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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Good Housekeeping Awards Ceremony

06/23/1999
Carol M. Browner, Administrator Environmental Protection Agency
                               
                 Remarks Prepared for Delivery
               Good Housekeeping Awards Ceremony
                        Washington, D.C.
                         June 23, 1999

     Good afternoon. I'd like to thank Ellen for that introduction and for inviting me to speak to all of you here today at the Good Housekeeping Women in Government awards ceremony.

     I'd like to congratulate all the winners, including a scientist from my own agency who you will hear more about later in the program.

     All of you here have shown leadership in a variety of professions over a variety of issues. Through your work you have helped make the world a safer place -- a healthier place -- a more caring place for all of our families. And in doing that, you have advanced the cause not just of women -- but of our nation.

     Our children will live in brighter futures because of your work.  And, I thank you for that.

     I'm often asked why I chose public service and why I think it's important for women to strive for leadership roles -- both in government and business. Ironically, the answer lies in two of the most important men in my life -- my father and my son.
     
     From my father I drew inspiration -- the desire to give something back to the country that he believed gave him and his family so much. For my son I have aspirations -- to leave him a country that is even better than the one his parents grew up in.

     I'm a first generation American. My father was born and raised in Ireland. He came here as a young man looking for opportunity as so many before him have done.

     He started out as a truck driver. And then during the Korean War -- even before he became a citizen -- he joined the United States Army. When he returned, a grateful nation helped pay for his college education and finance his first home.   The first home my sisters and I knew.

     When he graduated college he became a teacher. He believed that as a teacher he could help others realize the same opportunities he had found here in the United States. He told me that I had the same duty -- an obligation to give something back to this great country.


      And so I after working my way through college as a secretary/typist, making $100 dollars a week for 40 hours, I chose to be a public servant.  And that has made all of the difference in my life.  The opportunity to work with others, for the last six years my colleagues at EPA, to make this world, our air, water, the health of our children a little better.  

     I am especially honored to have served a President, Vice-President who knew from the beginning that women had to be, deserved to be, could be in charge of some of the most important departments and agencies in the United States government.

     Attorney General Janet Reno and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright are the first women to ever hold their positions. And besides those two, also serving in the cabinet are Alexis Herman as Secretary of Labor, Donna Shalala as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Janet Yellen as chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, Charlene Barshefsky as the U.S. Trade Representative and, of course, myself at EPA.

     In fact, 40 percent of this President's appointees are women -- the most of any President. I don't doubt that it is the first time in the history of our government that an idea, a proposal could literally move from conception to completion under the guidance of women only.  

     There are now eight million women owned firms in the nation and they employ 18.5 million people. That's one in five workers working in a woman owned business.  An these firms contribute $2.3 trillion to the economy.

     In 1960 only 35 percent of college graduates were women.  Today it is more than half..

     But I don't have to tell you that even with all of this progress, we are still not quite there yet.

     For instance,  women managers average $658 dollars a week, compared to $934 dollars for men doing the same job. That means these women earn about 70 percent of what their male colleagues make. Now that's better than the 59 percent average back in 1963 when President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act -- but it's still inexcusable.

     And besides the wage discrimination, these professional women are having a tough time getting promoted into the upper echelons of management. One survey of Fortune 500 companies showed that 95 percent of all the top jobs went to males -- usually white males.

     Even in my job it is not unusual, for example when I am testifying before Congress, to find myself only one of a handful of  women in the room.

     I will tell you, it's situations like these that make me think of my son Zach. I want him to inherit a world where there is nothing unique in having a woman run the company, nothing rare in a woman being elected to high public office, nothing odd in a woman being a top engineer or scientist.

     In fact, I would like to see a time where watching women's sports can be just as exciting -- maybe more so -- than the average NFL or NBA game. How many of you watched the U.S. soccer team last Saturday in the women's World Cup? Wasn't that exciting? And I know some
men probably started watching the game saying: "Oh! Women's soccer. This will be fun." And then they couldn't be pried from the set.

     I want my son to live in a world where the very award being given out today will sound quaint and unnecessary -- sort of like giving out an award for best male CEO or best male Senator would sound today.  

     But until that day   it is absolutely important, to take the time, as we do today, to honor those of you, to honor all women who overcome the odds and the blaze the trails for others to follow.   So again to all of you a very special thank you.  With your steady efforts and others  like you   women who get involved and strive to achieve    we will grind away that glass ceiling and replace it with a sturdy staircase that all can use to advance.

     Thank you.