'Obama Effect' for Black Women?

African-American women are a major force in the Obama administration. They have big jobs (U.N. ambassador, FDA head, EPA chief and more). But will their success help other, less visible black women break down doors? Teresa Wiltz reports.

by Teresa Wiltz

But many women, like Andrea Berry, a 48-year-old senior vice president for broadcast operations at Fox Networks, find that they tend to network along more informal lines, getting together for lunches, or unofficially mentoring young talent. “There’s a sisterhood,” Berry says of her fellow African-American vice presidents at Fox. “But whether we can do an organized thing for the betterment of people, I don’t know if we have time for that,” she muses. “We’re all working; we all have husbands; we all have kids. The work-life balance for all women in challenging.” (Berry, who has a mentee herself, notes that many of her peers have decided they want to leave corporate life and start giving back.)

“I’m not a joiner,” says Tanya Chutkan, 47, an attorney who is a partner specializing in litigation and white collar criminal defense at the high-profile Washington, D.C.–based law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP. “What’s been helpful to me are other women in the areas in which I’ve practiced who’ve reached out to me. When I was a summer associate, partners in my firm would take us to lunch. Now I make it a habit to take the summer associates out.” D.C. is a small enough city, Chutkan says, so that women lawyers know each other and will pass along cases that they can’t take. Or, if they know someone who’s applying for a judgeship, it’s, “Let’s email the people we know and lobby for them. Informal lobbying and mentoring and reaching out, that’s more effective than a formal organization.”

Whether black women choose formal or informal networking routes, “you open your own doors,” says Judith Jamison. “There is no ceiling. You create your own space.”

“You put your best foot out there in the world, and never forget where you came from, and how far you came,” Jamison adds. “Because you didn’t get there by yourself.” 

Teresa Wiltz is a senior culture writer for TheRoot.com. She lives in Washington, D.C., and is writing a book about race.

African-American women are a major force in the Obama administration: The New Face of D.C. Power. But how are they faring in other parts of the workplace?

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