This post was written by Hatchet reporter Cailley LaPara.
The members of the Women as Leaders and Agents of Change panel seem to have it all: high-profile positions, jobs with the top companies in D.C. and daily opportunities to impact policy.
But it’s not as effortless as they make it look.
Hosted by GW, the panel brought together six public affairs leaders Thursday to talk about how to make career goals and how to overcome the obstacles women may face in the workplace. Here are five takeaways from their discussion:
1. Let go of plans and seize opportunities
Hannah Kim, press secretary for Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), said she always dreamed of becoming a U.S. diplomat to Korea. But her plans to go to law school all changed when she was in a car crash.
“When you’re 22, you think you have all the time in the world to do A, B, C and D, all the way to Z. And you say, ‘When I achieve a certain level, I will do this,’” Kim said.
She said ambitious young professionals can be tempted to plot out their futures on spreadsheets, but careers don’t always go according to plan.
Anna Tunkel said she didn’t know what she was signing up for when she took her first job at APCO Worldwide. But she said taking the leap paid off and led to an exciting and dynamic career.
“Take chances and do things that are really outside your comfort zone,” said Tunkel, who is now the vice president of strategic initiatives.
2. Learn to handle the balancing act
Women who aspire to “have it all” have to balance their families with their work. Christina Bellantoni, editor in chief of Roll Call, said women must learn to juggle responsibilities and goals, but they ultimately have to prioritize.
“Balance is hard for everybody whether you’re super successful or not, whether you have one job or five,” said Bellantoni, who moderated the event. “But the number one thing is understanding what you want for yourself. Set out to achieve that, and the rest of it falls into place.”
3. Keep it in persepctive
While a pay gap exists between men and women in the U.S., Tunkel said women in other parts of the world face even more daunting challenges.
“We can talk all we want about how women have less opportunities, which is true, but at the same time, the amount of things you all here achieve is just remarkable,” Tunkel said.
4. Remember where you come from
Success is never a solitary achievement. All of the panelists credited their success to the help of role models, mentors and family.
“I think a lot of who I am and how I ended up really started with how I was raised,” Scoles said. “My parents always instilled the belief in me that there wasn’t something I couldn’t do.”
Frances Colón, deputy science and technology adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State, said her single mother continues to inspire her.
“I’ve had amazing moments, but I think that seeing an independent mother, who very much raised me on her own, just taught me there were never any obstacles,” she said.
5. Speak up.
Kim said she applied to work for Rangel for years before her determination finally landed her the job.
“They called me and said, ‘We know how aggressive you are, we know how crazy you are, and we can trust you’re going to be very loyal to the congressman, so can you come in and be part of our office?’ And here I am,” she said.