Madeleine Albright: There's 'Plenty of Room in the World for Mediocre Men' – but Not 'Mediocre Women'

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Madeleine Albright’s interview is part of TIME Firsts, a multimedia project featuring 46 groundbreaking women. Watch the rest of the videos at Time.com/Firsts. Buy the book at the TIME Shop.

There’s still work to be done in the fight for gender equality – but former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is sure that women are up to the challenge.

In a new interview for TIME’s Firsts video series, Albright shares her advice for fellow female go-getters, and points out that even though the bar for successful women seems unfairly higher than the one for men, she enjoys the perks that accompany womanhood.

“There’s plenty of room in the world for mediocre men, there’s no room for mediocre woman,” says Albright, 80. “I love being a woman. Our life comes in segments and it allows us to have different parts of our life.”

Albright was, of course, the first woman to hold the office of secretary of state, serving under former President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001.  Two women – Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice – have since been in the role.

Reflecting on her life of public service, Albright shares, “I have often been the only woman in the room, and I thought to myself, ‘Well, I don’t think I’ll say anything today because it will sound stupid.’ ”

Luisa Dörr for TIME

“And then some man says it, and everybody thinks it’s brilliant and you think, ‘Why didn’t I talk?’ ” continues Albright. “If we are in a meeting we are there for a reason. The bottom line is: If you are only there not speaking, you kind of create the impression that you’re not prepared to be there.”

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Albright further admits that, in the past, it was actually “other women” who made her “feel inadequate.”

“Literally saying things like, ‘Wouldn’t it be better if you were in the carpool line than instead of the library?’ and that my hollandaise sauce was not as good as theirs,” she explains, adding that such situations inspired her most famous line of wisdom: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”

In addition to her time as secretary of state, Albright was previously appointed to the National Security Council during the Carter administration, and in 1993 began serving as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

“It had not occurred to me, frankly, that I would ever be in a position to break a glass ceiling. Particularly as a woman who is married and the mother of twins,” she says. “But the turning point did come.”

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