How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Can women win? Meg, Carly, and Feinstein's view

May 6, 2010: 12:20 PM ET

by Patricia Sellers

This week in Detroit, where I interviewed Charlene Begley--General Electric's (GE) top-ranking female exec and No. 27 on the Fortune Most Powerful Women list--someone in the audience asked: "When will we see women holding half the CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies?"

Whoa! Begley is hardly a shrinking violet, but she lobbed this one to me. And I replied: "Never ever ever ever."

If you're a regular reader of Postcards, you know my view: that women define power differently, make broader choices than men do, and typically live their lives in chapters. That is, there's a time and a place to pursue various endeavors. Just look at Fortune's former No. 1 MPWomen, who are both retired from business and chasing political dreams. Former eBay (EBAY) chief Meg Whitman is running for governor of California. Carly Fiorina, once CEO of Hewlett-Packard's (HPQ), is in another California race to unseat U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer.

The other U.S. Senator from California, Dianne Feinstein, weighed in on Whitman, Fiorina, and more last week at the Fortune Most Powerful Women dinner in Washington. What does Feinstein think of Meg and Carly vying to expand their business-based power into politics? Basically, that they have very tough challenges ahead. Bear in mind, Whitman and Fiorina are Republicans; Feinstein is a Democrat who has  been paying political dues for four decades. Here's what Feinstein said (quite forcefully) after telling me (quite adamantly) that she didn't want to talk about Meg, Carly, or this year's hot races in her home state:

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