Shelly Porges Says “Some Leaders Are Born Women”

Shelly Porges was a big name at last week’s Dyson Symposium on Women in Leadership. Porges is the former Senior Advisor for the Global Entrepreneurship Program at the U.S. State Department. She also headed several national programs focused on public policy, gender advocacy, and entrepreneurship. A Cornell grad who initially entered the private sector, Porges met undeniable success with corporate and startup ventures, expertise in strategy and marketing, and relationship building.


At the conference, Porges spoke about how all of these pursuits could be tied together and what she learned about leadership from each experience. Specifically, Porges rallied around her time with her role model, Hillary Clinton, and discussed all she learned from this renowned woman leader. Her message: some leaders are born women. Cast off the traditional connotation of a male figure representing leadership, and instead leave room to imagine that some of the world’s largest visionaries were female.

Through a descriptive narrative of her time in these influential roles, Porges extracted some of her most meaningful takeaways on what it is that separates good leaders from great ones.

Porges was able to capture four lessons of leadership she had learned from Clinton:

1.    Leaders have a vision – Porges spoke about Clinton’s highly anticipated speech to happen at the Beijing International Women’s Conference. Midst political controversy over even attending the conference Clinton put her foot down with her decision and her speech. Upon request from the President, Clinton went overseas and – under the watch of the world – finally said what no one else would: human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights. She was confident in her convictions that gender equality become a forefront issue in the international canon.

2.    Leaders take risks – After serving as first lady, and a two term Senator, Clinton decided she wanted to take on the race to the Oval Office as President of the United States. Porges was inspired and wanted to get involved, after attending several supporter events she connected with the Mid-Atlantic Finance Commissioner and earned a seat on the campaigns finance committee. Having little experience in the political realm, Porges analyzed the situation, planned out options and ultimately helped raised over $250,000 in the first weeks of the campaign.

3.    Leaders adapt – Post-financial crisis and upon taking the role of Secretary of State for President Obama, Clinton restructured the budget, objectives and immediate goals of the department to push it in the direction to do the most good. Clinton was able to combine a gender agenda with international politics and economic rebuilding. Launching several programs with Porges in a leadership role for many, Clinton mobilized women entrepreneurs worldwide to take recovery into their own hands. Programs included: The African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, Vital Voices, Global Entrepreneurship Program, and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation – all designed to empower business owners and specifically women to bring the world back to a balanced state.

4.    Leaders elevate others – Clinton helped negotiate the first SALT treaty, addressed world hunger, the strategy to rebuilding after the Arab Spring and many other hot topics for the State Department. Clinton was quick to visit, speak with and tour areas relevant to women’s business leadership and economic empowerment. She recognized how important relationship building was and bringing others into the discussion; sharing content with others makes a movement sustainable. As she moved from one position to another, the program would continue to grow as successors took it over. The movement is about the idea, not the person.


True leaders are not about elevating themselves, but elevating others and inspiring others to reach their greatest potential. 

Porges has taken this last lesson to the road and has worked in new areas in both the private and public sector to empower women leaders to challenge the norm, rise up, and enact lasting change.

Check out Her Keynote Speech from the


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