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Women Leadership Forum Opening

Remarks by
Ambassador Victoria Reggie Kennedy
Women Leadership Forum Opening
Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Good morning.  It’s such a pleasure to be here with all you this morning.

It’s also a special pleasure to be joined by my colleague Ambassador Laura Holgate. Ambassador Holgate is the U.S. Ambassador to International Organizations here in Vienna. She is the quintessential accomplished woman in STEM, a nuclear expert and a diplomat and a role model for us all.

A special thank you to Renate Altenhofer for organizing the Women Leadership Forum, now celebrating its 10th anniversary. Congratulations!

And thank you to UNIDO and Director General Gerd Mueller for hosting this important event.

This is such an important gathering. Women and girls around the globe continue to face obstacles that limit their possibilities and challenge their futures.

I’m proud to say that diversity and inclusion is a major priority of the Biden-Harris Administration, starting at the top. Vice President Kamala Harris is the first female Vice President of the United States AND she is the first African American and Asian American woman to hold such a lofty office.

And when we women achieve high positions, we help pave the way for future generations of women and girls to follow in our footsteps. There is public service announcement that aired on U.S. television earlier this year, and the message was as simple as it was powerful:

“If you can see her, you can be her.”

I understand the power of those words from the experience of my own life.

When I was in college in the 1970s and making decisions about my future career, the women’s liberation movement in the United States was in full swing. I thought I could do absolutely anything, and it was thrilling. But, as I came to learn, I hadn’t really thought of everything that I might do. I never thought of being a lawyer. Why not? My dad was a lawyer. I knew lots of lawyers. But none of them were women. I didn’t see her, so I didn’t know I could be her.

It took a male professor to open my eyes. He told me the story of Carla Hills, a female lawyer who had just been appointed by the president of the United States to be his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. At that time, in the mid-1970s, Carla Hills was only the 4th woman to serve as a cabinet secretary in the entire history of the United States.

My professor challenged me – if she can do it, he asked, then why can’t you. And with that simple question, he changed my life. I have no doubt that I would not be the bilateral U.S. Ambassador to Austria today if I had not accepted the challenge to go to law school back then.

The benefits of women’s participation in important matters of statecraft are undeniable. For example, when women help negotiate peace agreements, those agreements are 35% more likely to last 15 years or longer. I call that sustainability.

In closing, I want to say that change requires the courage to act. It happens when we decide that we won’t let life happen to us; we will make life happen for us. The change one woman makes impacts the lives of countless others. Because, if you can see her, you can be her.

Thank you very much.