Small Businesses Keep our Economy Strong

Small businesses are the backbone of America’s economy. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are 31.7 million U.S. small businesses which make up over 99% of all businesses. Approximately 90% have fewer than 20 employees and 80% percent have fewer than 10 employees. Read more

Recognizing Women Journalists in the Nation’s Capital

The annual Washington Women in Journalism Awards, hosted jointly by Washingtonian and Story Partners, honors the outstanding women journalists here in our nation’s capital.

This year, we are thrilled to honor four of Washington’s top female political reporters.

Day-in and day-out, Martha, Kaitlan, Kathleen and Ayesha have demonstrated reporting at its finest during some of the toughest years we have faced as a nation – from navigating reporting during a global pandemic to covering a new Administration and its legislative goals during a hyper-partisan state. This year’s honorees have proven they can report the news at their best, adapting to the latest reporting challenge while under immense pressure.

At a time when our nation faces new challenges, including the war in Ukraine and rising inflation while COVID-19 cases are on the rise again, journalists continue to bring Americans the facts and information that households and businesses rely on. It’s important today, more than ever, that we do everything we can to support a robust media industry as year after year, we continue to see news organizations, especially on the local level, shrink or close completely. In fact, over a quarter of all U.S. newspapers –2,100 news outlets – have closed their doors over the past 15 years.

One of the reasons that I founded the Washington Women in Journalism Awards was to recognize and celebrate the contributions of women in the media industry in a traditionally male-dominated industry. I believe it’s critically important to empower and support women journalists because diversity in media is key to its success. Women, especially women from different backgrounds, each bring a unique perspective to their reporting, which is invaluable to the success of our nation and democracy. I look forward to joining with my co-host Cathy Merrill and our guests as we celebrate these remarkable women journalists and their contributions to society.

Cathy Merrill, CEO of Washingtonian, added, “As the owner of one of the very few women-owned media companies in the country, I personally like seeing women succeed in a field that was largely dominated by men for so very long.  Thus, Washingtonian is proud to once again honor four exceptional women journalists who are making a difference in our community by contributing significantly to our understanding of current events and the life around us. These four women especially bring smarts, talent, depth and heart. Congratulations to all four of them.”

In anticipation of the event this week, Story Partners asked the honorees for their thoughts on the unique perspective that women journalists provide and why it is important to help promote and support women in journalism. Here are their responses:

Kaitlan Collins, CNN’s Chief White House Correspondent, said, “I think it is absolutely critical to have women in newsrooms, briefing rooms, press gaggles and in journalism period. In my five years covering the White House, I’ve seen the front row of the White House briefing room go from predominantly male to predominantly female. Changes like that happen when women support and empower other women. And we should all want women in the front row asking the tough questions.”

Kathleen Parker, Columnist for The Washington Post, said, “Saying that women bring a unique perspective to news coverage and commentary is like saying that men can be useful in the kitchen. Many of the best chefs in the world are men — and the rest goes without saying.”

Martha Raddatz, ABC News’ Chief Global Affairs Correspondent, said, “We embrace who we are and the unique perspective we can provide for our readers, viewers and listeners. And we know the importance and joy in supporting those female colleagues who are by our sides and coming up in the next generation.”

Ayesha Rascoe, Host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday and Up Firstsaid, “No newsroom can be really reflective of the society at large, if it leaves out half of the population. It makes no sense ignore half your audience. So, promoting women is not just a moral imperative, it’s a business imperative. Newsrooms that reflect a broad swathe of society provide deeper and richer coverage of the world around us, and we are all better for it.”

A Special Thank You to the Sponsors of the Washington Women in Journalism Awards

National Retail FederationAmerican Beverage AssociationACLIAlibaba GroupJohnson & JohnsonNational Association of ManufacturersPhRMASouthern CompanyToyota and U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Empowering the Next Generation of Women in Business

I’ve spent my career working to mentor and prepare the next generation of women leaders. It’s a cause that is very personal because as I started my career, there were few seats at the table for women.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I reflect on the importance that Title IX had on our women leaders today. In fact, I believe it is a key tool that helped shape the leadership skills of today’s young women. At first blush, Title IX might just be viewed as a “gender equity law,” but it is much more. Title IX opened doors and removed barriers for girls and women by creating opportunities for female participation in sports. Through sports, girls built confidence and were taught important skills that last a lifetime, such as leadership and teamwork.

After Title IX was in effect for several years, I began to see a new generation of female employees who understood how to function as a team, work together to achieve an objective and support other team members instead of competing against them. I saw young women entering the workforce who cheered for others’ successes and encouraged each other to achieve – a far different environment than the days when women were all competing for the one and only “women’s seat at the table.” The teamwork learned on the soccer and softball fields, the basketball court or the racetrack carried over to the boardroom and created more collegial colleagues who were supportive of one another. Title IX helped girls learn that “teamwork makes the dreamwork.”

While there are more opportunities today, there are still important disparities to overcome – not the least of which are pay equity and balanced C-Suite and Board of Directors representation. That is why it’s important for women in leadership positions to give back and help others navigate their own path to success.

One of the best pieces of advice that I got at the start of my career as a secretary on Capitol Hill was from a friend’s father who told me, “Whatever job you might have, do it better than anyone has ever done before. Always put your hand up and offer to do more, come in early, stay late and always ask what more you can contribute.” That important advice changed my perspective and led me to understand the importance of hard work, regardless of the job. I always tell other women – there is no shortcut to a successful career. You must put in the hard work if you want to succeed. You should always try to be the best person who has ever done that job.

I reached out to several successful women leaders to share one piece of advice they share with other women on how to navigate the professional field as a woman. Here is their advice:

Christie Hefner, Chairman of Hatchbeauty LLC and President of the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation:

“Develop the skill and confidence to negotiate as you don’t necessarily get in life what you deserve. You get what you can negotiate for.”

Katherine Lugar, President and CEO of the American Beverage Association:

“Take big risks and set clear boundaries. Women often play it safe because we’re pulled in so many directions. When I see my smart, capable female colleagues struggling with a big professional decision – whether accepting a new job or taking on an important assignment, I urge them to set the boundaries that will enable them to say yes and be successful across the board. No email or calls during the dinner hours? Need to work remotely more often? No more than three consecutive nights on the road? Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to ask for the boundaries that will make you – and the organization – effective and allow you to take on new opportunities. After all, women will always find the way to get the job done!”

Leslie Sarasin, President and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute:

“The first best advice I ever received came from my mother when I was a teenager. She reminded me, ‘You always have to act nice because you just never know where life will take you.’ As simple as it sounds, it has proven to be even more true in my adult life, especially in a city like Washington, D.C., where today’s antagonists so frequently become tomorrow’s allies.

More recently, when I faced a decision that would determine not just where my professional aspirations would take me, but who I was destined to be, a mentor asked me, ‘Leslie, are you running to something or away from it?’ My mentor pushed me to dig deep inside myself at an age when family obligations and maintaining friendships were all feeling more like barriers to my career aspirations than opportunities that would help direct my trajectory. Now, in my second CEO role in an association, I’m confident in the choices I made that allowed me to prepare for an association leadership role, and I try to always find time to serve as a mentor to those who seek my counsel. I thoroughly enjoy the time I spend with them and continue to learn more about myself through my mentor-mentee relationships with young professionals. I hope to encourage them to experience these same revealing moments about themselves.”

Debra Cabral, President, Story Partners:

“Today, the world is far more open to women in leadership roles than at any time in history so women should not be afraid to compete at the highest levels if that is what they want. What has not changed is what it will take to succeed: the commitment to education and training, hard work, patience, perseverance, and the dedication to continued growth to meet the changing demands of the workplace.”

Will Biden Seize the Opportunity to Reframe His Agenda?

When I think back to memorable State of the Union Addresses, it is President Bill Clinton’s 1996 address that springs to mind.

Many say Clinton’s move from a centrist campaign to a left-leaning agenda during his first two presidential years brought about a historic Republican realignment in the House with Newt Gingrich and conservatives firmly grabbing the leadership reins of the Republican party.

Faced with an historic upset and a stalled agenda, President Clinton used the State of the Union to recapture his centrist positioning, reframing himself as the bipartisan president and resetting his agenda. It was one of the most brilliant political moves in modern times.

As President Biden prepares to address Congress and the nation, the State of the Union provides an opportunity for him to reset in hopes of averting a dismal showing at the polls next fall. His speech also comes at a time when the world’s eyes are on the U.S. as Europe faces its greatest crisis since World War II.

President Biden didn’t run on a left-wing agenda. In fact, the left wing of the party didn’t win the nomination. A close general election should have sent a signal to the incoming Administration that governing from the middle would be more accepted than moving to the left fringe to appease a vocal minority. The policies rolled out from day one by the Democratic Senate, House and Administration were not centrist. Hidden throughout these big packages are expensive programs directly from an agenda embraced by the liberal wing. Policies like dramatically expanding IRS funding, providing tax deductions for union dues, or giving amnesty to illegal immigrants, to name a few. When you add programs like these to a $555 billion Clean Energy Initiative, it’s no wonder it’s hard to find enough votes to make it across the finish line.

Witness San Francisco’s local elections just last week along with the Virginia Governor’s race last fall.  These elections weren’t about Donald Trump. They were about American citizens standing up for what they want in their local communities. Like it or not, most of America is right down the middle. Not too far left and not too far right.

President Biden’s values and background earned him the nickname, Middle-Class Joe. It brought him to this place today and has been a guiding force throughout his career. He’s the guy who took the train to work every day. The guy from Scranton who joined his neighbors jumping in the ice-cold winter water during the Turkey Day Plunge. America gave Middle-Class Joe a chance, but now they fear he wasn’t really with them and he’s unable to hold back those from the left who are reaching too far.

Drastic times call for bold, unconventional actions. With today’s world order challenged like it hasn’t been since WWII, the stock market in a freefall, and inflation shrinking the buying power of American paychecks, Biden needs to harness his “Middle-Class Joe” voice. The American people are looking for someone they recognize at the helm – someone with empathy and integrity – who will reach out to families across the country and listen to what they truly need instead of throwing money at problems.

The State of the Union always presents an opportunity to highlight Administration successes. President Biden can seize this moment and right the ship before the election clock starts ticking down. But whether the President seizes the opportunity is up to him and his team. If the Biden Administration authentically resurrects “Middle-Class Joe” and brings centrist ideas to the halls of government, I believe the tide can be turned.

Over the past few weeks, I reached out to several prominent political insiders who have been covering the State of the Union for decades to hear their thoughts and perspectives. Here’s what they had to say:

Columnist Margaret Carlson explained, “There are many esthetic reasons for wanting to dump the State of the Union but more somber reasons to keep it on life support. First, there’s hope for this year’s in that there won’t be guests in the gallery. What was serio-comic relief in its early days—turning the camera on the First Lady’s box to see who was chosen to be there, is now a stilted series of stunts: there’s the shot of the veteran, the crime victim, the teacher, the candlestick maker choreographed to appear at the right moment in the speech. We get it. Even when COVID is, hopefully, a distant memory, future SOTUs should skip the gallery portion of the evening. For that matter, skip having members, the cabinet, and Supreme Court. The money shot of members is someone in the opposition, stone-faced, refusing to applaud, or better, asleep…Get rid of the filigree. It just signals nothing to see here from the dais. It’s good to have one hour devoted to a ritual focused on how everything is going and where we go from here, even if the laundry list portion throws a sop to every constituency. What else do we have that focuses on policy? I know it’s a bone but it’s all, policy wise, we’re ever thrown.”

Steve Clemons, the editor at large of The Hill, stated, “I was among the guests in 1996 when President Bill Clinton said, ‘the era of big government is over.’ The room, packed with Members of both Chambers, the joint chiefs of the military services, Clinton cabinet members, and the justices of the Supreme Court all seemed caught off guard by Clinton’s statement, not knowing whether to applaud or hold back. It was a moment that mattered, and it showed that the State of the Union could be so much more than an evening of pointing into the gallery at various people props to draw forced applause lines.

President Biden needs to take command and level with the American people and the Congress that these are not ordinary times and talk about the drivers of high inflation, a stressed out global supply chain, racial tensions, worker shortages, a pandemic that is not nearly over, and a former global adversary that is back on the hunt, invading sovereign states, and killing innocent people who desired freedom and Western-fashioned democracy. Biden needs to remind America of its history when notable U.S. celebrities like Charles Lindbergh praised Adolph Hitler and reflect on what signals it sends to the world and to Americans when President Trump, media celebrities, and even some members of Congress praise Vladimir Putin as very savvy and a genius. Biden needs to give his Constitutionally required report to Congress and the American people about America’s needs, his administration’s efforts, successes, and shortcomings.  This is a time for honest assessment, and to hear what course Biden is going to take to confront all of these challenges.

That is what the State of the Union should be — not grinning at the gallery, not a ritual tromp through glad-handing Senators and Representatives who want selfies with Biden. This is a somber and serious moment – and the State of the Union could be the vital platform to offer a new plan to propel Americans towards greater unity, health and purpose – and give Biden a chance to resurrect his sinking Presidency.”

Former U.S. Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley said, “The State of the Union address is THE chance for the president to hit the reset button on the narrative of his agenda. How President Biden talks about his Build Back Better agenda, or components of it, is how every Democrat on the ballot will talk about it between now and November. One of President Biden’s greatest strengths as a leader is his empathy, so I suspect we will see that front and center. Combining this tone with a results-oriented approach could be quite powerful. Rising food prices affecting your family budget? I understand — here’s what we’re doing about it. And while we’re at it, we’re also going to make child care more affordable and lower drug prices.

Could the President say all of this in a primetime address from the Oval Office? Sure. But the guarantee of a built-in audience of the opposing political party (with cameras poised to capture their every reaction) and the ability to include storytelling and a little stagecraft does elevate the State of the Union. One could argue that standing ovations — or lack of — and other displays have turned what should be a time of unity into partisanship, and has contributed to the downfall of our political discourse. As someone who was in the chamber when Joe Wilson shouted, “You lie!” to President Obama, I would agree. But for an address that was originally intended for a Congressional audience seeing approval or disapproval of a president’s agenda in real-time is an experiment in itself.”

Journalist and former Carter Administration speechwriter, James Fallows, stated, “The State of the Union is one of the few regular opportunities to command at least part of the public’s attention for at least some span of time. No president can guarantee that one of these speeches will help his standing or his agenda. But it’s too important an opportunity for the White House team not to give it their best try… One part of the reaction to the speech is foreseeable: Mitch McConnell’s caucus in the Senate, and Kevin McCarthy’s in the House, will say it was disappointing, excessive, unrealistic, sign that it is ‘time for a change,’ and so on. And it’s almost as foreseeable that Chuck Schumer’s and Nancy Pelosi’s caucuses will say the reverse. So, what’s up for grabs? Essentially the ‘play’ from the news media, in two ways. First, did Biden look and sound ‘strong,’ ‘confident,’ ‘resolute,’ and so on. Second, did he provide a ‘narrative’ about why things are going his way (and America’s) when it comes to the big challenges — the pandemic, the economy, and global challenges starting with Russia. That’s why those of us interested in politics will watch.”

Washington Post National Political Correspondent and Anchor of The Daily 202, Olivier Knox explained, “The State of the Union remains relevant even in an era of bite-size social media nuggets because it’s almost certainly the largest audience any American politician will have this year. What’s changed is how the White House sees – and courts – that audience. Or rather, those audiences: Lawmakers in the room; TV watchers; Twitter users; people who’ll read about it a day later; or even those who’ll catch a memorable moment on Tik-Tok. There won’t be just one State of the Union. There’ll be one for every American, depending on their media diet.”

Bruce Mehlman, co-founder of a leading bipartisan government relations firm and a Bush Administration veteran, noted “Few political speeches are more challenging than a President’s initial State of the Union. After 12 months, the honeymoon is over. Often your largest accomplishments, and any low-hanging-fruit-wins, are behind you. Your base now realizes that your lofty campaign promises were greater than you’ll be able to deliver. Your opponents have seized upon your missteps, misstatements and bad luck, and they’re laser-focused on engineering another midterm shellacking, which history modern political suggests is unavoidable. If you offer sweeping new promises, the increasingly-aggressive media will claim you’ve abandoned your former goals, while reiterating the same things you’ve been pushing for 2-3 years will feel stale.”

 

The state of democracy: How to bridge the divide in today’s hyper-partisan climate

The Washington where I began my career was a community where people held on tightly to their political party and fought the good fight, but there was pride in making a deal at the end of the day. Back then, the guiding political philosophy was Jeremy Bentham’s principle that legislators “should aim for producing the greatest good for the greatest number.” Of course, a lot has changed since then.

Today, partisanship is at an all-time high, and it’s created a political system that fosters inaction. We see it today in Congress: Republicans don’t want to give Democrats legislative wins to give them credit when they are in the majority, and vice versa. The lack of progress on the President’s Build Back Better (BBB) bill is a telling example of the inability to negotiate in good faith and compromise for the good of the people.

Many factors have led to the hyper-partisan state – from re-districting to the rise in polarized media. These are just a few factors that have eliminated the goal of compromise that once existed. Simply put, “compromise” has become an evil word.

How do we change the tide? How do we find a path forward where our political system can once again achieve progress for the good of the people and the country as a whole? We know it won’t be easy, and there’s no perfect solution. But there are steps we can all take to get our system of government back on track.

As a public affairs strategist, I know firsthand that if you’re going to get legislation passed, it must have something in it for everyone – from Bernie Sanders to Joe Manchin to Rob Portman; something that gives Members of Congress legislative victories and something positive to talk about with their constituents back home.

You must develop messaging and communications that appeal to diverse constituencies in both parties: Messages that demonstrate both to the left and right that they should have a vested interest in supporting legislation because some part of the legislative package will benefit their constituents and their community. But first, it must start with creating a messaging platform that demonstrates to Americans in districts across the political spectrum that action is a good thing.

In my experience, successful legislative efforts were built on the ability to communicate its benefits to real constituents at the local level. Oftentimes, we would start communicating on a policy with local editorial boards – to show the community how the policy benefits them directly and help bring Members of Congress to the table.

Today’s situation demonstrates the need for strong communications at the local level and ensuring that people from all corners of America have access to local news sources that are trusted. Today, people pick where they get their news from. If you don’t want to hear something bad about President Biden or President Trump, you just need to choose the right station.

We need to embrace the changing nature of today’s news and tap into those outlets that reach any target constituencies. Ensuring there are still local news outlets that will be important but reaching local constituencies will require harnessing trusted influential voices and deploying them on social media channels. There is still a pathway for local voices to get Members out of their corner and bring them to the table, but the channels have shifted.

A harder path will be for the “DC community” to help bridge the divide. It’s challenging to get people out of their respective corners to work together for the people’s good. The short-term political calculus always comes into play. Politics is the art of compromise. You fight the good fight, but everyone walks away with something that helps the folks back home at the end of the day. Our political community needs to quit putting themselves first and start putting the needs of their constituents ahead of their own. If we can achieve that lofty goal, we will take a big step toward restoring value in our political system.

Gloria Story Dittus is the Chair of Story Partners, a leading public affairs agency in Washington, D.C. With 30+ years of public policy, communications and political experience, Gloria is a trusted counselor who provides strategic communications, corporate positioning and messaging advice to members of Congress, cabinet Secretaries and business leaders.