Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao offered a slight surprise to those attending the latest “Women Can Have It All” forum at Sacred Heart University on March 31. Asked whether she agreed with the event’s title by host Linda McMahon, the co-founder and former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, Chao replied: “No. Of course not.”
She immediately added: “I don’t think anyone can have everything in life.” This is due to the various paths not taken throughout life, she said, which can sometimes have an adverse effect on one’s plans.
Nevertheless, Chao said, “I’m not one for regrets or looking back.” Instead, she challenged students to try and make informed choices going forward, and to roll with the punches. “Life is an obstacle,” she declared. “You just need to get on with it.”
Chao served as President George W. Bush’s Labor Secretary from 2001-09 — the only member of his cabinet to remain onboard throughout his term — and previously had been director of the Peace Corps under George H.W. Bush. She was also president and CEO of United Way of America. She now sits on a number of corporate and nonprofit boards and has, since 1993, been married to Republican Senator from Kentucky, and current Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell.
Though also associated with the Republican Party, Chao said she and her husband disagree on some issues, though she said she made it a practice not to explain what those were.
A recurring theme of her remarks was how members of today’s generation need to determine their own paths in life. “Young people have so many more choices” today than before, she remarked, “which makes things even more difficult.
“Be sure you are the one making those choices,” she advised, “and that they’re not being made for you.”
Though she was the first American woman of Asian descent to be appointed to a president’s cabinet, Chao said those designations meant little in the day-to-day business of overseeing Labor. “If you go in expecting special treatment in the cabinet … it ain’t gonna happen,” she declared. “You’re in the big leagues.”
She also encouraged students to volunteer with nonprofit organizations to learn about leadership. That way, she said, one can usually overcome mistakes more easily than in the business world. After all, she joked, “What are they going to do – fire you?”
When talk turned to politics, Chao noted that “the trend is getting better” for women vis-à-vis both elective and appointed office. “Both parties are now very interested in having female candidates,” she said.
McMahon, who unsuccessfully ran twice as a Republican for the Senate in Connecticut, has consistently said in recent days that she will not run again for any elective office.
This was the fifth in the former WWE executive’s “Women Can Have It All” series, which takes place once per semester. McMahon serves as vice chairman of Sacred Heart’s board of trustees.