As a college graduate in the time of a pandemic, I was crawling to the finish line of my senior year. I lost a loved one to COVID-19, remained physically distant from my support system including my friends, extended family, educational community, and professional network, and had no clear post-graduate path. Every job interview I had was met with notice of a pandemic-induced hiring freeze and my status as an alternate for an international fellowship added another layer of uncertainty. Self-doubt began to eclipse my passions for peace and diplomacy and I considered abandoning my aspirations for a career in global policy which I had worked towards during my entire undergraduate career.
Until I found PLEN. The virtual PLEN Women in Global Policy Seminar was an empowering week which gave me greater confidence, practical tools for success, and a network of incredible mentors and peers to pursue my passions despite the challenges of current circumstances.
My biggest takeaway from PLEN was a lesson in relationship-building: genuine human connection can fuel your career, make you more diplomatic, build the people power necessary for large-scale social change, and provide a support system to share the struggles and joys of your successes and failures along the way.
The theme of relationships was present throughout the entire seminar, beginning with our very first session: Networking 101. I had always thought of networking as intimidating, self-serving, and a little bit ‘slimy.’ However, PLEN challenged my perceptions that networking is inauthentic. One speaker emphasized that your network should be like a ‘kitchen cabinet’ of people whom you go to for advice when you struggle and to cheer you on when you succeed. Networking is not about getting ahead⎯ it’s about building and maintain genuine relationships!
We heard from a wide variety of speakers about how they focus on fostering strong relationships allows them to be more diplomatic. Whether they were a congresswoman trying to work in a more bipartisan manner or an Ambassador dealing with tense political negotiations, investments in personal relationships made them more effective professionally. Insights from these female leaders demonstrated that women have a particular capacity to build authentic relationships and find common ground to work collaboratively with others.
There is immense power in finding common goals and pursuing passions with like-minded individuals. The PLEN seminar taught me the power in sharing your story in order to raise awareness of global issues and prompt others to act in solidarity. Storytelling is such an effective political tool because it harnesses the power of human relationships and the compassion that comes with connection. Advocacy campaigns and movements for social change are built on a web of strong relationships within and across communities. The immense power of relationships, especially when harnessed by young people with a clear vision, is evident in the current Black Lives Matter movement across America today.
Above all, the most valuable aspect of the seminar was the opportunity to build relationships with PLEN students, staff, speakers, and alumni, even if only through virtual platforms. Speaking to other young women about their passions reinvigorated my own aspirations for a career in global policy. Further, speakers and staff shared their experience and advice which taught me new practical skills such as building an impactful LinkedIn profile, negotiating a salary, and rocking an entry-level job. The power of these relationships and the lessons I’ve learned from them have given me a roadmap to make my dream career a reality.
Before the PLEN seminar, I considered changing my career path as professional and personal challenges mounted. Thanks to the inspiring relationships, energizing programming, and practical tools from PLEN, I am now interning at a peacebuilding NGO and looking for full-time global policy positions in Washington, DC.
Graduating without a job offer is certainly scary, but having friends and mentors in the PLEN network to support me makes the path ahead seem less daunting. Now, whenever I feel self-doubt, I think about the brave, worthy, and amazing network of PLEN women that I have in my own ‘kitchen cabinet.’ The PLEN Women in Global Policy Seminar left me with the resounding call to action that “you are not only capable and competent to succeed, but you are so needed and have an obligation as a woman to be a leader wherever you are.”
Fabiola Shipley attended the virtual PLEN Women in Global Policy Seminar. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in May 2020 with a B.A. in Political Science and is excited to pursue a career in global policy.