Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

The Ripple Effect: Women's Participation in the Workforce and Politics

Monday, March 13, 2017

12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Joukowsky Forum

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The first panel in a new series on the role women play in global security and prosperity convened by Watson Institute Senior Fellow Pamela Reeves.

Hosted and moderated by Ambassador Cathy Russell. Panelists include:

Mekala Krishnan, McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) Fellow, McKinsey & Company

Sandra Pepera, long-time diplomat and director for Gender, Women and Democracy at National Democratic Institute (NDI) 

Donald Steinberg, CEO of World Learning Inc. and president of the School for International Training

Policy & Progress: Investing in Women for Peace, Security and Stability
Women Empowered

Cathy Russell was described by President Obama as “a longtime advocate for women, for justice, for fairness.” During the Obama Administration, Cathy shaped U.S. foreign policy on gender equality. In the first term, she guided the creation of the first-ever U.S. global strategy on gender based violence at the White House, where she served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden. In the second term, she led the U.S. Department of State in integrating women’s issues into U.S. foreign policy as the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.

During her time as Ambassador, Cathy was responsible for U.S. efforts to advance gender equality and the status of women and girls around the world, developing a toolbox of policies, programs, partnerships, and diplomatic efforts. She traveled to nearly 50 countries, developed groundbreaking U.S. government policies and tested new approaches, coordinated interagency efforts, and built partnerships with Fortune 50 and Fortune 500 companies. She also worked with foreign governments, multilateral organizations, and civil society on a full range of issues, from women’s economic empowerment to adolescent girls’ education to women’s roles in peace and security.

Cathy previously served as the senior advisor on international women’s issues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where she the drafted the International Violence Against Women Act, the first piece of U.S. legislation that proposed streamlining and expanding U.S. efforts on gender-based violence.

During the Clinton Administration, Cathy was a trusted adviser to both the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General on a range of policy and legislative matters in her role as Associate Deputy Attorney General. Previously, she served as the Staff Director of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the development of the landmark Violence Against Women Act and the confirmations of Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She also worked as Senior Counsel to Senator Patrick J. Leahy, whom she advised on constitutional issues including privacy and First Amendment matters, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and the Freedom of Information Act.


Mekala Krishnan is a McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) Fellow in the Stamford, CT office of McKinsey and Company. She co-leads MGI’s research on global gender equality and is an author of the MGI report “The Power of Parity: How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth”. She has also co-led MGI’s deep dives into gender equality within countries, as well as analyzed the spending needed to bridge gender gaps. Her other areas of expertise include global macro-economic, business, and demographic trends, including their impact on productivity growth and financial asset returns.

Mekala will be joining the board of the Global Fund for Women, a leading public foundation dedicated to improving global gender equality, in June 2017. Prior to joining MGI, Mekala worked as an Engagement Manager in the Advanced Industries Practice of McKinsey and Company. Her previous work includes innovation, strategy and operations projects for engineering clients. She has also worked with a public sector client in disaster relief efforts, including establishing an organization to manage disaster recovery, and creating performance management systems.

Prior to McKinsey, Mekala received her Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University in 2011, where she conducted interdisciplinary numerical and experimental studies of micro-scale fluid mechanics and fusing optics with microfluidics. During her time at Cornell, she actively led outreach efforts to encourage the participation of high school girls in STEM, and served as President at Asha for Education Cornell, a global non-profit dedicated to improving educational outcomes for children in India. Prior to Cornell, she received a Bachelor of Technology degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2006 from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi.


Sandra Pepera is a career diplomat and international development professional. Before joining NDI as its director for Gender, Women and Democracy in 2014, she spent thirteen years as a senior officer at the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), including leading programs in the Caribbean, Rwanda-Burundi and Sudan. Prior to joining DFID, Sandra spent time in British domestic politics; lecturing in political science and international relations at the University of Ghana; and as a political analyst in the Political Affairs Division at the Commonwealth Secretariat. She has a portfolio of skills and experience which include strategy development, political and risk analysis, diplomacy, general management and corporate governance.

Much of Sandra’s career has been spent working in or on transitional economies, focusing on the building of resilient and inclusive institutions. She led work on women and politics at the University of Ghana and in outreach public policy during the period of intense and unstable political transition in the early 1990s. This included participating in a program that supported the ANC Women’s League during South Africa’s transition from apartheid to majority democratic rule in 1993.

Sandra is a member of the Cambridge Sustainability Leaders Network, the Royal Commonwealth Society, the Global Board Ready Women initiative, and the International Advisory Board of the Commonwealth Journal for International Affairs (the Round Table). She holds the Financial Times Diploma for Non-Executive Directors, and serves as a trustee for the pension fund of an intergovernmental organization.


Donald Steinberg is CEO of World Learning Inc. and president of the School for International Training. World Learning is an international nonprofit organization that provides education, exchange, and development programs in more than 60 countries. For more than 80 years, World Learning programs has helped empower new generations of global leaders to create a more peaceful, democratic and prosperous world. He brings more than 35 years of experience in government and nongovernmental organizations, and expertise in the fields of international relations and development.

Prior to World Learning, Steinberg served as deputy administrator at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), where he focused on the Middle East and Africa; organizational reforms under the USAID Forward agenda; the inclusion of women, people with disabilities, LGBT persons, and other marginalized groups into the development arena; and expanded dialogue with development partners.

In his previous work with the United States government, Steinberg served as director of the U.S. Department of State’s Joint Policy Council, White House deputy press secretary, National Security Council senior director for African Affairs, special Haiti coordinator, U.S. Ambassador to Angola, and the president’s special representative for Humanitarian Demining. He was also deputy president for policy at the International Crisis Group, a Randolph Jennings senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace, and has advised the Women's Refugee Commission, the UN Development Fund for Women, the UN Civil Society Advisory Group for Women, Peace and Security, and the Institute for Inclusive Security.

Steinberg has authored more than 100 articles on foreign policy, African development, gender issues, post-conflict reconstruction, children and armed conflict, and disarmament, published in media outlets including Christian Science Monitor, The Guardian, The Nation, International Herald Tribune, Africa Economic Digest, and Yale Global Online. He holds MAs in journalism from Columbia University and political economy from the University of Toronto, and a BA from Reed College.