Women’s History Month Spotlight – Linda Harper


What does Women’s History Month mean to you? 

A recognition/acknowledgement/a well deserved salute to the many accomplishments by women and the potential for a more equal role moving forward. I was around when it started and we viewed it as “finally … a chance to more away for the “old white male dominated society”

 

What woman inspires you most and why? 

Love Frances Perkins. Little known but significant political player. Rose up through the ranks as a workers’ rights advocate to serve as the US Sec of Labor from 1933-45, the longest serving in that position…And the first woman to serve in any presidential cabinet, thus she became the first woman to enter the presidential line of succession. Fascinating story and she continued to grow and learn serving as an advisor for several later presidents. If you look at our society today, we owe her a great deal. She influenced many laws including the signing of the Social Security Act.

  

Can you tell us about your career journey in your field? 

It was not a straight line, more like the yellow brick road…. lots of loops and curves, meeting interesting people along the way, taking risks, and stepping through windows that opened when sometimes a door closed. And the opportunities in retirement to follow some of the passions found during the “career” phase so as to have a full second “volunteer” phase of the journey.

 

What has been your biggest career and/or personal achievement?  

Career-wise there were 2 milestones: creating a sustainable organization at Historic Congressional Cemetery and the creation of “Passport DC” as a significant cultural event for the District of Columbia. Personally, I’d name 2 things as well: the chance to be a mentor to both young people and to organizations, and the opportunity to be a scuba diver and recognize the wealth of diversity underwater. I made my 500th dive in late 2019.

 

What qualities make a great leader? 

Fairness, patience, consistency, the ability to delegate to and empower staff at every level, a willingness to learn – to remember that you are generally not the smartest person in the room – so surround yourself with smart and good people.

 

What do you believe will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you? 

I fear that Covid has set us back, especially young women who are at the beginning of their careers. It is a fact that more women have stepped away from their careers to adapt to the needs of family…childcare and education and caregiving for parents. I’m worried that when the new normal comes that fields that were once open or were just opening up will once again be filled with their male counterparts and the stereotype of the male breadwinner and the stay-at-home mom. 

 

Which women’s stories need to be heard and supported more?  

When we hear about “successful” women we often hear about those that have broken the glass ceiling. That is extremely important, but we also need to hear about those on “the way up”…. not everyone wants to be or will be the CEO and success may be at the middle  management level or the worker who is the employee of the month. We also need to recognize the women who volunteer and are the caregivers from all racial, ethnic and economic areas.

In what ways do you think we can all contribute more to women’s empowerment? As noted above, recognition of what a “success” looks like at a variety of levels. Something that is good that has come from Covid is the recognition of teachers, grocery store clerks, and nurses and caregivers. We now recognize the importance of these women and salute them. Please continue after Covid. And women mentoring women is critical, whether one-on-one or internship. Both are critical.

 

What inspired you to become involved with Covenant House Greater Washington?  

As a kid of the 60’s, we were all going to change the world and my first choice was to be a social worker. Life took me in a different direction so toward the end of a successful career I had the time to reflect back and return to a passion in the social services arena. Learning about the many issues of young people aging out of the foster care system was the tipping point to say “yes” when I was asked to serve on the CHGW Board. It allowed me to return to an earlier passion and provide my time and talents to a cause I care about.