Elizabeth Dole: Smashing the Glass Ceiling
AS weary Midwesterners sloshed through flood waters last month, few expected to bump into one of Washington's leading advocates for gender equality. But Elizabeth Hanford Dole threw on her bluejeans and rubber boots, hopped on a plane, and helped volunteers fill sandbags.Skip to next paragraph
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Through her long career in public service, she has learned how to buck strong currents.
"I'm proactive," she said in a recent Monitor interview. "I'm not the kind of person who's there to be a seat warmer. I like to find the challenging issues where you can really make a positive difference."
As president of the American Red Cross, Mrs. Dole has inherited control of the largest humanitarian organization in the United States, a behemoth that commands 22,000 workers and more than 1 million volunteers, and that spends more money each year ($1.5 billion) than the state of South Dakota.
Dole has spent most of her two-year tenure raising money and coordinating Red Cross responses to a record number of natural disasters. But she has also taken some preliminary steps to move the venerable institution toward a more efficient, more activist role.
In her Washington office, Dole discussed her decision to leave a Bush administration Cabinet post at the Department of Labor to take a job first held by Clara Barton in 1881. "The Red Cross's mission is meeting dire human needs on a full-time basis," she says. "It's what we do day in and day out. That was something I found almost irresistible."
Focusing on her favorite causes (safety, diversity, and at-risk youths), Dole has begun to shake out the carpets in an organization that has not seen major reform in half a century. Her initiatives include updating the Red Cross's blood-testing system, standardizing its disaster-mobilization apparatus, expanding safety-training classes, setting up preventive programs for underprivileged youths in urban and rural areas, and making disaster relief teams more culturally sensitive. Providing opportunity
Borrowing from similar initiatives she pioneered as secretary of transportation and secretary of labor, Dole has launched an effort at the Red Cross to pull more women and minorities into top managerial positions.
"There's been a tidal wave of qualified women coming into the work force over the span of my career," Dole says. "For those qualified women in middle-management positions, it's a matter of giving them the rotational assignments, making sure they're in the developmental programs, the training programs, and the reward structures that are the indicia of upward mobility."
One of Dole's favorite tactics is to provide opportunities for up-and-coming public servants. She staffs her offices with female and minority interns. And 20 years ago, she co-founded a nonpartisan organization called Executive Women in Government, a network for women who work - or aspire to work - in Washington.
"A lot of women have been in the pipeline, learning and gaining experience. I think we're going to see a lot of women going into top positions in the coming years," she says, "and we'll keep trying to smash the glass ceiling so they can move right up."