The goal of each PLEN seminar is to provide young women with the skills, connections, and confidence they need to pursue a career in public policy. Two of the skills that we prioritize with each cohort of women are communication and maintaining a strong and diverse network. More specifically, in today’s polarized political climate, PLEN emphasizes the importance of being able to communicate and work effectively with people you don’t agree with. When students are connected with women from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, they learn that the most unlikely of people can often be their closest allies.
This lesson is exemplified by the friendship of Jenny Kim and Wintta Woldemariam, who are not PLEN alumnae, but were speakers on a panel at the 2017 Women, Law, and Legal Advocacy seminar. While most speakers connect with students during and after the seminars, Jenny and Wintta also took time to get to know each other during and after their session.
On paper, Jenny seems politically opposite to Wintta. Jenny is now the Vice President of Public Policy and Deputy General Counsel of Political Law at Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC. She previously served as a Presidential Management Fellow in the Office of the White House Office Counsel to President George W. Bush. Wintta, who is currently Counsel at King & Spalding, also served in the Office of the White House Counsel, though she served as Ethics Counsel to President Barack Obama. However, while Jenny and Wintta may be labeled as political opposites, they immediately bonded over what unified them. “Instead of labels, you need to learn to identify values you share because when you get to talking with people, you realize you have a lot of shared experiences,” says Wintta. “It’s extremely important to keep an open mind and try to find the good in everyone.”
Though they’re on opposite sides of the political spectrum, Jenny and Wintta learned a lot from each other through participating in the same panel. As they shared their career stories and professional paths, they started noticing their commonalities. “Learning about Jenny’s upbringing was very interesting. We come from different cultural heritages, but many of the experiences she described really resonated with me,” Wintta reflects. “You meet lots of great people throughout your professional life but not a lot of people you share such a strong connection with.”
Hearing Wintta talk about her career trajectory, Jenny remembers how much she “respected her hustle and how she got promotions. All those things were admirable.” Similarly, Wintta enjoyed hearing about Jenny’s “incredible professional success. She’s such a straight shooter both personally and professionally. I learned a lot from just listening to her talk that first day!” This mutual respect over shared experiences, candor, and humility is what brings Jenny and Wintta together. “Honestly, when I meet new people,” Jenny says, “I try not to focus on where we disagree because while our proposed solutions to problems may be different, the actual solution ends up being somewhere in between.”
In addition to having an open mind and constantly learning from others, Jenny and Wintta’s friendship is a lesson in mutual respect and support. One piece of advice that Jenny shared during that first panel and continues to emphasize is to remember to always be a supporter of other women in your life. “Keep in mind what your other female friends do so that you can suggest them for things,” she says. “If you’re not a good fit for something, don’t be afraid to say, ‘You know who would be great for that job? Wintta.’” Both Jenny and Wintta were recommended as speakers by PLEN Board Members Jona Van Deun and Ellie Shaw, respectively. After this first PLEN panel, Jenny continued this cycle of support by inviting Wintta to speak on another panel she moderated for the 2018 National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Corporate Counsel Conclave on how corporate counsel can affect policy. While they disagree on some things, they both understand and value the important perspectives each brings to the table.
For both students and speakers, PLEN is a place for learning, growth, and connections. While we hope all students complete each seminar with a growing network and skills that help them succeed, these goals aren’t solely for the students. The friendships that build between PLEN speakers and volunteers exemplify the unique experience of being a part of the PLEN network. PLEN is a place where students and professionals alike can learn from, work with, and build lasting relationships with women of all ages, backgrounds, and political perspectives.
Hayley Humiston is the Programs and Communications Manager for PLEN, where her main focus is to plan the logistics of each seminar. She is also responsible for marketing, communications, and social media outreach.