This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.
One black, one white; one Republican, one Democrat. Yet, we forged a unique, bipartisan and loyal friendship in today’s often vitriolic political atmosphere. In fact, our first collaboration began when, as chairs of our respective state public utility commissions, we dealt with rising home energy costs, the explosion of mobile devices, and the convergence of communications and the Internet.
As the Washington action co-chairs for our national association, we were two outspoken Southern women with a heart for the consumer and a strong belief that Washington didn’t have all the answers. We had both experienced the first wave of being professional women in a largely “man’s world;” Mignon in the newspaper business, and me as an attorney. And we would both become presidential appointees to the FCC.
Therefore, it is a special honor for me to welcome her to Nashville as the keynote speaker at the 11th Tennessee Economic Summit for Women. While women still face a serious income gap compared to their male counterparts — one study suggests up to $1 million in a lifetime — Commissioner Clyburn has beaten those odds. She made history as the first and only female — African-American female — to be named chairman of the FCC. In an institution that dates back to the advent of the telegraph, it is hard to imagine there has never been a female chairman. In fact, when we celebrated her confirmation, the research showed that only 15 of the 83 commissioners were female and only 10 minority commissioners had ever been appointed.
Commissioner Clyburn and I also share a joint vision for America’s communications, media and technology companies to more closely reflect the face of our country today. We have spoken around the country and the globe about the importance of having more girls in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — and ensuring they remain in that pipeline for the high-tech jobs of tomorrow. That’s why she wanted to see firsthand DuPont-Tyler Middle School’s amazing new high tech “limitless library.” This cool, vibrant center for young entrepreneurs has brightly painted lockers that serve as “charging stations” for all types of laptops, iPads and mobile devices. Young engineers are using 3-D printers to create real-world chess pieces for their chess games. Inquisitive tweens are being exposed to “coding” and creating their own short videos and podcasts. Middle schoolers are also producing a live morning TV news show and surprisingly three of the four anchors are girls!
That fact is particularly interesting given that girls are major consumers of media across all platforms, yet see very few female actors in leading roles. In a recent study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media, global statistics echo the same dearth of positive onscreen female role models here in the U.S. However, the two bright spots for female lead characters were in the U.K. and India. Coincidentally, those are also nations who have had decades of strong female heads of state.
Thus, having Commissioner Clyburn at the FCC’s helm and more female appointees at every government level is extremely important. And, projecting those women — as strong, multifaceted and intelligent — across every device, screen, and even in video games can and will make a difference. However, that will entail women being in jobs behind the scenes, as writers and producers, and in the boardrooms of ICT companies. And, that also means it is imperative to keep girls involved in STEM to master these new technical skills.
While each of us may not make history as Chairman Clyburn did, we can still play an influential role in our homes, schools and communities by showcasing the successful women we know, limiting our children’s exposure to negative role models and encouraging our daughters that they can indeed “be anything they aspire to be.”
Maybe one day, they will be president, FCC chairman or on a news crew that mirrors the one at Dupont-Tyler.
- Hon. Deborah Taylor Tate is a member of the MMTC Board of Directors, special envoy to the ITU for Child Online Protection, member of the Aspen Institute’s Task Force on Learning and the Internet, co-chair of Healthy MEdia: Commission for Positives Images of Women and Girls, and a former FCC commissioner.