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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Harvard Negotiation And Leadership Conference

Reta Jo Lewis
Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs 
Cambridge, Massachusetts
May 1, 2010


Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. I would like to give a heartfelt thank you to the Harvard Student Government Association for inviting me to be with you today. Thank you for your hospitality and for hosting this important dialogue. Thank you to my esteemed panelists. I look forward to a robust exchange this morning.

In my professional career, in the United States and internationally, I have seen a progression from an all male leadership paradigm to acceptance of more women and minorities at the table. Thus, we are beginning to see a multi-ethnic and multi-racial workforce; and also a trend toward a majority-female workforce in all professions. Demographics trends are forcing us all out of our comfort zones. It is quite clear that on face value this transformation is notable, however bias still exists and at any given time anyone can exhibit a bias. For example:

  • As a lawyer, I like it when lawyers come to the table together, because at least I know that we are operating under the same set of rules, and bring the same legal framework for negotiating to the table.
  • Alternatively, a lot of people do not like coming to the table dealing with lawyers, because they think they, to put it diplomatically, are difficult to deal with and block progress
  • As a negotiator, one must always be prepared and ready for action, to work offensively and defensively, and must be armed with the facts and figure to do the job. At the end of the day, people want to respect who they are negotiating with and against. So it does not matter much whether one is black or white, male or female, as long as a negotiator comes to the table prepared. As young professionals, you are always fighting against the status quo. The question is, “Are You Ready?”
  • However, when you are prepared, then the societal bias and negative stereotypes are less likely to emerge; regardless of your training, background and experiences. Therefore, we have to listen to the words of wisdom from our mothers and the Girls Scouts of America – whose motto is: “Always be prepared” --- because if we are not prepared, and you happen to be a woman or minority at the table, don’t fret when the bias takes over.

With respect to leadership, I have a great sense of pride, as we all have, when we witness women and minorities ascend to the top as Governors of states, U.S. Senators, the Speaker and Members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices, and most recently the Inauguration of America’s first black President.

I would therefore like to challenge the new generation of people like yourselves to consider the following:

  • In 2008, an overwhelming majority of American voters declared that they were ready for new leadership.
  • The leadership style Americans opted for was a more inclusive and collaborative, “big tent” approach.
  • This effort attempts to give voice to the voiceless and allows for people to bring more equities to the table.
  • We are quickly moving toward a multi-ethnic and multi-racial society. As we move forward in a global society, that is the trend for this new style of leadership.

Furthermore, we must be constantly aware that diversity is wrapped in people of different races, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds and gender. So, in order to gain a better understanding of this global society we are living in, I challenge you to go beyond your own comfort zones to:

  • seek out diverse thoughts and perspectives by having a healthy respect for differences in gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and age;
  • learn to communicate in more than one language;
  • be more inquisitive about other cultures through your studies, research, and travel;
  • realize that everyone has something to contribute; and
  • make the table larger to incorporate more points of view.

Thank you again for the wonderful opportunity to share my perspectives.

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