Get To Know Susan Rice

August 1, 2020

Susan Rice

A longtime diplomat, Susan Rice is best known for working in the Obama administration, first as Ambassador to the United Nations and later as National Security Advisor. When she was confirmed as U.N. Ambassador in 2009, Rice became the first African American woman and second youngest person to serve in that post.

A graduate of Stanford University, Rice was also a Rhodes Scholar in 1988 and received her Ph.D. in international relations from Oxford University in 1990. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Rice’s longtime mentor, once described Rice as “one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.”

Rice’s parents were both distinguished policy scholars who worked with the federal government. Her mother, Lois Rice, was a member of the College Board and known as the “mother of the Pell grant,” the program that provides financial aid to low- income undergraduate students. Her father was an economics professor who was later appointed to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.

Here are some key things to know about where Rice stands on the issues that matter to women:

  • Although Rice has never been elected to public office, she has had a long career in public service. Before becoming U.N. ambassador, Rice had worked in the Clinton Administration, both in the National Security Council and at the State Department as the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. As Assistant Secretary of State, she supervised the management of 43 U.S. Embassies and more than 5,000  U.S. and Foreign Service employees. 
  • When Rice was going through her Senate confirmation hearings for her State Department post in 1997, she memorably brought her infant son, who she was nursing at the time, along. The then-32-year-old Rice drew praise on both sides of the aisle during her confirmation hearings, but Rice said that convincing Washington’s old guard that a young mother could also serve as a government official was difficult. 

“[The State Department] was and still is an older, predominantly male, predominantly Caucasian workforce,” Rice told Glamour in 2016, adding that “it must have been disconcerting if not off-putting to many of the senior foreign service officers to have somebody 32-years-old come in and in effect be their boss.”

  • During her time as National Security Advisor, Rice focused on diversifying the country’s intelligence community, noting that women bring unique perspectives to the work. “I think it’s very, very important that in foreign policy and national security decision making…there be a range of diversity that reflects the full complexity of our country,” she told Glamour. “We should draw on those experiences to inform our decision making.”
  • In October 2016, Rice asserted the U.S.’s commitment to LGBT rights, especially concerning transgender rights and same-sex marriage in the United States. While gains had been made, she said, the U.S. must “do more to institutionalize efforts to promote LGBT rights.” 
  • As a diplomat, Rice has also focused on the rights of women and girls globally throughout her career. “Empowering women is a precondition for development, prosperity, and security,” she told the UN Women Executive Board in 2016. “The economic and social well-being of nations depends upon their women. So does their stability.”