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POLITICO: Susan Molinari: Many to follow in powerful leader's footsteps

The following essay is part of a series in which dozens of women will reveal what women they most admire. The series is part of “Women Rule,” a unique effort this fall by POLITICO, Google and The Tory Burch Foundation exploring how women are leading change in politics, policy and their communities.

When Nancy Pelosi was elected speaker of the House in 2007, she cracked the marble ceiling. As a former member of Congress — and more importantly, as a mother of two daughters — I was thrilled. But I was also very moved.

It didn’t matter that I was a Republican and she was Democratic. Finally, 90 years after the first female was elected to Congress in 1917, girls across America could see a woman leading one of the most powerful institutions in the world. But what moved me even more than that “first” was the image of the speaker in the well of the House, then at the podium, flanked by so many eager, proud and hopeful young faces, with a baby wrapped comfortably in her arms.

Pelosi embraced her status as the first woman speaker, never downplaying her gender the way so many before her might have. She turned motherhood and grandmotherhood into a sign of strength and power.

And powerful she has been. To her, being a “woman speaker” meant more than showing leadership on issues traditionally viewed as “women’s” issues — although Pelosi did pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and passed child nutrition and food safety legislation.

It meant using her skills, experience and perspective — as a political pro, community leader and insightful legislator — to serve as an incredibly effective, accomplished leader.

Pelosi joins her daughter, Alexandra, for a conversation this Wednesday at Women Rule, as she shares her thoughts on how women can use their experiences — professionally and personally — to lead. And who better to share this advice?

Both Democrats and Republicans will tell you that tenacity is one of Pelosi’s defining characteristics — she is a tireless, determined doer; she gets done what she sets out to do. Her record in office reflects that. She helped to pass a remarkable volume of legislation tackling some of the toughest issues of our time, including health care reform.

Those who know her, will also tell you that relationships are at the core of Pelosi’s leadership style. I saw it firsthand; I served in Congress with Pelosi for seven years. We both proudly hail from Italian-American families, have fathers who served in Congress and are moms to incredible daughters. During my years in the House, we disagreed from time to time, but Pelosi never made it personal. Even during the toughest of debates, she would always make a point of asking me about my father and daughter.

Finally, Pelosi’s leadership is guided by her unwavering moral compass. Never has she veered away from her core values or the causes that inspired her to serve in the first place. She has made combating HIV and AIDS a priority since she first took office in 1987, advocating for initiatives that have saved the lives of millions and helped some of the most vulnerable men, women and children — not only in her San Francisco district but across the country and world.

For a long time, women in leadership positions didn’t have enough good examples of what a woman leader looks like. Today, thanks to leaders like Pelosi, a generation of women — in politics and beyond — has grown up with an example of a woman leading with strength.

Women still encounter too many ceilings in politics, business and in my own industry, technology, but times are changing quickly. As Pelosi famously said upon taking the speakership, women “waited through the many years of struggle to achieve our rights. But women weren’t just waiting; women were working.” Nancy Pelosi was among them, and as a result — and she said it best — “for our daughters and our granddaughters, the sky is the limit, anything is possible for them.”

Susan Molinari is a former Republican member of Congress from New York, and currently VP, Public Policy & Government Affairs for Google.