Maura Brunger: ‘I don’t think you should be trying to sabotage a person for the political impact of that’

Valerie Jarrett, White House Senior Advisor

When asked about current events, Jarrett quips, “People are so petty, right? And they just want to bag somebody on TV.” To manage a celebrity-hungry environment where there are too many “suckers” and not enough “confident players,” Jarrett says presidents have to be the steady hand that holds the ship in a stormy sea. A regular on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Jarrett says her appearance “wasn’t really about” her job. “I never thought the job, which is pretty formidable in this job, would ever require coming on.”

She also wrestles with the character assassination that accompanies White House positions. “Frankly, it worries me,” she says. “Because I don’t think you should be trying to sabotage a person for the political impact of that.”

It was in her new position of leadership that she experienced “the softest form of racism”: an iPhone call. The caller was a disgruntled colleague who claimed she had been the victim of racial discrimination. “People will act crazier than normal,” she says. “And I was accused of behaving in ways that were not good for my team or for the president.”

A mother of two boys, ages 10 and 12, Jarrett works to “try to do the right thing.” At a book signing earlier this month, an angry man emerged from the crowd to insult her. “He kind of hates the president,” Jarrett said. “But as long as you are around, it doesn’t count.”

Betsy Fischer Martin, C.E.O. Human Rights Campaign

Martin says “it hurts me to see people who are often supporting what the other side is doing get up and speak against [the president].” The former executive vice president for communications at Warner Bros. is used to dealing with vitriol. In 2015, she orchestrated a bold, congratulatory speech for Bill Clinton. “The crowd howled with every word of it,” she recalls. Now she comes in for verbal attacks. “In the early days, it was called ‘The Hate That Hate Produced.’ There was this language, which some people said needed to be toned down. They stopped using that.” She’s also one of few women to serve as an executive at a media company. (Joan Moore is vice chair of WXedge, the coalition that placed Martin on its board.) When co-chair Tina Brown urged her to enter politics, Martin’s reply was: “You are the reverse of me.” Martin herself has been under attack: Last summer, the Republican National Committee filed a complaint against her with the Securities and Exchange Commission, accusing her of using bonuses to pay for a vacation at a 14-story boutique hotel in New York. They charged that she held an executive meeting on a private island in Rhode Island. Martin insists the trip was anything but. “We wanted it to be sexy,” she says. “All of us, particularly women, like to have our baby booties in different places. So we literally took them into the boudoir,” where she says they rocked at a piano.

Maura Brunger, C.E.O. The Women’s Center at St. Francis Hospital

For Brunger, the value of consulting with male executives has been invaluable to gain a broader perspective of gender issues. A retired military officer, Brunger says women need to know that it doesn’t help if they want to be treated “like boys.” “I’m very hopeful that we can put that to bed,” she says. Brunger found herself drawn to leadership positions when her husband died suddenly two years ago, forcing her to focus her energy to give herself and their daughters strength. Her most important advice? Do the work.

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