Women In the Workplace: Climbing the (Capitol) Hill

By Grace Wydeven

A few weeks ago I didn’t know how to use the metro, find the GUTS buses, and most importantly how to interpret the meaning of the words “congressional press internship.” But a few weeks ago I had no choice but to learn what each of these terms meant, and then within a few hours put them into practice.

This all started in September when I got an email advertising the need for press interns in a senator’s office and decided on a late night whim to apply. Being a first semester freshman, my expectations were low: I barely had any college experience and the thought of working on Capitol Hill was as thrilling as it was terrifying: in short, even I thought my chances were slim.

Nevertheless, with a little help from my mom and a standard resume workshop, I put together a presentable resume, edited a cover letter, asked around for references, and hit the send button on my application.

Due the circumstances I have just described, you can imagine my amazement when I received an email back from the Press Secretary in the Senator’s office asking when I would be available for a short phone interview. I rattled off my limited availability and anxiously awaited the phone call. Short and sweet, just as she promised, Alex told me how impressed she was with my resume, even comparing it to those of graduate students’ she had received in the past. After asking her a few questions about her own position we hung up, and she promised once again to be in touch. A few days later I received another unanticipated email: I got the job.

Having worked for the past few weeks I have already learned a valuable lesson that I feel are important for any and all women looking to take an active role in the leadership and working opportunities that surround all of us here at Georgetown.

As a young Heath Ledger said in the 90s classic 10 Things I Hate About You: “Don’t let anybody, ever make you feel like you don’t deserve what you want.” Never has a quote from a romantic comedy (albeit Shakespeare in origin) rung so true. When I described my application and subsequent offer from the press office of a senator above, I couldn’t hide my own disbelief at the accomplishment. Whether this is due to inhibitions about my age, my gender, or simply about myself, I think it is an important issue to address for all women, especially those attempting to lead.

As a woman, often times we are expected to allow certain situations or circumstances shape us when, in reality, we should be shaping them. Even today, after working in the office for weeks I still feel intimidated when I walk through the security gate and make my way up to the press office. I wonder if I am really qualified to hold such a position—with each pearly white marble step I ascend the doubts set in. However once I reach the top of that larger than life staircase I gather myself and squash them for one simple reason: they are not rooted in truth, and therefore not worth my time.

An unfortunate, yet rampant side-effect of success for women is a crushing feeling of inadequacy or intimidation. We are painfully conscious of the inequalities in pay, the overwhelming cultural ideals that project males as the stronger sex, and even social ideas about how a woman’s appearance is closely, and indirectly tied to her intelligence.

I myself struggle with these doubts: how can I possibly measure up to my male counterparts? Does someone like me really fit or belong in such a serious and impressive workplace?

If you have ever experienced these feelings, know that you are certainly not alone, but also that it is possible to eradicate such doubts and focus on what’s really important: you, your work, and most importantly your ability to lead (whether you’re a lowly intern or a future CEO). Trusting in your strength and projecting confidence is more than half the battle. As my savvy and successful mother always jokes, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” Though we aren’t to take this literally (remember you attend Georgetown-you certainly don’t have to “fake” your intelligence) it does carry a surprisingly pertinent message. In settings where we feel uncomfortable, hesitant, doubtful, nervous or afraid, it is so important to transcend those feelings and not allow them to hinder your performance.

As women, we may have our work cut out for us in terms of progress, but whether you start a club here at Georgetown, or graduate and become a corporate powerhouse, any movement forward in leadership demonstrates marked progress for all of us. Just as GUWIL strives to embody this message, so must we: if for nothing else, go outside of your own comfort zone in terms of leadership to help advance the role of women in leadership in our society for generations yet to come.

So, be unafraid in the face of negativity and nay-sayers: in Eleanor Roosevelt’s words: “No one can make you feel inferior unless you let them.” So ladies, don’t give them the satisfaction.