TAMPA — Dee Dee Myers knew she'd get big, if not mixed reactions when she titled her book Why Women Should Rule the World.
"Very subtle," she joked. "The one thing I knew when I wrote it was that I'd never see men walking through the airport with that book tucked under their arm. But it was a sacrifice I was willing to make."
Myers, 52, who served as White House press secretary for President Bill Clinton, spoke at the University of South Florida's Women in Leadership & Philanthropy symposium Thursday. She was the first woman to hold the job in the White House, and one of the youngest. Now a political analyst, she regularly appears on TV and has consulted on NBC's The West Wing.
She was the big name at Thursday's sold-out symposium at the A La Carte Event Pavilion. USF's program, developed from a humble start over eight years, pairs community leaders with female USF students, doling out thousands in scholarships. Next year's keynote speaker, organizers announced, will be record-setting endurance swimmer Diana Nyad.
Guests, including USF donors Frank and Carol Morsani and former USF president Betty Castor, listened as Myers touched on topics from running a household of kids to her hope that Hillary Rodham Clinton will run for president.
Women shouldn't be promoted out of niceness, she said. They should be promoted because of proof. She cited studies that show women benefit corporate bottom lines by bringing different life experiences, ways of resolving conflicts and attitudes toward risk. Women can even help in peace process negotiations, she said.
"But it does sort of beg the question," she said. "If it's so obvious, why are we still having this conversation?"
It was a driving arc of the symposium, with speakers dissecting topics of global environmentalism, women in media, human trafficking and philanthropy. Journalists from CNN and the Tampa Bay Times discussed foreign reporting. Employees from Florida Blue and Goldman Sachs talked about the gender gap.
At lunch, everyone gathered to hear Myers. She has seen the landscape change for women since 1992, when there were only two women in the U.S. Senate. But women still need more confidence, she said. She sees it all the time in politics, when recruiters tell potential candidates they need six qualities to run a good campaign.
"A man will go, 'I've got two! I'm going to win!' " she said. "And a woman will say 'Well, I think I can say I'm good on five out of the six, so if you give me four more years, maybe I can make some progress on No. 6 and be ready to run.' By then, the guy is speaker of the house."
She gave the crowd homework. Pay attention to your words, she told the women. Listen for lack of confidence, passing off credit you deserve.
"You worked hard," she said. "You're talented. That's why you succeeded. Do not let the women in your life not take credit for the fabulous things they do."
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3394.