Thursday, May 29, 2008

Best of Surviving in Politics

It's hard being a woman (and a young woman at that) in politics. With the fight over the Democratic nomination, this topic has been debated all over the press, but they never really address the obstacles facing the women who run and work in the campaigns and political arena.

Some examples:
I once had a boss tell me I couldn't come to an office poker tournament because women don't take poker seriously. I had never played, but I threw a fit, and OUT OF SPITE, I won that game. And the one after that. They then had to tell me to quit winning because the clients and consultants didn't want to play me anymore.

I had a boss tell me, when I was asking for a well-deserved raise, that they didn't want to pay someone MY AGE that salary. Not someone with my experience, but my age. What the hell? But I got the raise.

I had a boss ask me to help schedule a meeting at the nudie bar between he and another guy to talk politics. Politely declined.

How does a woman combat it? I have a list of phrases that I have to repeat over and over to myself to remind me that I'm good enough (and smart enough and doggoneit people like me - thanks, Al) at my job, and I remember WHY I went into politics in the first place (I'm trying to change my little part of this world). Also, I cuss. A LOT. One, it is effective (in making a woman tough). Two, and maybe more importantly, I'm pretty fucking good at it.

But to my phrases:
1) Be so good they CAN'T ignore you. This one has been on a napkin in my desk drawer since I saw it on a tshirt in an airport the year I graduated. If I'm the best at what I do, if I work harder than anyone else, then it doesn't matter if I'm a woman or young. Just make yourself indispensable.

2) Fake it 'til you make it. I give this one to all my interns, and I SWEAR EVERYONE IN POLITICS FROM THE TOP DOWN FOLLOWS IT. I didn't believe it at first, but this is an art, not a science. Sure, consultants, candidates and campaign staff can work smarter and do what has worked before, but there is no fail-safe winning formula.

3) Be as loyal to your employer as they would be to you. As a generally nice person, this one was hard for me to follow at first. Surprisingly, not everyone in politics and not all politicians are in this field for the right and noble reasons. This is my version of the golden rule, and it has helped me from getting completely screwed at times.

4) Hire good people and get out of their way. I learned this tenet from a supervisor when I was 19, and it stuck with me ever since. This is more advice to bosses, but when I supervise interns or staff, I try to observe it. I'm OCD and a perfectionist, but I have learned to let go (for the most part). NOBODY LIKES TO BE MICROMANAGED.

Not that it is directly comparable, but I think that Hillary would have done better, and certainly not made as many enemies (even in her own party) if she would have done some of the above.

Maybe not the cussing part.

Here's the thing. I really do not think she can blame her performance solely on her gender. Sure, it plays some part (like racism plays a part on who will and will not vote for Obama), but so does strategy (she should have focused on some smaller states and not given up on caucus states), so does attitude (she never should have accepted that she was inevitable - everyone loves an underdog), and so does history (because of her husband*, many people, including my father, irrationally despise her). Yes, there are obstacles for all women in politics at any level. But as a woman in politics, you have to expect them and find ways to jump right over. Is it fair? No. But do it anyway, out of spite, and be so good they can't ignore you.

*I was a fan of Bill Clinton early on. My first campaign experience was campaigning for him in Kingfisher, Oklahoma (so just imagine how well that went in the buckle of the Bible belt), in my 6th grade social studies class. I made American flags with my nail polish and attached them to newly-released blue raspberry Blow Pops. They were a success, but he lost the class election. My first lesson in the ineffectiveness of chum.

1 comment:

  1. this post should be added into your syllabus for courtney ruark school of politics.