UNC’s Commencement Speaker on Her Chapel Hill Roots, Hillary Clinton and Women in the Workplace

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Betsy Polk, Anne-Marie Slaugher and Maggie Ellis Chotas at The Carolina Inn. Photo by Mary Parry.
Betsy Polk, Anne-Marie Slaugher and Maggie Ellis Chotas at The Carolina Inn. Photo by Mary Parry.

After reading Anne-Marie Slaughter’s groundbreaking The Atlantic article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” Betsy Polk and Maggie Ellis Chotas knew they’d found the foreword writer for their developing book, “Power Through Partnership: How Women Lead Better Together.” Two years later, the book is a reality for the co-authors who are also co-partners at The Mulberry Partners, a Chapel Hill/ Durham-based leadership coaching and consulting firm. And the foreword by Anne-Marie ­– the president and CEO of New America, a non-partisan think tank, and professor emerita of politics and international affairs at Princeton University – perfectly captures its key message about the under-the-radar phenomenon of women’s collaborations that provide the support, flexibility, confidence and accountability to make work really work.

Flash forward to Mother’s Day 2016. Anne-Marie, now the author of “Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work and Family” and UNC’s commencement speaker, again said yes – this time to meeting Betsy and Maggie at The Carolina Inn following her commencement address.

Betsy: Let’s start with North Carolina. The UNC commencement speech was a homecoming for you.

Anne-Marie: Yes, it’s so good to be here in North Carolina! It’s been a long time since I’ve been in Chapel Hill. My father’s family was from Lincolnton, and both my great grandfathers graduated from Chapel Hill. My grandmother grew up in Raleigh, then moved with her football coach of a husband to Charlottesville. My grandmother loved North Carolina and always missed her life here. There’s a special kind of warmth in the people of this state that you don’t find in the same way in other places.


Maggie: We’re here on Mother’s Day talking about women and work. One of your former bosses, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has been in the news a lot lately. You worked with her for two years at the State Department as director of policy planning. In “Unfinished Business,” you called out Hillary Clinton for being a wonderful boss. Why?

Anne-Marie: Hillary Clinton is extremely responsive to family. I never had any doubt that when I had to leave and go home, she’d be OK with it. I continually respected her work ethic and dedication to the task at hand. I knew the job was to figure out how to do the most good we could possibly do every day. We were there to serve a higher purpose. I admire that.


Betsy: You are quite a leader, yourself! Have you always thought of yourself this way?

Anne-Marie: No – I didn’t think of myself as a leader until my late 30s, and it took my husband to help me see it. We were driving somewhere and talking about candidates for the presidency of the American Society for International Law. At this point, I was a tenured Harvard Law professor, but I wasn’t thinking of myself. My husband asked, “What about you?” My immediate response was that I couldn’t do it. He said, “Why on earth not?” So I did. It was a lean in moment. I got the position. In looking back, I wonder where I’d be now if I’d seen myself as a leader earlier. There were so many things I didn’t do because I was scared I couldn’t do them.


Betsy: But you’ve done so much. What would you have done differently?

Anne-Marie: Doing a lot of things has always been part of the way I work. In some ways, I think, that’s a problem for girls – we do a lot and do a lot well instead of investing in one or two things and being the best at them. We go sideways instead of deep.


Maggie: Once you started to see yourself as a leader, the opportunities kept coming. You have been dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, director of policy and planning at the State Department and now are president and CEO of New America. What advice do you have for the long haul of leadership?

Anne-Marie: Work hard and take vacations! I take a lot of vacations and encourage my team to do the same. It doesn’t have to be a big chunk of time away. For me, just taking the time to escape into a novel – especially one that might take a day or two to finish – renews me.

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Betsy: Speaking of books, what are you reading right now?

AMS: I just finished Philippa Gregory’s “The Taming of the Queen.” I loved Gregory’s “The Queen’s Gambit” about Catherine Parr, too. Oh, and have you read the “Outlander”series? The writing and story are both so good, and since it’s all about Scotland and North Carolina, it’s very relevant!

Maggie: It’s Mother’s Day afternoon, and you’re still in Chapel Hill. How will you celebrate when you get back to Princeton?

Anne-Marie: When I get home, I plan to spend the rest of Mother’s Day snuggled up with my youngest son, watching “Game of Thrones.”

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Maggie Ellis Chotas and Betsy Polk

Maggie Ellis Chotas (left) is a facilitator and leadership coach for The Mulberry Partners who started her career as a middle school teacher and has served as director and consultant for public and independent schools in Philadelphia, New York City, Charlotte, and Durham, NC. Betsy Polk (right) is a facilitator, mediator, and board certified coach for The Mulberry Partners who helps people figure out how to strengthen collaboration, improve communication, resolve conflict, and achieve goals that stick. Drawing on their own 12-year partnership and from interviews with 125 women business partners, they wrote the book "Power Through Partnership."
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