Ashley Wilson Ashley Wilson
Former Vice President, Government Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Managing Director of Public Affairs and former, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Executive Director of Women in Business, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


December 19, 2019


A Republican and a Democrat.

A senior executive at a financial services firm and a Senator’s chief of staff.

A successful entrepreneur and the head of a federal commission.

The vice president of global tax policy for a tech company and a top assistant to the President.

What do these people have in common? Our world today isn’t really set up to help us figure that out. Our responsibilities, calendars, organizations, industries and even our cities and towns often keep us so busy that most of us remain siloed as an issue lobbyist, industry executive or partisan politician or staff member.

But from where I sit in my role at the U.S. Chamber, I can tell you there is actually one very important thing all of those people have in common.

They are all women… and they are all taking the lead.

There’s a lot of talk these days about the lack of women leaders at the top of business, politics and education. It’s a very important issue and one that certainly needs to be addressed. But at the same time, it’s also important to talk about where women leaders ARE. I see them leading every day and I want to have that conversation too.

So this fall we launched a new U.S. Chamber program called Women Taking the Lead to bring together women leaders – at the VP level or equivalent and above – to connect and support each other and build out extended and meaningful networks. We are offering a safe and supportive environment to do what leaders need and want to do – exchange innovative ideas, talk about our approaches to leadership, discuss change making and widen and strengthen our networks.

The goal is to create a new kind of development network for women leaders that looks past the labels that divide us because we understand that the most successful leaders are well versed on more than one or two issues or one political point of view. It benefits us and our employers, when we are willing to exchange ideas and sharpen them and stepping out of your issue, industry or party silo also elevates your profile and your organization’s.

With this in mind, we held our first luncheons in September, October and November – bringing together leaders on Capitol Hill, in Executive offices and in Governor’s offices - with a wide array of women leading in business. We also partnered with BGM network, a leadership group for women of color, for a wonderful December networking reception.

Each time we meet there is real power in the room. That is in part because of the incredible women who come to our events and choose to put some work into their networks because they recognize that it is one of the most valuable routes to professional success. These events are also power hours because of what happens when we connect across industries, organizations and issues. We are building relationships, deepening our network of allies, learning from the best in business and public service and inspiring and empowering each other.

The desire for community among women leaders is very real and the truth is, it’s not always easy to develop these deep and authentic support systems:

  • Just this week, new research from the World Economic Forum found the United States lagged this year when it came to addressing gender equality and that women "still struggle to enter the very top business positions" and gain political leadership roles.
  • Studies show that women benefit from different kinds of networks than men. They don’t need to have beers after work with the guys. Women leaders who advance to the highest executive levels do so by maintaining an inner circle of friends they can rely on and a wider network that extends beyond their organization or industry.
  • Leadership networks can be few and far between for women at the top of their organizations. When they do exist, they often have a narrow focus, building connection points around commonalities like shared industries or political parties.
  • When you’re leading at this level, you’re also very busy, which can make it hard to find the time or opportunities to deepen connections beyond a polite or passing conversation in the halls of Congress, at a cocktail reception or during an industry conference.

All that is to say - it’s clear this program is filling an important need. Each time we meet – everyone wants to know when we’re going to do it again. So we want the amazing women who make up Women Taking the Lead to know that we have big and exciting things planned in 2020 in terms of networking, exposure to new ways of thinking and opportunities for professional support and development. Stay tuned to our new website for information on our upcoming events.

If you want to highlight a terrific women leader in your corporate office or if you want to moderate a panel, let me know.

If you’re looking for a pipeline of women leaders – as speakers, board members or for a variety of other roles – we can also help with that. We look forward to providing a platform that showcases top talent, their organizations and the important work they are all doing.

Our efforts, at their core, are designed to contribute to the conversation about where high performing executive women ARE. I am proud to say they are leaning in, standing up, connecting and championing each other at our events and it is an honor to be a part of a program that celebrates women taking the lead in this very important way.

This article was first publishedon LinkedIn on December 19, 2019.

About the authors

Ashley Wilson

Ashley Wilson