Before the start of PLEN's Women in Global Policy seminar, participating students received an envelope with a piece of cardstock that read “PLEN TAUGHT ME…”. The idea was to fill-in-the-blank after the week-long event and to send it to PLEN staff members. I expected this to be a quick assignment. I registered for this conference for a general overview of the global policy field on Capitol Hill. Yet the event exceeded my expectations in every way, and by the conference’s closure, I realized I could never complete the phrase ‘PLEN TAUGHT ME…” in just a few words. This is because the seminar developed numerous important “soft skills” for the workplace while simultaneously connecting us to professionals in numerous advocacy roles. The powerful women we had the privilege of speaking to included Congresswomen, CEOs, State Department officials, NGO staff members, lawyers, professors, career advisors, diplomats, researchers at think tanks, embassy workers, lobbyists--and I’m definitely missing a few. Since one sentence will never encompass all that PLEN taught me, I decided to write this blog post to elaborate on the assignment. Below are, in my opinion, the top five takeaways from PLEN’s Women in Global Policy Seminar. My hope is that by expanding on these ideas, more students will attend PLEN events and professionals will support this organization in any way they can.
My PLEN ‘top-five’ (in no particular order):
5. The ins and outs of salary negotiation: We all know the pay gap between men and women is a huge problem, and PLEN took an important step towards solving it by offering a workshop on negotiating our first salary. Before PLEN, I assumed it was not my place as a recent graduate to ask for better pay. In fact, the very phrase “salary negotiation” sent a jolt of fear through me; it was an uncomfortable conversation I hoped to avoid. Yet PLEN connected us to a professional career coach who explained step by step, the keys to successful salary negotiation. She walked us through the process from how we should respond initially to a job offer, to asking for more pay/vacation time, to closing the deal. She reminded us to always smile through these conversations, determine our “walk away” point, and provided us with key phrases we could use when having this conversation in real-time. While salary negotiations are uncomfortable for everyone, I feel better equipped to face these difficult conversations thanks to PLEN.
4. Networking on Capitol Hill: As a junior in college, I already put some effort into my network before this conference. Therefore, I expected this part of PLEN to be a review. Yet once again, the seminar exceeded my expectations. PLEN provided more than a general overview of networking; rather the discussion went beyond the basics, with detailed and targeted advice for students my age with my interests. First, email a contact you’re trying to maintain on the same email thread you originally used--it helps jog your contact’s memory. Second, keep a spreadsheet with your contacts and their emails. Third, never ever leave an informational interview without asking for other people you could reach out to. And did you know that “grabbing coffee sometime” is Capitol Hill code for an informational interview? Because I didn’t before this seminar. Thank you, PLEN!
3. Access to Resources: The speakers at PLEN provided dozens of resources for a future internship, job, and volunteer opportunities in global policy. Internships at the Department of State, embassies, NGOs, think tanks, and more were brought to our attention. Further, we received the speakers’ contact information, allowing us to follow up after the conference. This alone made the whole event worth it, as it grew my networking exponentially with contacts I would not have access to otherwise.
2. The Culture on Capitol Hill--How to Survive and how to Thrive: The PLEN staff are superwomen; even though this was a virtual seminar they somehow managed to teach us about the work culture on Capitol Hill. We all know Capitol Hill is male- dominant and the policy arena is no different. Many speakers discussed this sensitive issue; moreover, they gave practical and empowering advice to maneuver within this environment and reach our full potential. Speakers emphasized the importance of making our voices heard, yet, also the importance of listening. We also had a workshop dedicated to developing our personal stories, and I realized for the first time how valuable and impactful my voice could be.
We also discussed in depth the long and busy workdays and how to manage them. We received a plethora of advice on time management. The seminar also highlighted the importance of self-care; twice during the five-day conference, we talked about mindfulness and taking care of ourselves through meditation and other healthy activities.
Additionally, more than one speaker emphasized the importance of reputation on Capitol Hill. Holding fast to our integrity, work ethic, and confidence is crucial to success in this field. I’m grateful to the speakers for reminding us of this. Thus, in a multi-layered approach, PLEN taught us about the culture on Capitol Hill while giving us the tools for success in this intense environment.
1. Our careers probably won’t be a “vertical line,” and that’s okay! Lastly (at least, for the sake of this post), women in policy do not look, think, or act in the same ways. Rather, the field encompasses diverse people with diverse skill sets, and each woman we met took a completely different road to achieve their success. PLEN taught me that all experience is good experience, and there is no one pathway to a meaningful career. Instead of worrying that I don’t have the perfect, shiny resume for a specific role on Capitol Hill, I can now focus on gaining skills from the resources I have available to me. By maintaining integrity, working hard, and building my network, I will carve my own path toward my dream job. Further, with greater work experience the role I desire might change, and that’s also okay! This last point may seem obvious to many in the workforce. Yet as someone who always frets about not being good enough, that I don’t have the perfect internship, or that I’m pursuing the “wrong” degree, I needed to hear it. Thus, I owe a sincere thank you to PLEN for showing me the diversity of women in global policy, and assuring me that my unique experiences and my unique story, deserves a place in this field.
This is certainly not everything I took from PLEN’s Women in Global Policy Seminar, but I hope it is enough to show how much I grew as a person because of this event. I left the conference with an abundance of high-profile and very inspiring contacts, greater confidence, and exposure to numerous roles in global policy that I had not considered but now I wish to explore further. For these reasons this seminar was truly invaluable, and I recommend it highly to anyone considering a career in policy.