Jen Psaki talks sharp elbows, mentors and reopening schools

This week, we spoke with the new White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, about how she got to her position at the podium. She talked about the sharp elbows she dealt with during her career, what Joe Biden told her when she was hired and advice for Women Rulers.

On what Biden said when they talked about the press secretary job: “He said, ‘Tell me about your kids.’ And I told him how old they were [they’re ages 5 and 2], and he got really serious. He said, ‘Other people will tell you I say this, but I really mean it. If there’s anything you need to do for your kids — a school thing, a doctor’s appointment — you don’t have to explain it or tell anyone about it.’ Some days that’s easier said than done, but it’s a powerful message to send. It makes you feel I can do this. It re-centers what’s important.”

On the White House having a predominantly female comms team: “The fact that the table is full of women, more so than it ever has been in history, certainly has to have an impact because people bring lived experiences every day, whether it’s being a mom — and many of us are, with little kids — and the way we’re digesting information or our own concerns that we communicate about in meetings, and then sometimes that projects to the public. …

“Reopening schools is a good example. Many of us have kids who are school age or who are going to be school age. When there are issues like that that come up, it doesn’t feel removed. And we think about how we talk about it, and is it clear enough and are we conveying when we’ll have guidance available and how specific we’ll be and how it applies to schools — public schools and private schools. … It impacts how we think about things and how we communicate and how we try to make it accessible to other working moms like us.”

On why we ask women about juggling work and family but not men: “The reality is — and I say this from the vantage point of having an incredible husband and partner who’s doing a lot of the child care right now, even a week into this job — women still bear the responsibility of a lot of child care, even in the mental aspect of that, across the country.”

On women rising through the ranks: “One of the misconceptions … is that the way we all got here is because women above us supported us along the way. Sometimes that’s been the case. I will say Anita Dunn [senior adviser to the president] has been a great supporter of mine and been a great advocate for women through all the time I’ve known her. And there are many other women who have been that way as well. But there also have been far too many women who have used their elbows. …

“We have to change that cycle of things, too. Yes, it’s amazing to have this group of women in senior roles, and they’re in these roles because they are the best and talented and they have worked their way through what has still been historically a male-dominated business — politics and government. But now it’s our responsibility to also not have sharp elbows, to lift people up and to give people opportunity and not say, ‘Oh I finally made it here. I’m going to push other people down.’”

On mentors: “I have a lot of people who have been amazing to me along the way for different reasons. [Psaki mentioned Dunn, Linda Douglass and David Axelrod.] Robert Gibbs has been a great mentor. In 2012, when I was going to be Barack Obama’s traveling press secretary, I said, ‘I’m used to seeing someone more senior briefing him for interviews.’ Gibbs said: ‘Just act like you belong there, and at a certain point people will believe you.’ Being confident is great advice.”

On growing up in Connecticut in a family: “I wasn’t raised in a politically charged house. My dad was Republican his whole life until he turned 65 and became like a born-again Democrat. And now he’s a progressive, fire-breathing Democrat, and the evolution makes us all laugh. My mom has always been a Democrat. One of my first political memories was my mom voting for [Walter] Mondale in 1984, which I guess ages me, and I remember my dad saying, ‘You’re the only person in the country who voted for him.’ And even at that age, I was like, ‘Mom, why did you vote for that guy?’ We talked about issues in the world. It was about reading the newspaper and watching the news. I wasn’t door-knocking for candidates or anything like that.”

Career advice: “Be yourself and work your tail off at whatever your job is,and people will notice. And always be learning and growing. … I try to have humility about things I don’t know because there’s tons we don’t know. And last piece I would say is don’t pre-judge who your mentors will be. It’s like dating. You don’t just say ‘That person is my mentor.’ It’s a relationship that develops. … It’s not just about asking people for stuff. It’s also about checking in with them.”

Happy Friday! I’m Shia Kapos, author of the Illinois Playbook and guest-hosting today. Thanks to Maya Parthasarathy for bringing you excellent news each week. Subscribe here.

COMING ATTRACTION — Women Rule is hosting a panel next Wednesday morning about Covid-19’s disproportionate impact on women in the workforce. As the Biden administration settles into the White House and a new Congress convenes, what are the policies and systemic changes that might reduce the toll the pandemic has taken on working women and their families?

Panelists include Rep. Joyce Marie Beatty (D-Ohio), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus; Kathryn Anne Edwards, economist at the RAND Corporation; and Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. Register here

THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION — “Biden drops Trump’s antiabortion ‘global gag rule.’ Here’s what that means for abortion access worldwide,” via WaPo

ON THE HILL — “There isn’t a single Black woman on House Democrats’ leadership team. It’s not new,” by Sarah Ferris and Heather Caygle: “When Democratic Rep. Brenda Lawrence lost her leadership race by a single vote, she looked up the last time a Black woman was elected to sit at her party’s leadership table in the House. She was stunned to learn it was Rep. Shirley Chisholm of New York — 44 years ago.

“In the same year the U.S. elected its first Black woman to serve as vice president, the House Democratic Caucus once again elected a leadership team that didn’t include a single Black woman. ‘When the vote is taken by our body, Black women don’t win,’ Lawrence (D-Mich.) said in an interview. ‘I cannot comprehend how, for 40 years, a Black woman has never earned the collective majority vote of our caucus.’

“In a caucus that frequently touts diversity as one of its core strengths, Black women have been repeatedly excluded from elected senior positions. And despite the country as a whole undergoing a reckoning over race in recent months, the current leadership team will remain in place for the next two years. It’s an issue several Democrats told POLITICO must be rectified, although no one has a clear idea on how to do that.

“‘I think it’s something that absolutely needs to be addressed,’ said Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) who just finished a two-year term as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. ‘The caucus as a whole is sensitive to it now where I don’t know that they were a couple of terms ago.’” POLITICO

— “Marcia Fudge to press senators for more housing aid, setting up clash with GOP,” via POLITICO

TRANSITION NEWS — “Yellen confirmed as Treasury chief with more economic aid at top of agenda,” via POLITICO“Meet 6 Young Women Who Will Be Keeping The White House Running,” via Refinery29 “Biden’s U.N. nominee pressed on whether she’ll take a hard line on China,” via POLITICO

ELECTION WATCH — “109 men have been mayor of New York. Maya Wiley says it’s time to elect a Black woman,” by Anne Branigin: “If elected, Wiley would be just the second Black person to run the city of New York (former mayor David Dinkins was the first, in 1989) and the first woman to serve as mayor. A New School professor and a former civil rights lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Wiley announced her campaign in October — her first bid for elected office. She has pointed to her lack of experience as an elected official as a strength, allowing her to bring much-needed change to a city that, like many others across the country, has struggled to weather the coronavirus pandemic.

“Wiley has also not shied away from the potential historic nature of her campaign, framing her identity as inextricable from her goal of broad, systemic change. ‘“She doesn’t look like past mayors. She doesn’t think like past mayors.” And I say yes — and that’s the point,’ Wiley said in her speech announcing the launch of her campaign in October.” The Lily

— “Every Boston mayor has been a white man. Will 2021 change that?” via POLITICO“Sarah Huckabee Sanders announces bid for Arkansas governor,” via POLITICO“Former Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly, known for role in Bridgegate, running for office,” via POLITICO

CORONAVIRUS — “Undocumented women are among the most vulnerable to COVID. Vaccinating them will be difficult,” by Shefali Luthra and Chabeli Carrazana: “Jenny Prado doesn’t know when she’ll be eligible for a coronavirus vaccine, but she’ll get one as soon as she can. Her job in home care means she never left the pandemic frontlines. For her, the vaccine is imperative. Prado, a 40-year-old undocumented worker in Philadelphia, goes without a critical safety net: Because of her immigration status, she doesn’t qualify for public health insurance programs such as Medicaid, and private coverage isn’t an option. ‘We don’t have papers or insurance, and if you do get sick that’s a high cost,’ she said through a translator.

“Like many home care workers, Prado earns little pay: $12 an hour, eight hours a day, five days a week. That money quickly dwindles as Prado pays for public transportation, protective masks and gloves — all things that are necessary for her to do her job. If she is exposed to COVID-19, Prado knows she is high-risk — a stomach operation years ago left her immunocompromised. She takes extra vitamins daily to guard herself against the virus. Still, though she’s eager for a vaccine and coronavirus immunity, she’s terrified that getting the injection would pose a different kind of risk.

“‘With getting a vaccine, my worry is maybe we give information, and they give that information to ICE,’ she said. ‘I know Philadelphia is a sanctuary city. But we don’t know how safe we really are.’” The 19th

— “Opinion: The False Rumors About Vaccines That Are Scaring Women,” by Alice Lu-Culligan and Akiko Iwasaki for NYT“Pregnant Women Get Conflicting Advice on Covid-19 Vaccines” via NYT

AROUND THE WORLD — “Somali women eye seats in government dominated by men,” via Deutsche Welle “Women’s health is better when women have more control in their society,” via The Conversation

WOMEN AT WORK — “Why Asian American women have had highest jobless rates during last 6 months of Covid,” by Katherine Kam: “While customers once indulged in hot stone manicures and strawberry mojito foot soaks at Studio 18 Nail Bar in Orange County, California, co-owner Christie Nguyen no longer has her seven manicurists on the payroll. All are Asian American women now on unemployment. After three pandemic shutdowns, Nguyen worries about the future. We don’t know if we’ll be able to survive this,’ she told NBC Asian America. ‘It’s really taken a huge emotional toll.’ …

“Forty-four percent of unemployed Asian American women have been out of work six months or more, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to Black women at 40.8 percent, Latina women at 38.3 percent, and all women at 38.6 percent.

“Many Asian American women work in the service sector, including restaurants, leisure, hospitality, retail and beauty. While Asian American women range from highly paid professionals to food workers, it’s the service orientation that has harmed many of them as restaurants, stores and nail salons shut down to slow the spread of Covid-19, according to Diane Lim, an economist based in Washington and author of the blog” NBC News

— “Why women are turning away from MBAs,” by Jonathan Moules: “Despite the coronavirus pandemic, business school applications are booming. MBA providers have been grappling with record numbers and increasing class sizes to accommodate a rush of executives seeking to improve their management credentials. However, the gender divide persists. Demand among men for MBA places has been much stronger than among women, raising concerns that years of progress towards greater inclusion in business education is at risk of regressing. …

“‘There is a concern that the progress that has been made will go into reverse,’ Elissa Sangster, Forté’s chief executive, says. ‘Concern has been higher among women about returning to full-time study during a pandemic, given that the jobs market may be far harder after graduation,’ she says. The financial risk is often the biggest factor for female MBA applicants, she adds, and suggests the most effective change schools can make is cutting the price tag for those considering a return to formal education.” Financial Times

SPOTLIGHT — “Roz Brewer to Bring Pandemic Experience to Walgreens at Pivotal Time,” by Sharon Terlep, Heather Haddon and Sarah Nassauer: “When Rosalind Brewer, then the CEO of Sam’s Club, called out the lack of diversity in American corporations in a 2015 interview, she received death threats and a torrent of criticism.

“Five years later, Ms. Brewer, now Starbucks Corp.’s No. 2 executive, is set to become the only Black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company as she takes over as chief executive of Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. amid a national debate about systemic racism.” WSJ

#METOO LATEST — “Stimulus checks could change survivors’ lives. Some abusers are withholding them, advocates say,” by Anne Branigin: “Soon after the first round of stimulus payments went out in April, tax attorney Nancy Rossner was hearing from survivors of intimate partner violence: They were being blocked from receiving the relief they were owed. ‘We started getting calls from survivors and advocates for survivors whose stimulus payment was deposited or sent to their former partner, who was typically their abuser, and they were refusing the survivor access to the payments,’ said Rossner, a senior staff attorney for the Community Tax Law Project, a Virginia-based tax clinic that aides low-income families.

“Rossner recalled one of the first women who reached out to her. The woman had recently divorced her abusive husband, taking the children with her. Before the pandemic, the pair had decided to file a joint 2019 tax return. When the Internal Revenue Service issued the relief payment tied to the Cares Act — to date, still the most substantial direct financial relief the federal government has given Americans — her share was sent to her ex-husband.

“Day cares were closed; shelters and other services for survivors were shuttering or drawing down their operations. That alone would have been challenging for her client, Rossner noted. But because of the relief check her ex-husband was withholding, she wasn’t able to move on. ‘This was one more thing that he was able to hold over her head and use to try to punish her or control her,’ Rossner said.” The Lily

— “When Protective Orders Don’t Protect,” via The 19th and The Trace

CULTURE CLUB — “With ‘Warrior Spirit,’ a New Leader Pushes Sundance Forward,” via NYT“Janice Nimura on Telling the Story of the First Women Medical Doctors,” via NPR“Hillary Rodham Clinton And Chelsea Clinton’s New Production Company Lands The Rights To Gayle Tzemach Lemmon’s ‘The Daughters of Kobani’; Will Be Developed As TV Series,” via Deadline

PERSPECTIVE — “The Myth That Gets Men Out of Doing Chores,” by Joe Pinsker: “As researchers have studied gender imbalances in how couples divvy up housework, one common but flimsy rationalization they hear from men in different-sex relationships is that women have higher standards of cleanliness or are simply better at managing housework, so it’s only natural that they’d do more of it. For instance, Darcy Lockman, the author of All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership, quotes a dad reflecting on his household contributions: ‘When it comes to the kids’ laundry, I could be more proactive, but instead I operate on my time scale. So my wife does most of their laundry. Let me do it my way and I’m happy to do it, but if you’re going to tell me how to do it, go ahead and do it yourself.’

“When men make comments like these, they conveniently obscure reality in two ways. The first was demonstrated in a 2019 study that asked some 600 respondents to evaluate an image of a room in either an orderly or an untidy state. Based on those assessments, the researchers wrote that ‘men and women respondents do not differ in their perceptions of how messy a room is or how urgent it is to clean it up.’ So men seem to recognize a mess just as clearly as women do. …

“The second convenient elision is that many of the same men who purport to be subpar chore-doers are perfectly capable of handling the demands of highly skilled jobs. When Allison Daminger, a doctoral student at Harvard, interviewed college-educated couples about housework, she noticed that attributes that helped many of the men she spoke with succeed at work, such as being proactive and thorough, ‘were somehow invisible — or not deployed — after hours.’ One surgeon, for example, told her that he can ‘go a very long time before it hits me that now is the time to deal with,’ say, a burnt-out light bulb. He was quick to clarify: ‘I mean, in the home life—not, like, work.’

“‘They can run businesses, but they can’t figure out a mop,’ Jill Yavorsky, a sociologist at UNC Charlotte, says of men like this. ‘It isn’t, of course, a lack of skills, but rather the privilege and gender norms that enables them to bargain their way out of this type of work’ at home.” The Atlantic

IN SPORTS — “Nia Dennis rejected ‘cookie cutter’ White gymnastics. Her Black Lives Matter-inspired routine is going viral,” via The Lily “Women’s Hockey Is Seeing a Sponsorship Boom,” via FiveThirtyEight “A Washington Coach Reaches a First for Black Women in the N.F.L.,” via NYT

VIDEO — Madison Cawthorn, Bernie’s mittens and impeachment

TRANSITIONS — “Ex-CNN executive starts media venture for communities of color,” via Axios … The Biden administration announced more top appointees to the U.S. Mission to the U.N., including Sohini Chatterjee as senior policy adviser, Olivia Alair Dalton as spokesperson and communications director and Aditi Gorur as policy adviser. … Lee Satterfield will be the new president and COO of the Meridian International Center. She also is an Obama State Department alum and former deputy chief of protocol of the U.S. … Kara Gustafson is joining the Aspen Institute as executive director of the Finance Leaders Fellowship. She is a former Goldman Sachs social impact executive. …

IMPACT PARTNER CONTENT — Three alumnae of Running Start’s Fall Mentorship Program reflect on their transformative experience. Though they all had different goals, they found that the supportive community of the program — made up of peer mentorship “mastermind” sessions and question-and-answer sessions with high-level women leaders — helped them grow both professionally and personally. Learn more here.