National Capital Chapter

A New Era for Women in Communications

By Maria Rodriguez, President & CEO, Vanguard Communications
This blog post is sponsored by
Vanguard Communications.

It was difficult not to smile while watching and listening to Ashley Etienne detail her career trajectory that ultimately landed her in the Office of the Vice President of the United States.

Moderated by Lisa Nicole Matthews, president of the National Press Club, History in the Making: A Fireside Chat with Madame Vice President’s Communications Director Ashley Etienne not only described Etienne’s career but also explored the public relations and communications industry at this pivotal moment in time. PRSA NCC and Washington Women in Public Relations partnered to host this virtual discussion, sponsored by Vanguard Communications, on Thursday, March 18.

On Being the Only One

So much of the conversation about Etienne’s experiences and climb up the ladder resonated with me, but I know we have all been there: The only woman at the table, the only woman of color at the table, the youngest at the table, the oldest at the table. At some point in our careers, many of us felt like we didn’t belong because we didn’t see anyone like ourselves in the room. 

“There were very few women in leadership in communications when I came to D.C. and no women of color,” said Etienne.

She, like so many of us, turned these isolating situations into fuel for hard work. She saw them as opportunities to find mentors, build a community of support, step out of her comfort zone and seek advice. 

It came down to this, she said: Am I going to use my energy to power my insecurities or to power my career? She chose well and has been making history ever since. 

On Identity

Matthews, who herself is leading the National Press Club’s first all-female leadership team, noted that many in the media have struggled to “define” Vice President Kamala Harris because she represents so many firsts. Which is the most meaningful: That she is the first Black woman Vice President? The first Asian American? The first child of immigrants? Matthews asked Etienne how the Vice President wants to be identified. As a Hispanic woman, child of immigrants and first-generation college student, Etienne’s perspective struck a chord with me. 

“All of the above,” said Etienne. “I’m a Southern girl, a black girl, a girl with short hair, I’m a mom, I’m all these things. You can’t divorce any one thing from the other.” 

On Listening More, Speaking Less

Etienne closed the session by discussing the power of listening. “You aren’t learning anything when you’re talking,” she said. As communicators, we can’t provide the best strategic counsel if we don’t truly listen to our internal or external “clients” and, more importantly, to their audiences’ challenges and needs. 

On Being True to Yourself

Two of Etienne’s takeaways are embedded into how I’ve led Vanguard Communications for more than 30 years: Be pure in your motives, and treat people well and give them opportunities. 

This Women’s History Month, I’m so grateful that the world IS changing and that people like Matthews and Etienne are two of the many women architects designing it. 


Maria Rodriguez is President & CEO of  Vanguard Communications, a Hispanic woman-owned PR and social marketing firm working for more than 30 years to open hearts and minds about issues and individuals, and realize a more inclusive and equitable world.