Politics 30 January 2017
Suzan Johnson Cook's life has been anything but ordinary, and she recognizes in a recent interview with SWAAY, that the same thing could be said for the coming four years under this administration. As a former presidential adviser to both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Cook has lead a devoted life to public servitude and looks ahead to how we can endure and thrive in testing times. Having finished her public service roles, she is now concentrating on helping minorities through motivational speeches and care-giving, and is also the writer of both Too Blessed to Be Stressed - Words of Wisdom for Women on the Move and Soul Sisters - a compilation of African American, Asian and Latina women's stories to move and encourage progress in the right direction for minorities.
“Our family was very public service - oriented, and so it was a natural fit, it was really just carrying out that legacy," says Cook.
Courtesy of NY Daily News
Having helped her late brother to gain office in New York, 'Sujay' went on to work under the Clinton administration herself, and recalls fondly working with Bill Clinton on his race initiative. She remembers the objective at the time, was to address "what we're dealing with now - that we need to be one America - that we're ethnically, racially and socio-economically diverse, and not to diminish that, but to celebrate it."
Sujay had to be nominated twice for the role of Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, and on the second try the vote was passed through unanimously. She was the first African-American woman to adopt the role and it entailed representing the country abroad on faith missions with other international leaders. She visited Ghana as Ambassador - where her family is originally from, and also the Vatican, taking part in an assembly the likes of which her ancestors "would never have dreamed of."
“We were taught to help - to show others how to be empowered themselves so they did not have to have a life of dependency on welfare on systems."
She was dedicated to the promotion and enhancement of life for those who could not speak for themselves - who don't have publicists or staff and who most of all, don't have the means or capital to attract attention in a country driven by wealth. She is hopeful, but skeptical about the four years ahead, especially given the first executive order issued under the new administration to begin the dismantling of her former boss' s biggest achievement - Obamacare.
“It's rough because I personally know people who were helped - who didn't have healthcare and had it for the first time."
Even though she's confident and hopeful of progress in the next four years, Cook understands that within the communities she serves and works to improve, there is unease about the swift and hasty nature of the new presidents rulings. "We want to go forward" she says, "we don't want to dismantle what has been done - we want to build upon it."
"All of it contributes to our notion, there is no role too small. What is it they say? The summation of the parts equal a whole."
She looks back fondly on her time under Bill Clinton, and praises Obama for his help getting her nomination through, but perhaps her favorite moment at the White House? When Clinton held a formal welcoming ceremony for the then newly elected South African President - Mr. Nelson Mandela, and she got to attend the ceremony on the White House lawn. Having seen what protests and public demonstration has the ability to do through the likes of Mandela, Sujay participated in the Women's Inauguration marches with a plethora of other activists who are now focused on remaining positive throughout what has the potential to become a despotic presidency. Below are her 'S' words that might just help you get through.
1. Scream Really Loud (in private)
We all have those days when our stress level is through the roof and nothing is going right. I had many of those days working in politics. It might not seem “lady like" or be good manners to go off in public, but when you get home and are all alone, scream at the top of your lungs and get your aggressions out. It feels good to release the tension.
Every woman needs an inner circle of advisors and confidants for professional and personal growth. It's a group of like-minded women you can confide in and speak openly to about whatever challenges and struggles you are facing. If it's business, make sure and get with a group of other highly successful women who push you to be the best in your field. If it's personal, things like trust, compassion and a shoulder to lean on are important qualities.
3. Be Silly
While you wouldn't necessarily expect a former presidential advisor to recommend acting silly, it's necessary. Stress is a killer of our health, relationships, success and so much more. We all need that time to just let go, have fun and act silly. When was the last time you let go of your inhibitions and just let loose? If you can't remember it's time to give it a shot as soon as possible.
4. Find Sanctuary
Every woman needs a sanctuary, a special place they go to rest, reflect and recharge. It can be a place in your home like your master bedroom. It can be the beach or the mountains. It's whatever gives you refuge from the hustle and bustle of the world around you. During my Congressional run, I would go sit at Carl Schultz Park in Manhattan to get away from it all. Sanctuary leads to stress reduction.
We spend a great deal of our lives trying to accumulate things, whether it's that promotion, more friends or material objects. But often times the best advice is that less is more. Give yourself permission to let go and shed the things in life that aren't making a positive impact for you. Whether it's the people who say 'you'll never be able to,' the mountain of clutter piled high on your desk or anything else slowing you down, get rid of it.
6. Savor the Moment:
A lot of people are stuck in the past. Planning for the future is good, but often times we lose sight of what's really important: the present moment. Savor it. If you're out to dinner with your family, put away your smartphone. If you're watching your child's school play, then stop thinking about your boss. If you just won a prestigious award and are being recognized for it, soak it up and enjoy it. No matter what's going on, live more in the present.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.