Last week, I had the honor of hosting the Federal Communications Bar Association’s virtual Celebration—their first ever event headlined by a Chairwoman. For me, this was a big deal. Not only because it was an opportunity to have a laugh with colleagues, but as the first permanent female Chair of the FCC, having this event during Women’s History Month was an opportunity to highlight and mark the importance of women’s participation and representation across all of our work. It was also a rare opportunity to hear from past FCC female Commissioners on what this historic moment meant for them.
Many shared stories to show how long the road to equality for women has been. Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy detailed how her grandmother was unable to rise to the top leadership position at the Louisville, Kentucky YWCA solely because she was a woman. That’s right—being female prevented her from leading an organization dedicated to improving the lives of women. In a joint video, Commissioners Rachelle Chong and Susan Ness channeled their best Tina Fey and Amy Poehler with a funny bit on the dueling indignities they endured at the FCC. Commissioner Ness told about how people assumed her male Chief of Staff was the Commissioner, not her. Commissioner Chong came back with a story about visiting a ministry of communications in Asia where her foreign counterpart mistook her for a junior staffer and asked her, “Where’s the Commissioner?”
Other Commissioners offered words of advice and encouragement. Commissioner Deborah Tate recalled that she was dubbed “The Children’s Commissioner” during her FCC days and challenged me to take up that mantle by empowering and protecting our kids online and continuing the fight to close the Homework Gap. Commissioner Meredith Baker offered that the key to being a great Chairwoman is embracing the creed of every busy working mom: Let’s not mess around. Let’s find a way to fix it. And who gets the credit really doesn’t matter.
I was particularly inspired by the words of my friend Mignon Clyburn, who served as Acting FCC Chairwoman in 2017. “At the FCC, there were many firsts put before my name,” she said. “Sometimes I was filled with pride. Many times I was a little intimidated. But at all times I knew that the call that I answered was a call to the American public and whatever first could never be the last.” Amen to that.
They say you have to see it, to be it. And in too many rooms I’ve been in, there are too few women. We need more women in more places in the telecommunications and technology sector. After all, the connections we create and the networks we build are stronger if they are more diverse and reach more of us. It’s something to keep in mind during Women’s History Month—and always.