Top business leaders urge Tillerson to fill women’s rights role at State



Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attends a joint press conference between U.S. President Donald Trump and President Sauli Niinista of Finland in the East Room of the White House on Aug. 28, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

More than 40 business leaders representing major American companies are pressing the Trump administration to quickly name an ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson directs a reorganization of the diplomatic corps and is eager to slash the number of special envoys.

Current or former CEOs of companies including Accenture, Aetna Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Macy’s Inc., Xerox and Godiva Chocolatier have signed a letter bearing that message, which will be sent to Tillerson next week.

Also copied on the letter: President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump.


“We strongly urge you to quickly select qualified and experienced candidates for key leadership positions that focus on empowering women and girls globally,” reads the missive, reviewed by McClatchy. “The swift nomination (and confirmation) of the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State and the ongoing support for the USAID leadership focused on the empowerment of women and girls will help harness untapped potential as the U.S. seeks to achieve its foreign policy goals.”

The letter — also addressed to Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan, USAID administrator Mark Green and deputy national security adviser for strategy Dina Powell — argues that it is in the nation’s business, security and leadership interests to fill the job and pursue “investments in women and girls.”

“Around the globe, people are looking to the U.S., trying to figure out what our policies are going to be, to what extent we’re going to break with the past, to what extent we’ll intentionally break with the policy of past administrations,” said Joe Keefe, the president and CEO of Pax World Management LLC, in an interview.

“The ambassador-at-large position for global women’s issues has been around for some time. It would send a message, now, that we’re not turning our back on the central importance of gender equality by leaving those positions unfilled,” Keefe told McClatchy.

The ambassador is tasked with leading the State Department office dedicated to women’s rights and empowerment. Like many positions in the Trump administration, it is currently vacant.

While Tillerson, in a letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, has already indicated he would keep the role as he cuts many others, some business leaders are worried that if he waits too long, that will send a negative signal about U.S. priorities in the Trump era.

“Leaving it unfilled sends the message that we’re not as concerned as we have been in the past about promoting women’s empowerment,” Keefe said.


A representative for the groups that organized the letter — CARE, Vital Voices and Save the Children USA — said that as Tillerson makes structural choices about the State Department’s makeup, he needs to hear that the business community considers filling the women’s rights-focused ambassador role to be an urgent priority.

“He is going to be looking at, what do we do more of, what do we do less of, what do we stop doing?” said Nora O’Connell, a vice president of public policy and advocacy at Save the Children USA. “For him to hear from top leaders in the American business community — again, there’s a business case for it, as well as a moral case for it — it’s really important he has that as part of his decision-making process.”

Signatories of the letter also found it important to loop in Ivanka Trump, who serves as an adviser to her father and has often discussed her interest in women’s empowerment matters.

“This is an issue that is clearly near and dear to her heart,” said Emanuel Chirico, the CEO of PVH Corp., the parent company of brands including Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Speedo. “By copying her on the letter, we’re just making sure the communication is connected there, and we know we’ll have her support.”


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