‘I’ve learned about leadership from watching other women, particularly my mother,” says Cokie Roberts, in a telephone interview. “If you look to examples rather than prescriptions you tend to be better off.”
Roberts, a senior news analyst for NPR and an on-air political commentator for ABC News, tells of seeing her mother, former Congresswoman Lindy Boggs, give a telephone interview while holding her grandchild on one hip and stirring a pot of pickles from her garden. Lindy Boggs succeeded her husband, Hale Boggs, long-time house majority leader, when his plane went down over Alaska, and she was re-elected eight times.
Cokie Roberts is no stranger to Princeton — her sister, the late Barbara Boggs Sigmund, had been Princeton’s mayor. She returns to Princeton to speak at Stuart Country Day School, where her sister taught, for a Women in Leadership Forum on Thursday, October 18, at 7:30 p.m. She will offer examples from history of how successful women have leveraged their personal values to be effective leaders. Admission is free. Call 609-921-2330.
A 1964 graduate in political science from Wellesley College, Roberts has won the Edward R. Murrow Award (the most prestigious in public radio), the Everett McKinley Dirksen Award (for coverage of Congress), and the Weintal Award (for covering the Iran/Contra affair for PBS-TV’s MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour). Her bestselling books include “We Are Our Mother’s Daughters,” “From This Day Forward,” (about her own marriage and others in American history) and “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation,” (which explores the lives of women behind the men that wrote the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence). With her husband, Steven V. Roberts, a contributing editor at U.S. News & World Report and a Georgetown professor, she writes a weekly syndicated column. They have two children and four grandchildren.
The art of public relations — influencing what people think about you — is intuitive to many women, says Roberts. She cites Martha Washington, who loved silks and satins but wore homespun dresses for the inauguration. “She totally understood how to manipulate public opinion,” says Roberts. “She didn’t love it, but she did it.” A more recent example was Pat Nixon’s plain cloth coat, “something that says I’m one of you, not exalted and fancy.”
Her sister didn’t need to put on any kind of pretense, whether in dress or demeanor, Roberts says. “Barbara was so much fun that everybody was happy to go where she was going. She didn’t have to fake it.”
Like many women leaders, Barbara Sigmund was skilled at gathering support. “She did what I think a lot of women do, try to build consensus,” says Roberts. “If the time came when she couldn’t, then she would say, ‘Folks, we have to do this.’ I think that is hard. It makes people not like you.”
Do women generally have smaller egos? Roberts declines to go that far, but agrees that, generally, women are more pragmatic and less competitive than men. She cites the 1964 civil rights bill that prohibited discrimination in employment on the basis of race, nation or origin, creed — or sex. The bill was destined for failure, but a Democratic woman in the House of Representatives and a Republic woman in the Senate kept it going until the president signed it.
“We don’t care who is on what side. We are considerably less ideological than men,” says Roberts. “It doesn’t matter what the party line is, or what is politically correct. We say, ‘Let’s just get together and figure it out.’”
Women in Leadership Forum, Stuart School, Princeton, 609-921-2330, www.stuartschool.org. Free, but limited seating. Thursday, October 18, 7:30 p.m.