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How political networking can take your career to the next level

Women are not spending as much time working the political circuit as men, which may be limiting women's ability to get ahead in their careers, says Democratic consultant Adrienne Elrod and Republican strategist Susan Del Percio.
Democratic consultant Adrienne Elrod, left, and Republican strategist Susan Del Percio, right.
Democratic consultant Adrienne Elrod, left, and Republican strategist Susan Del Percio, right.Travis W. Keyes

A Democrat woman and a Republican woman are having a conversation:

“When I first got involved in politics, the most popular and financially successful fundraiser was the annual golf outing, attended mostly by men. Inevitably someone would say ‘we need a women’s event’ and that would typically be a luncheon. It usually did OK, but nowhere as financially successful as the golf outing. It couldn’t be more of a cliché – but it is still the case today.”

Who do you think experienced this – the Republican or Democrat?

Try both of us. In fact, the more we learned about each other’s career path, the more similar we found our experiences to be. And one thing became crystal clear – women are not spending as much time working the political circuit as men and it may be limiting us in our ability to move up the corporate ladder and make a greater impact on our communities.

We come from different political parties, but we both agree that women need to get more involved in politics and government. This is not about picking sides. It is about understanding the political landscape and how federal regulation and local legislation can affect your industry, impact your career, and contribute to your community and ultimately your family.

The 2020 election is on everyone’s mind, and while you may know who is running for president, how up to date on your local officials? In many cases, it is the decisions being made at the state and local level that will most impact your place of business and the world around you. With that in mind, it is critical to stay current.

Government and politics are more than just going to fundraisers and lobbying. It is first and foremost about relationships. Most of us are familiar with the saying, “all politics are local.” We should add to that, “all political relationships are personal.” Unfortunately, local politics and government still operate in an old boy’s network. So where can you jump in and really showcase your value?

Build and expand your relationships

Adrienne Elrod: No matter if you’re a recent college graduate seeking your first internship or paid job, or a woman mid-career, building and maintaining relationships is a must. Relationships are what ultimately get you the next job, and the more people you have in your network, the more opportunities you will have in the long run.

Case in point: my first experience in Washington was in 1996, when I interned at the White House office. Little did I know at the time that years later, my intern coordinator would become a good friend who has since recommended me for several job opportunities, as I have done for him. Some of my other colleagues in that office – both interns and staff – are people I continue to work with and rely on for advice and counsel to this day.

And I’ve had the same experience in every other job I’ve had working in government and politics. The friends I’ve made through these various places of work have helped me get the next job, and have ultimately resulted in the vast network I rely on to get me where I am today.

Keep your skillset fresh

Susan Del Percio: There is a reason attorneys and doctors are required to do continuing education; they must be current on laws and procedures. Now ask yourself, how up to date are you on your skill set?

About four years ago, I left my position in government to return to my communication business. One of the skills I had developed prior to my time in government was writing opinion columns. Right out of the gate, a former client who had just re-hired me, asked for an op-ed on a bill in front of the New York State legislature.

I couldn’t believe just how rusty I had become. After several re-writes I knew I need help. Fortunately, I had maintained my business relationships and had a few trusted friends that I could ask for advice which helped me get back into swing of things.

Leverage politics to elevate your career

As we move up the corporate ladder and take on more responsibilities, we see that office politics play a critical role in our success. While it may come naturally to some, most of us have to learn and practice that skill set.

So why not volunteer on a campaign? Local campaigns are a fantastic place to learn politicking. First, the candidate is usually accessible in local races and you will see firsthand how they manage people. Second, you will learn more about the issues and perhaps gain insight to the issues that affect your industry in a way you would not have as an “outsider.” Third, you will have expanded network, and you never know when that will be helpful.

If campaigns aren’t your thing, get involved in community-based organizations that politicians are often interacting with; neighborhood associations, Chambers of Commerce or your local school board. These settings allow you to see the inner workings of government and provide an opportunity for you to get to know your elected officials in a way similar to that of working on a campaign.

The import thing to do is to get involved. You will developed skills you would otherwise not have the opportunity to even exercise, meeting people from an incredibly wide range of backgrounds, education, industries and skillsets. It is essentially and accelerator – if not an incubator – for your career path regardless of your goals.

Once you engage with your elected officials and public policy, you will be in a unique position to offer insights to your workplace. Your will elevate your value and successfully enter the world of office politics as an informed participant. Then you will only have to play golf or go to a luncheon if you want to.

Adrienne Elrod is a Washington, D.C.- based Democratic consultant and Susan Del Percio is a New York-based Republican strategist.