Heather Long is CNNMoney’s senior markets and economy writer. We first crossed paths a few months ago when she was on the road covering the presidential campaigns.
Heather grew up outside of Washington, D.C. in the northern Virginia area. She says it was a very multicultural community. Many of her best friends— with whom she is still in touch today—were from other countries. She even learned Korean in middle school, a skill that has served her well in certain instances now that her career requires a global perspective.
Can you tell us about your experience at Wellesley College.
It was incredible being surrounded by so many amazing women. The school was celebrating its 125th anniversary my first year there. Alumnae like Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton and Diane Sawyer came to speak. It was so inspiring to see so many women from across different professions. It was a real wake-up call. The best “dream big” message you could get.
I was there from 2000-04. I was fortunate to win the Rhodes Scholarship and got my master’s degree at Oxford. After getting my master’s I stayed in London to work for an investment firm that was headed by a woman. In June of 2008, I had just been promoted when I decided to move back to the U.S. to be a journalist. My friends thought I was nuts, but I felt this calling. I had written for the school paper and had done internships. So I moved home to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and spent four At Wellesley I heard Madeleine Albright say that there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women. “ “ years at The Patriot-News, an old-school, community newspaper, before heading to New York City. At first I worked for the Guardian, but eventually made the move to CNN, where I have been for the past three years.
News networks don’t seem to feature “embedded” reporters much these days— they focus more on a panel of talking heads. Do you see this changing?
One of the things I’ve pushed is to change that. I’ve been to Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan just talking to real people in factories, working auto jobs, these industries that turned the last election. These are the people who are really in a crisis transition moment. I am interested in how they feel. There are a lot of smart pundits and great studies, but there’s nothing like hearing about things on the ground. CNN is very supportive of that.
There is an apparent surge in women entering politics. Have you seen this in your reporting?
Actually, the reason I’m talking to you in Florida right now is that a friend of mine from college lives here, and some 22 |of us flew from New York to encourage her to run for office. We sat around the kitchen table and put down a plan. That doesn’t mean it’ll happen in the next six months, but it outlines what the next five or 10 years look like.
When I worked at the Harrisburg paper I was the Anderson Cooper of Pennsylvania—I knew the power players at the state and local levels. Five young men came to me at different times and places and laid out for me their five or 10-year plans to become mayor or congressman or governor. I thought that was pretty ambitious. They were around my same age, some were married, or had families, and they had a vision. They could show me a formulated plan of how they were going to get into elected office. I thought to myself, why have no women done this? I see women leading businesses and playing a part in local civic groups or as members of the chamber, yet no woman ever came to me—except one who ran for a city council role and won—with this kind of plan. We haven’t quite figured out why we’re not elevating more women to run for office.
Back in the 90s I had a chance to intern in the U.S. Senate. At the time there were nine female senators. Here we are, 20 years later, and we’re only at 21. As a teenager I naively thought it would get better and better, that there would be exponential growth, but the pace has been so slow. I believe in the “Lean In” philosophy—that women need to support each other and also take more initiative. We need to see more of the “I’m going to put my name in the hat” kind of mentality.
Speaking of the next five or 10 years, you are now in your mid-30s. At this stage of your life, are you thinking about children?
I would like to have a child. About half of my friends have at least one child, and the changes that take place in their lives underscore how amazing the experience of motherhood is. But I am also cognizant of the great advice from Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In to not take yourself mentally out of the workforce too soon. So at the moment, it’s not a reality for me. Or even in the next year or two. I am conscious of not trying to over-think and over-plan how that’s all going to work.
One bit of advice—I highly recommend that you freeze your eggs.
This is actually a big topic of conversation. That’s probably right up there with, “What TV shows are you watching right now?” [Laughing] At least in New York City; I can’t speak for the rest of the country. I fully agree with what you’re saying, but for me, I have decided not to freeze my eggs. I am a big believer in adoption and that is probably the right route for me if I’m not able to have a child biologically.
Are you seeing evidence lately of women banding together?
Some people have the perception that it’s all going to work itself out. But unless there’s real action and focus on certain initiatives, we won’t get there. There’s always been a bit of a coming together when people have kids—they start to form these mom groups that become natural support systems. But what’s different for me and my generation is that we are getting married later, or not getting married at all, so it’s a whole new wild west for us—what life and success look like. What fulfillment looks like when we don’t go that route. I see a lot more groups forming of the single ladies who are very career-driven. I do feel that women are finding each other, trying to come together and recognizing that these support groups are critical.
Interview by Jules Lewis Gibson, founder and editor in chief of GRAVITAS Magazine
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