“I had heard the title ‘Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling.’ In a lot of ways, bamboo is harder to break than glass,” said former White House doctor Connie Mariano.
She shared her views on the topic “Breaking the Glass Ceiling” with approximately 65 people on May 14. Held at the Hotel Bellevue, her appearance was organized by the Seattle chapter of Ascend, a professional organization whose mission involves leveraging the leadership and global business potential of pan-Asians.
“Anytime there’s a ceiling, there’s a limit placed on you, but if it’s glass, you know easily glass can be broken.”
Her audience ranged from college students to CEOs of their own companies, including a few people who flew in from the Bay Area. They all gathered to listen to a woman who broke many barriers such as being the first military woman to become a White House physician.
Her message ties in with May, Asian Pacific Islander Heritage month, the annual celebration of contributions made by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in this country.
As the first female to head the White House Medical Unit, Mariano worked with three presidents, both George Bushes and Bill Clinton. University of Washington senior Michelle Mascardo asked Dr. Mariano how she handled feeling intimidated around them.
While she reported to bosses in the nation’s highest office, she says she wasn’t intimidated and that they were human like anybody else.
“This is what doctors do: you imagine them with their underwear,” Mariano admitted.
Rich Asiodche, Ascend Seattle’s marketing chair, asked, “How did you adapt to each president’s management style, and are there any tips that you can share with those of us who are in the business world?”
She responded, “Number one, when the new people come in, you never tell them ‘We always do it this way.’ They hate that because they don’t want to hear about the other guy.”
Acceptance of each president’s administration, she says, is the key. “Whenever we have a change of administration, we read everything we can about them,” Mariano explained. “Our loyalties are with whoever is in charge.”
Mariano became the first Filipino-American in U.S. history to become a Navy rear admiral.
Even though she has made history and is now retired after 24 years in the Navy, she says discrimination continues to be the biggest challenge.
“It’s always being underestimated over and over again, even now, unless I carry my book (“The White House Doctor”) with me. If I were a white guy, you wouldn’t question. Because I look like this, you question?” Mariano said. “It’s when you walk into a room, and you have to constantly prove yourself.”
While Mariano took her role as White House physician from 1992 to 2001 seriously, she showed her strong sense of humor during the question-and-answer part of the event.
One audience member asked, “How would you advise young college kids who have many interests to find out their passion?”
Without missing a beat, she responded, “Ah, how do you know about passion, other than sexual?”
The audience laughed immediately.
She also spoke about her personal life.
When she was initially asked to join a group of six doctors vying for the job of Navy doctor to the White House, Mariano called her husband Richard Stevens to discuss the opportunity.
“I call my husband at his law firm. I tell him, and the first thing out of his mouth is ‘Are you crazy?’” she said. Her husband advised her to decline the job offer.
Mariano said “I call him back, and he said ‘You know what, on second thought, you have nothing to lose. You’ll never get this job anyway.’”
Mariano did get the job in June 1992. She served nine years at the White House, but her devotion to caring for the President and First Family hurt her first marriage, which ended in divorce.
She gave the audience some takeaways (her seven words of wisdom) to break their own glass ceiling.
They include focus, flexibility, fun, fear (not!), friends, family and faith.
“So with that, I want to thank you for your kindness and your welcome for allowing me to be here today,” she concluded.
The audience gave her a warm standing ovation.
Mariano founded the Center for Executive Medicine in Arizona and continues to provide medical care to CEOs and their families.
For more information about Dr. Connie Mariano and her book “The White House Doctor,” go to www.whitehousedoctor.com.