Articles > People & Politics
Washington’s 100 Most Powerful Women
Celebrating the accomplishments of the females who’ve made it to the top
Table of Contents:
1. Local Public Powers—Business, Labor, and Lobbying—Education
2. Law—National Powers—On the Hill—International Powers
3. Advocacy and Nonprofits—Health and Medicine—Religion—Media—Arts and Letters
It’s been a very good year for women in Washington. Three are on the US Supreme Court, the first woman has been elected Episcopal bishop of Washington, and a female Secretary of State has better poll numbers than her boss, the President of the United States.
So many women are in powerful positions in Washington today that selecting the top 100 is more challenging than ever. We could have filled the list with women in high places in the federal government and on Capitol Hill alone.
Still, if women are now free to achieve their way to the top, why are there so few female corporate CEOs and university presidents in the Washington area? And a woman occupant of the Oval Office still seems a long shot.
We celebrate the accomplishments of the women who’ve made it to the top—while recognizing that a few panes still remain in the glass ceiling.
Local Public Powers
Chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Has been praised for her skillful handling of county finances in tough economic times, avoiding the angry budget battles that have taken place in neighboring Montgomery County.
Chief of the US Park Police. Was reinstated in January after a seven-year battle to get her job back. She was fired when she went public about Park Police staffing shortages after 9/11.
US congresswoman. The Maryland Democrat, an emerging voice of the liberal left in Congress, became a YouTube sensation by quoting White Stripes lyrics on the House floor to protest a possible government shutdown.
Montgomery County Council president. Has steered the body through rough budget waters, including taking on public-employee unions.
Democratic Virginia state senator. Chairs the committee working out the state’s redistricting plan.
Chief of the DC police department. One of the few holdovers from the Fenty administration reappointed by Mayor Vincent Gray—earns more than the mayor, but her approval rating is higher than his, too.
Eleanor Holmes Norton
DC delegate to Congress. May not have a vote, but she has plenty of smarts. She shepherded the Department of Homeland Security’s move to the campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital.
Chair of Prince George’s County Council. An Annapolis grad and retired Navy commander in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps—was her colleagues’ unanimous choice as leader.
Business, Labor, and Lobbying
Federal manager, Global Sector IBM. Taking over the huge public-sector responsibilities for Big Blue was a coup for the IBM veteran.
Marion C. Blakey
President and CEO, Aerospace Industries Association. With members such as Boeing, General Dynamics, and Lockheed Martin, Blakey will be fighting for every dollar in the defense budget.
Chief executive officer of the American Wind Energy Association. Is a canny power player with extensive energy-industry experience who spent nine years as legal counsel to former Oklahoma Democratic senator David Boren.
Vice president of Global Public Sector at Amazon Web Services
Promotes Amazon’s cloud-computing efforts.
Kathleen Walsh Carr
President of Cardinal Bank/Washington. Was one of the first women commercial-loan officers in the country and now runs a company with $2 billion in assets.
President of D2 Strategies and chair of the manufacturing initiative of the American Automotive Policy Council. Left General Motors during the bailout but remains a Democratic powerhouse.
Vice president for corporate/government relations, General Electric. GE has become the nation’s top corporate spender on lobbying—Dorn runs its efforts in that arena—shelling out more than $238 million over the past 12 years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Managing partner of KPMG’s Washington office. Two of the “big four” accounting firms in the area are headed by women. Duncan is a CPA’s CPA who manages all of the firm’s audit work.
Vice president of Exxon Mobil’s Washington office. The former Occidental executive is a master of the Washington revolving door—she headed an international office in the Energy Department between stints as an oil-industry lobbyist.
Executive vice president, Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions. Heads the largest IT provider to Uncle Sam.
Linda Parker Hudson.
President and CEO of BAE Systems. Is the first woman to head a major US defense company.
Bobbie Greene Kilberg
President and CEO, Northern Virginia Technology Council. The savvy godmother of the Northern Virginia tech boom has led the region’s most influential technology group for more than a decade.
Vice chair and East Central managing partner, Ernst & Young. Her office counts Lockheed and other major corporations as clients.
Chair and CEO of Calvert Investments. Is a community power and a leader of the socially conscious investment community.
President and CEO, DC Chamber of Commerce. An outspoken advocate of improving the District’s business climate, Lang has given the once-sleepy local chamber renewed visibility.
Vice president for global public policy at Facebook. Became the social-networking site’s Washington face after serving as Lawrence Summers’s chief of staff at the National Economic Council.
Executive vice president for global public policy at Time Warner. Started out at the company, jumped to Viacom as its top lobbyist for eight years, then returned to TW. She’s also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Senior vice president for external affairs at Pepco. Is former chairman of the Washington Convention Center Authority.
Funder, Heather Podesta & Partners. Is a policy wonk with a flair for fund-raising—and her Obama connections guarantee her a seat at most tables.
Founder and CEO of Rand Construction Corporation and chairman of the Federal City Council. Is former chair of the Greater Washington Board of Trade and one of the most powerful women in the business community.
President of the University of Maryland University College. Is a pioneer in distance learning. Among the awards UMUC has racked up, its online MBA program won the Instructional Technology Council’s 2010 award for Outstanding eLearning Program.
Charlene M. Dukes
President, Prince George’s Community College. The first woman to head PGCC, Dukes also serves on the Maryland State Board of Education.
Jessica P. Einhorn
Dean, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. The first SAIS graduate to serve as its dean, Einhorn oversaw SAIS’s first master’s program in international studies in China. She’ll step down in June.
Chancellor of DC public schools. Has kept up the momentum of school reform without Michelle Rhee’s inflammatory rhetoric.
President of Trinity University. Has grown the school from a small Catholic women’s college into an innovative higher-education system for students of all ages and backgrounds. McGuire has considerable clout in the business community, too.
President of Montgomery College. Took over after several rocky years for MC. She’s counting on new bioscience facilities to offer greater employment opportunities for MC graduates.
Apartner at Arnold & Porter. Heads the firm’s Appellate and Supreme Court practice. She and Patricia Millett of Akin Gump have argued more cases before the high court than any other women in private practice.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Associate justice of the US Supreme Court. May look frail, but she’s a tough questioner and an unwavering anchor for the liberal side of the bench.
Founder and co-president, National Women’s Law Center. One of the godmothers of the women’s movement, she’s still a powerful advocate for employment rights.
Associate justice, US Supreme Court. The newest and youngest justice trod softly in her first term, but the former solicitor general and dean of Harvard Law School will have plenty of time on the top bench to flex her judicial muscles.
Partner at White & Case. in 2009 became the first Washington lawyer to head the American Bar Association since the 1950s. She remains a powerful voice for her profession in policy circles.
Patricia Ann Millett
Partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Co-heads her firm’s appellate practice. A former assistant to the solicitor general, Millett is known as a persuasive writer and an eloquent arguer.
Assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel. A former clerk for Supreme Court justice William Brennan, Seitz has filled a powerful post fraught with controversy. This was the office that, in the George W. Bush administration, wrote the opinion justifying the legality of extreme interrogation.
Associate justice, US Supreme Court. Not shy about asking questions, Sotomayor stands up for the liberal view of the criminal-justice system.
Secretary of State
Has more than held her own inside the administration, and her worldwide clout rivals that of her husband, the former President.
Deputy White House chief of staff for policy. Is the Obama administration’s top gun on health and social issues.
Undersecretary of Defense for policy. The number-three in the Defense Department. Both she and the new Secretary, Leon Panetta, have old Clinton-administration ties.
FDA commissioner. Has been in the hot seat as food-borne illnesses have proliferated and the FDA has been pro-active in drug recalls.
Senior adviser to the President. A confidante and consigliere to both Obamas since their early days in Chicago—is the President’s chief emissary to the business community.
Secretary of Homeland Security. Has lost some battles to the intel guys, but she controls lots of budget dollars and federal jobs.
First Lady of the United States. Campaigning against childhood obesity has pitted her against powerful industry groups.
Special assistant and senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights at the National Security Council. Power was a strong voice in Obama’s ear in favor of the Libyan attacks.
White House counsel. Moved up from deputy counsel a few months ago; she was one of the youngest members of the legal team that sent the Enron executives to jail.
Mary L. Schapiro
Head of the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Uncle Sam’s top Wall Street cop has proved tough enough to stand up to the big boys.
Secretary of Health and Human Services. Has had a visible and powerful portfolio with health care front and center on Obama’s agenda.
On the Hill
US congresswoman. The Minnesota Republican and Tea Party standard-bearer has helped push Hill debate to the right.
Staff director/chief counsel of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s permanent subcommittee on investigations. Leads a team of investigators that sent shock waves through Goldman Sachs, among other targets.
US senator. The Maryland Democrat and dean of Senate women has made women’s health and Maryland jobs top priorities—it’s no accident that Fort Meade is home to the US Cyber Command.
Majority staff director, Senate Budget Committee. As head of the majority staff on this vital committee, Naylor was in a key position during the debt-ceiling battle.
Minority leader, US House of Representatives. The California Democrat’s backbone helped prevent the President from caving on provisions of health-care reform, and she was the only woman in the room during the debt-crisis talks.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Chair, Democratic National Committee. The President tapped the Florida congresswoman for the post because of her fundraising savvy and political clout in her swing state.
Philanthropist and wife of the Kuwaiti ambassador. Her annual Kuwait-America Foundation dinner is a coveted invitation. Last year, it raised nearly $3 million for the USO’s Operation Enduring Care.
Chan Heng Chee
Ambassador to the US from Singapore. Is one of the longest-serving ambassadors here, an award-winning author, and part of Washington’s foreign-policy intelligentsia. She has served on the International Advisory Board of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Council of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and the International Council of the Asia Society.
Mary Kay Henry
International president, Service Employees International Union. The first woman to head the nation’s fastest-growing union made her bones organizing nursing-home employees in California.
Managing director, International Monetary Fund. The former French finance minister spent a year in Bethesda as a high-school exchange student at Holton-Arms. She returned to Washington in July to head the IMF and plunged immediately into the European financial crisis.
Jessica Tuchman Mathews
President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Has headed the prestigious foreign-policy think tank since 1997. Carnegie’s influence has global reach.
Special representative to Muslim communities for the State Department. Has the task of changing perceptions abroad about American attitudes toward Islam. With some 20 million Muslims in Western Europe alone, her portfolio is huge and critical to US global interests.
Advocacy and Nonprofits
Founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Was protocol chief under President George W. Bush, but she’s kept the breast-cancer campaign pink rather than red or blue. Komen has put $28 million into DC-area programs—$4.5 million in 2011 alone.
Rose Ann Cleveland
Executive director, Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, and chair, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers. Cafritz keeps many local arts and humanities groups alive.
Carol Thompson Cole
President and CEO, Venture Philanthropy Partners. Her community and government experience and her interpersonal skills make Cole the ideal go-between for the hard-charging entrepreneurial funders of VPP and the nonprofits that receive VPP investment funds.
Terri Lee Freeman
President of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region. Inspires local philanthropists to put their money where the needs are.
President of the Washington Area Women’s Foundation. Is a catalyst for increasing local philanthropy by and for local women.
President and CEO, National Council of La Raza. The largest national Hispanic civil-rights and advocacy organization in the United States.
President and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center. Is a seasoned civil-rights leader whose network goes far beyond Asian communities.
President of the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation. Made her fortune in the student-loan business and has donated millions to the Kennedy Center.
President of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation. Does more than give away money—she has taught grantsmanship and fostered collaboration among local nonprofit leaders as a way of helping their organizations survive.
Health and Medicine
M. Joy Drass
Executive vice president of operations for MedStar Health for the Washington region. Is in charge of the area’s MedStar facilities, including Washington Hospital Center, Georgetown University Hospital, National Rehabilitation Hospital, Montgomery General, and more.
Senior vice president of the Office of Policy and Representation of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. Leads lobbying and policy activities for the 39 Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies nationwide.
Patricia A. Grady
Director of the National Institute of Nursing Research, has more than doubled NINR’s budget since 1995—recognition of the increasing importance of nurses in the delivery of heath care.
President and CEO, America’s Health Insurance Plans. Head since 2003 of the influential association of companies that offer health, dental, disability, and long-term-care coverage, Ignagni turned from tentative ally in President Obama’s health-care-reform campaign to adamant opponent.
Marilyn J. Kawamura
President, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States. When Kawamura took over in 2000, Kaiser was losing money and market share. The former nurse has administered fiscal remedies and a dose of electronic innovations.
Director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Oversees an annual budget of $1.6 billion, cochairs an NIH initiative on brain sciences, and chairs the NIH Stem Cell Task Force.
President and CEO of the American Red Cross. Took office three years ago, after the disaster-relief organization suffered a series of in-house disasters, and has revived confidence in the organization’s ability to cope.
Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse. A neuroscientist who is also the great-granddaughter of Leon Trotsky, Volkow is laser-focused on dopamine, the key chemical governing addictions ranging from cocaine to chocolate. Her biggest challenge: growing abuse of prescription drugs.
Reverend Mariann Edgar Budde
Bishop-elect of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, is the first woman elected to Washington’s actual bully pulpit. She’ll be installed in November.
Columnist for the New York Times. Can still get the town talking.
Executive producer of NBC’s Meet the Press. Is most likely to snag the “big get” on Sunday morning.
Paula A. Kerger
President and CEO of PBS, heads programming, the foundation, and lobbying activities for the public-broadcasting system. Since she arrived from New York in 2006, there’s been less heat over content but she’s had to fight congressional threats to cut off public funding.
Debra L. Lee
Chairman and CEO, BET Holdings. Under her leadership, the house that Bob Johnson built has grown both programmatically and financially.
President and CEO, Gannett. A former banker, Martore is testing new revenue streams for USA Today and other Gannett papers as advertising dollars shrink.
Talk-show host, NPR. Her reputation for fairness and civility has made her show a mecca for top authors and opinion leaders.
Sharon Percy Rockefeller
President and CEO, WETA. Thanks to Ken Burns, PBS NewsHour, and other Washington-based programming, WETA’s TV and radio stations remain crucial public-broadcasting hubs.
CEO of Washington Post Media and publisher of the Washington Post. Is working to keep the family business viable as a multi-platform media power.
Executive producer, PBS NewsHour. With Jim Lehrer, she revamped the show two years ago. By adding more arts and science coverage and emphasizing Web content, she’s helped it stay ahead of the game.
Arts and Letters
Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Is responsible for the premier collection of US art. She created the first art-conservation facility that lets the public see behind-the-scenes preservation.
Johnnetta B. Cole
Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Is former president of Spelman College. Sometimes it seems the sheer force of her personality keeps this underground treasure of a museum from being overshadowed by the Smithsonian’s larger and more visible components.
Monica Jeffries Hazangeles
President, Strathmore Hall Foundation. While founder Eliot Pfanstiehl does the “vision thing,” Hazangeles oversees Strathmore’s performances and education programs. Strathmore is the Washington home of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, whose music director, Marin Alsop, is the country’s foremost woman conductor.
Wilhelmina Cole Holladay
Founder and chairman of the board of trustees of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Her private collection is the heart of the museum—is a cultural visionary who created an institution that’s a venue for revenue-producing events as well as art exhibits.
Theater philanthropist. She and her late husband, Gilbert, made the Washington-area theater-building boom possible.
Victoria P. Sant
President of the board of trustees of the National Gallery of Art, is a major philanthropic force in the area, involved in Vital Voices, the Community Foundation, and the Summit Foundation.
Artistic director, Arena Stage. After the opening of Arena’s spectacular new theater and a very successful season, she’s the reigning queen of the DC theater scene.
Chair of the board of regents of the Smithsonian Institution, took office after controversial secretary Lawrence Small departed. Stonesifer, former head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is focusing on rebuilding respect for the institution as well as the size of its endowment.
This article appears in the October 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.