By Cindy Kuang
On Wednesday, former Secretary of State and Stanford professor Condoleezza Rice talked current events and criticized President Trump’s recent travel ban in an address to thousands of women at the Watermark Conference for Women Silicon Valley. Rice holds appointments in the political science department, the Graduate School of Business and the Hoover Institution.
Since its inaugural session in 2015, the Watermark Conference has traditionally offered networking opportunities and panel discussions to boost career development for professional women. Conference organizer Watermark is a Palo Alto-based nonprofit dedicated to increasing female leadership in Bay Area businesses.
However, with this year’s event taking place just weeks after the beginning of President Trump’s controversial administration, conference speakers’ messages of female empowerment took a noticeably political turn.
Earlier in the morning, Facebook executive and “Lean In” author Sheryl Sandberg discussed the special importance of female empowerment today, calling for women to “lean in harder” in a “particularly challenging time.”
Rice’s interview also addressed a series of issues, including U.S. foreign relations and Trump’s recent immigration ban targeted at seven majority-Muslim countries. She spoke during the afternoon keynote session of the conference alongside former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Rice began by addressing feelings of disenfranchisement among certain voter demographics.
“Clearly, there are people who feel like they’ve been left out by the globalization of the last few decades, [and they] are feeling dispossessed and feeling angry,” she said.
Both Albright and Rice called it an “issue of identity” among Americans.
“I think we have a particular problem in the United States,” Rice said. “People are not held together by one race or religion. People are held together by an aspiration: that you can come from any background and still make it. That’s what makes us so vulnerable, that we are an idea. We are not a nationality.”
Rice called the executive order restricting immigration “ill-considered and even badly delivered.”
“I was the National Security Adviser on 9/11,” she said. “The day after 9/11, we closed our borders and thought that we were more secure. That turned out to be a mistake.”
Albright condemned the policy as “one of the worst things that has happened in an administration that is only a week old.”
Tying the discussion into the theme of the conference, both women spoke on their experiences as women in the male-dominated world of politics.
On succeeding as a professional woman, Rice said, “You have to be twice as good.” She also emphasized the importance of finding role models and mentors “who advocate for you — [whom] you admire and respect.”
As a student at the University of Denver, Rice found one such mentor in Czech-American diplomat Josef Korbel, who is also Albright’s father. Through Korbel, Rice and Albright ultimately met as colleagues and have remained friends since then.
“I wish we had been [in the White House] at the same time,” Albright remarked.
For women aspiring to succeed in their field, Rice had some advice: “Don’t let anyone tell you what you look like you ought to be interested in.”
Contact Cindy Kuang at ckuang ‘at’ stanford.edu.