Natika S. Washington
Director of Global Programs, Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues
U.S. Department of State
Growing up in Peoria, Ill., Natika S. Washington never thought she would be working for the U.S. Secretary of State as director of global programs. Washington initially wanted to own a public relations firm, but the expense of college tuition quickly deferred that dream. Instead, she enlisted in the Air Force at 18 as a military cop, and remained there for 12 years. She was deployed to various countries, including to Northern Iraq for nine months as a radio/telephone operator, and ultimately became a special air missions flight attendant, flying with top government officials including former Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “I was meeting world leaders and I was getting to travel the world,” Washington says. “The relationships I established in that mission actually got me to where I am right now.”
Washington never lost sight of her academic aspirations and earned a bachelor’s degree in business communications at the University of Phoenix while on active duty. She applied for an internship at the U.S. Department of State and requested an early discharge from the Air Force. She has been climbing the ranks of State ever since. As director of global programs, she designs and manages multimillion-dollar small grants programs with local grassroots organizations aimed at empowering women in developing countries. She credits her passion for gender issues to her personal experiences in the Air Force. “In the military, as a woman and as a Black woman in a career field where you are, many of the times, the only woman on a team of men being deployed for nine months, discrimination is so normal,” but not in her vision of the world she recalls.
Washington currently is working toward an MBA at George Washington University and expects to graduate in December 2015.