Today’s article is about the LEADING WITH STYLE AND PURPOSE. Joining me today is, Ashley Davis, a woman who is known for her leadership in global women’s issues, the Arts and in the halls of government—someone who has an extraordinary gift for building systems which take the support of women to new heights. As the recent Co-Chair of the National Museum of Women in the Arts annual Spring Gala in partnership with Christian Dior, Ashley helped lead the efforts resulting in a first of its kind, fashion forward gala in Washington DC.
Ashley serves as an expert speaker for the Office of U.S. Speaker Program at the Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, sits on several non-profit and corporate Boards such as Turning Point Brands Inc., Vital Voices Global Partnership, the Women’s Democracy Network at the International Republican Institute, the Board of Trustees at Westminster College, Kennedy Center National Symphony Orchestra, the National Museum of Women in the Arts and is a member of Women Corporate Directors. She is also a dear friend of many years.
Ashley, please introduce yourself to our readers. Tell us what you enjoy most about this stage of your life?
One of the things that I am enjoying most about this current stage in life is the strong balance I have found between my personal and professional life. Because I am at a good place professionally, that allows me to do things I’m passionate about such as working to elect more women to office, supporting international women as well as cultivating my love of art and fashion.
You were part of an eight-person task force to create the first new federal agency in 60 years, the Department of Homeland Security. Tell our readers what it was like serving in this critical role following the terrorist attacks of 9/11?
It was truly the honor of a lifetime. One of the things I remember most is how hard we were working. Basically 7 days a week 15 hours/day. We had a lot of people who were working alongside us and supporting the mission of what we were doing. Even with so much support and trust it still felt like drinking from a fire hose every day.
Things that kept us going were the incredible examples of leadership that we saw throughout the Administration. At our core, we were united in our mission. The first day we started was the day that the United States declared war on Afghanistan. The world was changing, the international threats were always shifting and we were working to change and adapt to meet the rising tide of new threats.
Since that time, you have become heavily engaged in supporting women leaders in democracies throughout the world through Vital Voices and the Women’s Democracy Network. What are some of the key concerns of women you meet?
It really depends on the region of the world and what else is going on in other parts of the globe. For example, right now everyone is really concerned about what is happening in Afghanistan particularly as it relates to women. The fact that we have gone backwards after 20 years in Afghanistan is extremely troubling and concerning. Also, as all eyes continue to be on Ukraine, there is a lot of discourse and concern about how the war will affect women in that part of the world.
Being steeped in this work is extremely humbling. I am always reminded that women here in the United States do have a lot of opportunities that are not reflected in other parts of the world.
Where do you see the opportunities for women to link arms across business, philanthropy, and the arts to create opportunities for the next generation of leaders?
It’s on us and our generation to support and bring up the next generation of women. I firmly believe that women need to mentor, provide pipeline opportunities, and support other women. If someone reaches out to you for a coffee or advice, if you are in a position to help support them, you should say yes. The best thing we can do is help pave the path forward to those who will come up behind us.
You love fashion and are well known in Washington for your love of luxury fashion. Tell us about the Couture Circle and what led you to create such a fun concept?
I am on the Board of Directors of the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) and in 2018 we facilitated an opportunity for Rodarte to have an exhibit at NMWA. I was very excited for this as it blended my love of women in art and fashion. We created the Couture Circle as a way to raise money for the exhibit. There was such a great response that we decided to formalize it as an official organization.
Now, our goal is to elevate and bring amazing couture fashion to Washington, D.C. – a city that is not historically known as being particularly fashionable. Members are proud patrons of the arts, value a tight-knit community and share a love of luxury fashion. We also make sure to support the local DC community and are proud to continue to be a benefactor of NMWA.
The Big Three
What women inspired you to break through?
Condoleezza Rice. When I was in the White House, my office was beside hers in the West Wing. I was able to watch her and learn from her, which was simply amazing.
What are you doing to inspire the next generation of female leaders?
I believe firmly in supporting other women as much as I can. Lead by example, work hard, delegate opportunities to others who might benefit from them more than me. So much of where I am is because of the hard work and dedication I put into the first 20 years of my career and I make a point to support others who are doing the same.
What advice do you have for a young woman watching who’s trying to break through or a woman who might be re-entering the workforce?
Nothing replaces networking and talking to people. This is key. Opportunities will not come to you if you just stay behind your computer. Especially in a town like Washington D.C. it’s important to get out and cultivate a network of supporters and champions.