Women, Politics and Power - Ellen Moran and Michèle Flournoy Visit Duke


The dreams of many a female politics/policy wonk were fulfilled this past week when Ellen Moran, former White House Communications Director and Michèle Flournoy, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, visited Duke.

Moran’s talk on September 20th, cosponsored by the Baldwin Scholars Program and the Women’s Studies Department, focused on how the upcoming election is significant for women candidates and voters.

Flournoy’s lecture tonight will be on how American Grand Strategy is affected by fiscal constraints; however, I was fortunate to sit in on her ladies’ breakfast this morning in which she also discussed work-life balance, being a woman in the national security field and career trajectories.

Both women spoke to how their gender has affected their careers. Moran, who came from a campaign background, was the Executive Director of EMILY’s List (full disclosure – I interned there this summer) where she worked to elect more pro-choice Democratic women to office. She found serving in the Obama Administration fulfilling but hectic; as a principal at a political consulting firm, she said she now has more time to devote to her family.

Flournoy echoed similar sentiments. After serving as the Pentagon’s third-ranked civilian, she left the administration to work for a consulting firm (“getting a mini MBA in the process”) and to “rebalance” as her children become teenagers. 

When asked about women mentors she’s had in her life, Flournoy mentioned former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (no big deal), who has a saying: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t mentor other women.”

I found the visits by both women incredibly inspiring. Moran emphasized how discussions of women’s issues (Komen and Planned Parenthood, the insurance mandate for birth control, Limbaugh’s comments on Sandra Fluke, the Blunt Amendment, etc) have (perhaps for Republicans, inadvertently) made this election about more than just taxes or the economy. Flournoy, who was so knowledgeable on a wide range of foreign policy and strategic issues, also underscored how important it is to be intentional with one’s career choices.

Both encouraged us to run for office or continue down the policy track – with women as only 17 percent of Congress and only gradually beginning to fill the rooms at the Pentagon, it was fantastic to see examples of those who’ve made it and are now returning to help younger women envision these paths forward!