There are just a few open spots left in President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet and one of the big remaining questions is whom he will pick for Agriculture secretary. One contender is Susan Combs, former Texas comptroller and agriculture commissioner.
Combs, a Republican, is a fascinating figure. The 6-foot-2 West Texas native pushed nutrition policies akin to Michelle Obama's at the Texas Agriculture Department, she's now working to empower women in the professional world, and at one point she authored an erotic novel.
Combs originally supported former HP CEO Carly Fiorina in the Republican primary and has followed the one-time candidate's lead by meeting with Trump's transition team—despite publicly criticizing his treatment of women in the past.
During her short-lived campaign, Fiorina defended herself when Trump criticized her looks—"I am proud of every year and every wrinkle"—and later said Trump should step down as the GOP nominee after the infamous Access Hollywood tape surfaced. Yet Fiorina met with Trump last week and later referred to him as “a champion.”
Likewise, Combs met with VP-elect Mike Pence on Tuesday despite noting in September that Trump has “an unfortunate habit…of not being particularly polite in public about women.”
We don't know what was said at the Combs-Pence meeting. It would be admirable for Combs to stand by her defense of women and not simply trade it for a plum Cabinet post.
A political ploy?
A surprise move by the leader of Romania's ruling party could give the nation its first female and first Muslim premier. Liviu Dragnea leads the Social Democrats, which triumphed in this month's general election, but he is barred from serving as prime minister by a criminal conviction so he nominated former Regional Development Minister Sevil Shhaideh for the role. The move is stoking speculation that Dragnea wants to run the government himself from the sidelines or that he's trying to buy time to overturn the restriction on his own candidacy.
Brendan Cox—whose wife Jo, a U.K. MP, was murdered before the Brexit vote—engaged in a Twitter war with former UKIP leader Nigel Farage after Farage posted that events like the Berlin tragedy "will be the Merkel legacy." Cox replied, "Blaming politicians for the actions of extremists...[is] a slippery slope Nigel." Farage rejected Cox's suggestion, stating that "it is time people started to take responsibility for what has happened."
A sweet gig
Hershey has named 11-year veteran and current COO Michele Buck to serve as its next president and CEO. Her appointment will add another woman chief executive to the Fortune 500 and means that another Big Food company will have a female leader. Other notable executives on the latter list include PepsiCo's Indra Nooyi, Campbell Soup's Denise Morrison, and Mondelez's Irene Rosenfeld—all of whom rank on Fortune's Most Powerful Women list.
Cutting down abuse
The state of Illinois has a novel approach to identifying victims of domestic violence: training hairdressers and nail technicians to spot signs of abuse. Starting next year, beauty workers will get training to recognize and respond to signs of domestic violence. Since many beauty professionals have candid relationships with their clients, advocates believe that survivors of abuse might be more likely to tell their stylist than a law enforcement official. Salon workers won’t be obligated to report suspicions of domestic violence, but the idea is that they’ll be better prepared to listen and offer resources.
Diverse from the get go
Octavia Spencer, star of the new film Hidden Figures, has weighed in on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, which criticized the academy for nominating too few minority actors and actresses for major award categories. Spencer said it's wrong to blame the Oscars for films' lack of diversity. “Diversity starts when you’re casting films, when you’re greenlighting films," she said.
Even in India
Accenture (which sponsors WMPW) has become one of the first companies in India to give new mothers through adoption and surrogacy the same time off as female employees who give birth. Its adoption leave is now the same length as maternity leave—22 weeks, up from eight. Its surrogacy leave in India—also 22 weeks—is a new benefit.
Jane Zhang is a pop megastar in China, but she's yet to make it on the global stage. The music video of her latest single "Dust My Shoulders Off," an upbeat track produced by Timbaland, may help her get one step closer to her dream of international stardom. The song is the first single off her new English-language album and already has more than 5.8 million views on YouTube.
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--Valerie Jarrett on being President Barack Obama's longest-serving advisor