and keep your foot on 1st.”
If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?
If I were a superhero, my superpower would be the ability to heal. Having been diagnosed with breast cancer at 41 and faced with my own mortality was a reminder of what my parents have always taught me: If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. Thankfully, I survived and if I had any superhero power, it would be the power of healing. That is the way I could use my power to do the most good.