The following post was contributed by Meridian Board Chair, Ann Stock, who sat down with Global Communications Fellow Abby Haley to discuss the women who have inspired her path to leadership and how she leads by example for other women today. This post is part of the HERspectives series honoring Meridian’s leading ladies in Women’s History Month.
Who is your biggest female inspiration or mentor?
It’s got to be Hillary Clinton! I worked for her twice: five years at the White House as its Social Secretary when she was First Lady, and then three years at the State Department as the Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) while she was Secretary. At the White House, I can distinctly remember learning so much from her example—how to be competent, how to take risks, how to make decisions.
She was and continues to be an incredible example of resilience, and I still think back to how she taught me to learn from my mistakes, figure out how to fix things, and move on. Our goal in the constantly changing environment of the White House was to adapt and overcome—but her charge always was to stay curious and learn, learn, learn what you don’t know.
On a broader scale, Hillary has also taught me how to be a mentor myself—and how important it is to empower other women along the way. From her earliest days in the public spotlight, she’s always talked about women’s potential, saying that talent is universal but opportunity isn’t. So when we first met to discuss my work at the State Department, she was very clear about what she wanted to accomplish with ECA: increasing the number of women and girls in our international exchange programs and ensuring their participation could then uplift other women and girls in their home countries, including the United States. And that’s exactly what we did!
What does ‘leadership’ mean to you?
For me, leadership is about paying it forward. I’ve always been mentored myself, even throughout my working for Presidential administrations, Bloomingdale’s, and the Kennedy Center. My professional life has been built through the personal networks I’ve formed, and I see my purpose, especially now, as giving back to women just starting out on their own paths. It’s holding the door open so others can walk through it in their own way.
Since my time in the Carter Administration and especially since working at the White House, I’ve probably mentored close to 100 people—mostly women—and that’s one of my proudest accomplishments. But getting the reminder to continue to carry that banner is important: I remember at the beginning of President Clinton’s second term, I’d just assumed I’d stay on as Social Secretary—I loved my job and my team there. But a longtime mentor suggested I start thinking about what my next job would look like: How did I want to use the skills I’d honed working at the White House? That unexpected conversation led me straight to the Kennedy Center, as the Vice President for Institutional Affairs, which turned out to be a role basically tailor-made for me to keep growing, adapting, and learning.
That’s what a good leader and good mentor does: puts a challenge out there and makes you think about possibilities for the future, at any and every level. You empower others to accomplish their own goals.
How do you give back, or build connections or roadmaps for future women leaders?
It’s all about paying it forward. Lately I’ve been thinking about Vice President Kamala Harris’s line where she quotes her own mother: “You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you’re not the last.”
To me, that is female leadership in a nutshell. We need to uplift and empower each other, and to show other women, especially those just starting out, what success can look like. Everyone deserves role models that they can relate to, emulate, be inspired by, and—ideally—build upon to imagine their own firsts in the future.