Women who work at the crossroads of politics and technology are working at two heavily male-dominated fields. Yet there are ways to build a career and thrive at work, and at home.
It’s deliberative, and it’s ongoing, but it’s worth it if you want to work at changing the world.
Build Your Network
In politics, where you change jobs frequently, thanks to the campaign cycle, it’s critical to build a strong network long before you need it. Every job you have, association you belong to, hobby you engage in, and social gathering you attend are opportunities to build your network.
If you’re shy, remember that most people love talking about themselves. Ask an open-ended question and go from there. Network with people at every level—interns to executives. Today’s intern is tomorrow’s campaign manager.
After events, follow up. Go through the business cards you’ve collected and send short emails with your contact information. Remind them of who you are and why you should stay in touch moving forward. Consider sending a link to an article relevant to your discussion, or a resource they might find helpful. Or, if things went really well during your initial conversation, invite them out for a one-on-one meeting. If you choose that route, it’s important to be timely, concise and clear.
Finally, add people you’d like to stay in contact with to your LinkedIn Network or follow them (or their firm) on Twitter if they maintain a public profile. Adding someone as a friend on Facebook is optional, but if you’ve only spoken once, and briefly, you may want to hold off on making that request until you are better acquainted.
Be the Best
It goes without saying that you should endeavor to be the best at what you do. A 2011 report from McKinsey’s Joanna Brash noted that women are promoted based on their past accomplishments, while men are often promoted based on potential. It is up to you to make sure you know what those accomplishments are, and that your managers do, too.
A great way to do this is to keep a win list, a bulleted list of things you accomplished—large and small—that you can go back to when you need to make the case for a raise, prep for an annual review, update your resume, or write a bio. It’s easy to forget the amount of things you accomplish when working in fast-paced environments, so take one minute each day, or five minutes each week, to jot down wins.
In a field that evolves rapidly, like digital politics and communications, you must keep up to stay relevant. When you are comfortably in a job, it’s a great time to learn new things. If your organization provides training opportunities, take full advantage of the chance to learn new skills or advance the ones you already have.
Attend workshops or lectures. Think tanks are a great resource for these. They are usually broadcast online or, if you are based in Washington, D.C., often take place during lunch hours; you can score a free meal and free knowledge at the same time.
Consider online classes, too. There are a host of great new (and often free) options popping up. You can learn technical skills from resources like Udacity.com, or you can head to CodeAcademy.com to learn to code. Resources like coursera.org or EdX.org will help you brush up on management topics, the basics of computer science, and even policy-related matters.
And of course, read up on what is trending in fields similar to yours. Sign up for newsletters, curate a list of websites to scroll through during down time, or create a list on Twitter of industry-related accounts to follow.
Women Don’t Ask
Long before Sheryl Sandberg was telling women everywhere to “Lean In,” Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever were teaching women to ask for what they were worth and teaching them how to do it. I heartily recommend their book, “Women Don’t Ask,” to every women looking to build her confidence and skill as a negotiator.
According to Babcock, by not negotiating your first salary you will have lost out on $250,000 in income over the course of your career. That’s a lot to lose just because you didn’t think to ask, were too shy to ask, or said yes to a position too quickly. No one I know has ever had an offer retracted because they asked for a higher salary, better benefits, or a fancier title. If you’ve gotten far enough along in the job process that an offer has been made, assume the company wants you, and negotiate accordingly.
There is a wealth of data available on salaries of staffers through Legistorm, FEC reports, and even the Plum Book, which details the salary grade of all political appointees every four years. These aren’t perfect accounts, but can help give you an idea of range. There are also great private industry resources like GlassDoor.com to mine for comparable jobs.
Know what you should be getting paid, practice asking for it, and know what you are willing to accept before you start the process. It’s the employer’s job to get you as cheaply as possible. It’s your job to get as much for yourself as you can. It’s not personal, it’s business. Approach it that way and you’ll be one step ahead of the vast majority of women who don’t ask.
Look for jobs and experiences that make you happy and help you grow. Oftentimes these will be found in the most unexpected places, so always be open to new opportunities. If you try to craft a plan too precisely, you’ll miss out on the incredible and unexpected.
And consider that you deserve a life outside of work, too. Now is the time to build that. Women may or may not be able to “have it all”—it’s a topic of fierce debate, but you can have what you want if you know what it is and go for it. Think of your life and your own happiness as important as the results on Election Day and you’ll be off to a great start.
Tracy Russo is the founder of Russo Strategies, LLC, a political consulting firm that specializes in communications and advocacy for political, nonprofit, and government clients. She is also the founder of the WIPT List (Women in Politics and Technology), an all-women, member-driven organization that seeks to connect women working at the crossroads of politics and technology.