After decades in Washington, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has noticed something about how she differs from her male peers.
“I prepare so much more than some of my male colleagues,” Chao tells POLITICO editor Carrie Budoff Brown in the latest “Women Rule” podcast interview. “And I know women who are prepared more and we get ridiculed and it’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh. She’s just preparing so much. She’s such an automaton. Can’t she just like, wing it?’”
“Well,” Chao responds, “I’m not comfortable winging it.”
In this wide-ranging “Women Rule” podcast, Chao discusses the preparation gap, explores how her experiences as an immigrant have helped shape her long career in Washington, and weighs in on the number of women in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.
You can find highlights of the interview with Chao below:
1:40 Chao discusses the biggest changes in Washington since taking her first administration job in the 1980s.
“The people are different,” Chao said. And, she notes of the fast-paced news cycle of recent years, “we have to respond in a much quicker fashion — and sometimes, it’s just nice to have some time to hold back a bit, think, be deliberative, and be more statesmen-like in response.”
4:00 The best predictor of success as a Cabinet secretary may be prior experience, Chao says.
“It’s actually very reassuring to have been a Cabinet member before,” she says. “I’m a veteran. This is basically year nine of being a Cabinet officer and I mention that because my colleagues – they joke about that. I have a number of colleagues who have worked in previous administrations at this level. So for them, that experience is very helpful in shifting to this job, as it is for me as well. We’re very surefooted, we’re confident, we know what we’re doing and we know what’s important.”
5:35 Chao compares the four presidents she’s served, and reveals how often she hears from Trump.
7:21 The Transportation secretary discusses her personal leadership style, learning how to succeed without a mentor, and how her immigrant experience has shaped her career path.
13:57 Asked if she questions her abilities at times, Chao responds: “Of course! I’m Asian-American. Are you kidding?”
16:30 Chao discusses some of Trump’s harsh rhetoric towards immigrants, and weighs in on how the “galloping pace of technology” is the root of economic anxiety in the U.S.
“This trend of fearing the impact of immigrants and how they will change our country is ever present,” Chao says. “They ebb and flow in intensity.”
20:00 On whether she would like the president to speak in those terms about immigrants, Chao, who considers herself “uncomfortable” with the “confrontational nature of American dialogue” says: “Listen, I don’t advise the—no, I think the President is a very straightforward talking man and sometimes he may not speak in the way that we expect politicians usually to speak.”
22:30 Chao gives her advice for women in power, what it’s like to be afraid of making mistakes, and how she connected with colleagues in male-dominated industries.
Of being “prepared” in the workplace, Chao reveals that in the beginning of her career, “I tried to make it look as if I wasn’t preparing because I didn’t want to be ridiculed.”
28:04 Chao provides a broad overview of the administration’s transportation agenda and Trump’s infrastructure plan. Asked whether she believes the 10-year, trillion-dollar infrastructure plan will get passed by Congress this year, Chao said, “We certainly hope so.”
36:13 The Transportation secretary answers the question: “Are there enough women in this Cabinet?”
37:44 Chao reveals how her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), helps out around the house.