Get Familiar With Deesha Dyer – The White House’s New Badass Social Secretary

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It’s no secret that in America and around the world, women in positions of leadership are still battling for equal ground alongside men and it is very rare that women outnumber men in key positions. Except for countries like Rwanda which boasts a 64% female presence in federal government (due to extenuating circumstances where after the horrific genocide of 1994, the majority of people left to rebuild the country were women and they subsequently decided to make a rule where women must hold a certain percentage of political seats), you’d be hard pressed to find areas where women outnumber men.

Thankfully with the rise of campaigns and initiatives to help women get into positions of leadership, such as Sheryl Sandberg’s popular #LeanIn movement, we are starting to see changes everywhere. Companies are starting to realize what they are missing out on by not having an even number of women alongside mean on boards.

According to figures from the Center for American Progress, although women 60% of all undergraduate and masters degrees and hold 52% of all professional-level jobs, they are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. They also hold less than 20% of all Fortune 500 company board positions.

For women of color the gap is even wider. They occupy only 11.9 percent of managerial and professional positions. And of those women, 5.3 percent are African American, 2.7 percent are Asian American, and 3.9 percent are Latina. When it comes to Fortune 500 companies they only hold a mere 3.2% of board positions, and more than two thirds of Fortune 500 companies have no women of color on their boards at all.

Why are we sharing this info? Because it is important to be aware of what we are up against in the fight for gender equality in the workplace, and also understand the significance of certain role models and pioneer women who may change these numbers simply by their representation.

In fact representation is EVERYTHING!

The Obama administration is certainly working to change the status quo of marginalized groups and give opportunities where there previously weren’t many. So when we heard about the announcement of Deesha Dyer being appointed the new White House Social Secretary, we were pretty excited. She will oversee every social gathering from small diplomatic dinners to major banquets and high-profile state dinners.

“I am incredibly honored to continue serving the president and first lady in my new role as White House social secretary,” she said in a statement.

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“I am constantly inspired by the openness, diversity and traditions of this administration, and I look forward to leading the talented Social Office team as we further the goals and priorities of the president and first lady throughout their last two years in office.”

She is only the second African-American woman to hold the position, and this 37 year-old’s career journey is a testament that when you make your own path in life, anything can happen.

Deesha’s path to the White House would be considered somewhat unconventional by some, but that’s what makes it all the more inspiring. She grew up in Philadelphia and attended a school for lower-income families. After dropping out of college, Deeshs returned to school in her late 20s and earned a Women’s Studies degree at the Community College of Philadelphia by the age of 29.

After college she became a journalist, writing about Hip Hop for a local newspaper, while also becoming an advocate for youth with STDs.

In 2003 she founded a campaign raising awareness around STDs called ‘Cover Your Lover’ where she passed around educational information at Hip Hop concerts. She figured the best way to reach the younger generation about this important issue was to engage them at events where they were going to be.

At the age of 31 she decided to intern at the White House. Most White House interns are in their 20s, and are college students, so to be a woman in her early 30s was another “think outside the box” rung on her ladder to success. But her age brought a more passionate desire to work hard knowing she had to compete with younger people to get noticed.

Her decision to apply for a position at the White House was in large part to seeing a man like Barack Obama campaign for presidency.

“That was when Barack Obama announced he was running for President, and I thought, ‘This guy seems really cool, he’s talking about issues I care about; I’d love to work for him one day.’ I hung his picture on my desk, but I didn’t really think it would happen. Then, I came across an application for a White House internship. At this point, I’m 31 years old, and I’m thinking, ‘They’re not going to let a 31-year-old do this’. But, much to my surprise, I was chosen,” she told Refinery29.

Her hard work certainly was noticed because for 6 years she managed to work closely with President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama as the deputy to the Social Secretary at the time.

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“From the day Deesha started in the Social Office nearly two years ago, she impressed me with her passion, creativity, public-mindedness and relentless competence,” Michelle Obama said. 

“Since then, whether helping flawlessly execute state dinners, or going the extra mile to open the White House to people who never dreamed they would walk through these doors, Deesha has worked tirelessly to truly make the White House the ‘People’s House.’ I am thrilled that she has agreed to continue her service as our social secretary.”

It seems to be a popular White House position for breaking barriers, as the outgoing Secretary, Jeremy Bernard, was the first openly gay man to hold the position.

Being aware of the importance of intersectionality is something not many administrations can boast they have paid attention to. Being the first African American President brings with it an expectation that he knows all too well the struggles of marginalized groups. In November 2014 the White House released a report entitled “Women and Girls of Color: Addressing Challenges and Expanding Opportunity” where President Obama noted the unique difficulties women of color face in society.

“Women of color struggle every day with biases that perpetuate oppressive standards for how they’re supposed to look and how they’re supposed to act. Too often, they’re either left under the hard light of scrutiny, or cloaked in a kind of invisibility,” he said at the time.

In fact, in his first month of Presidency he created the White House Council on Women and Girls to address issues of race and gender.

Furthermore, he recognizes the need to make education the great equalizer as a crucial step to eliminating some of these issues. In January 2015 the President announced his proposal to make the first two years of community college free to all students.

“Forty percent of our college students choose community college. Some are young and starting out. Some are older and looking for a better job. Some are veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market. Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt,” he said during his State of the Union speech.

People like Deesh Dyer are living proof that community colleges matter, especially to students who come from areas where Ivy league educations are not a realistic expectation. Vice President Joe Biden’s wife Jill also recognized the significant of Deesha’s new position in this tweet:

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It’s a sign that times are slowly changing and opportunities are opening up like never before. The position of Social Secretary is a great example of this.

“Generally the women who used to be social secretaries came from aristocratic American families,” says Lea Berman, a social secretary for George W. Bush, to Vogue magazine

“They tended to be fine ladies who wore pearls. It’s now more about politics than background. If you know politics and you know who the donors are, you are a more useful social secretary than if you have a distinguished family pedigree.”

More than anything Deesha’s appointment comes during a period where young girls have access to all types of information via the internet, and in a world where they are bombarded with the wrong types of role models, seeing a woman like Deesha who is carving her own non-traditional path in a career normally associated with tradition, it should serve as an inspiring reminder that anything is possible if you work hard enough, no matter who you are and what odds are seemingly stacked against you.

Here’s the advice she gives to other girls who are starting out but have big ambitions.

“It’s been a long journey — even today, it’s very humbling. I guess, my advice would be: Just keep going. We all have things in life that happen to us, and if you just sit in the moment, it can bring you down sometimes — but you just have to keep going. I hope when people read my story, they realize that they can get past [their challenges]; you just have to keep going.”

Yes girl!

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2 Comments

  1. Deesha Dyer is not the 2nd African American to hold the role as WH Social Security. She is the 3rd. Capricia Marshall was the first, having been appointed by then FLOTUS Hillary Clinton; second was Desiree Rodgers who was apponited by FLOTUS Obama.

  2. GirlTalkHQ says:

    Capricia Marshall is Croatian and Mexican descent, not African American. Desiree Rogers was the first African-American WH Social Secretary.

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