Women in Politics: Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. Senator for New York (D)|
We’ve already admitted it, and we will say it again: we are nothing if not Senator Gillibrand groupies. Being a part of her Women’s Economic Empowerment Summit a few weeks ago is a day I will not forget. The Senator is charismatic, thoughtful and thought provoking. She’s known for her charisma, and listening to her can be an experience somewhat similar to a trampoline beneath the feet.
What most strikes me about the Senator is an ability she has to say what needs to be said, even if it’s not something we want to hear– but also to say it in an invigorating, we-can-do-something-about-this way. She asked for a Rosie the Riveter campaign for this generation, and she exemplifies Rosie the Riveter. Her Off the Sidelines initiative encourages all of us to make our voices heard and to stand up for what we want. Women are the future of this country and Senator Gillibrand is going to ensure that we all get more active (as in, vote!) and become more vocal about the issues we care about.
A quick history of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Kirsten E. Gillibrand was appointed in January 2009 to fill the seat left by Hillary Clinton when she joined Obama’s cabinet. A champion of transparent government, she was the first Member of Congress to post her official public schedule, personal financial disclosure, and federal earmark requests online. Her success in working across the aisle is the reason why Newsweek and The Daily Beast named Senator Gillibrand one of 150 women who shake the world. She is a proponent of anti-obesity education, helped repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and serves on the Senate Armed Services.
A magna cum laude graduate of Dartmouth College in 1988, Gillibrand received her JD from the UCLA School of Law in 1991, after which she clerked on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. After working as an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell, she served as Special Counsel to United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Andrew Cuomo during the Clinton Administration. She made partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner, Senator Gillibrand and worked in Upstate New York before becoming a member of Congress.
We had the honor of asking the incredibly busy senator her thoughts on the importance of finding your passion, as well as for her best advice for young ambitious women:
L(L): What motivated you to move from law into politics?
Senator Gillibrand: I was working at a law firm in New York City when then-First Lady Hillary Clinton went to China for a world women’s conference. She gave that famous speech where she said, “Let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.” I was incredibly inspired to hear those words — because I was an Asian studies major in college and had been to Beijing.
To give that speech, in that place, at that time, about seeing women as equals and defining women’s rights as human rights – it challenged me to think about whether I was making enough of a difference. If I had wanted to be at that women’s conference, I thought I would have needed to be involved in politics.
L(L): What do you think is the most important quality for a young professional to develop early and what is your advice on how to nurture or acquire it?
Senator Gillibrand: It is important to think critically and learn to solve problems. My legal training taught me how to do that, and helps me immeasurably as a U.S. Senator. It gave me a foundation of critical thinking and an understanding of how to build a persuasive case and create the best strategy for success. The work I did on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a perfect example. I made a list of the ten things I needed to do to repeal this unjust policy and then, with my colleagues, built our case, held hearings, took testimony, developed the facts, marshaled all the evidence, and used all of our persuasive abilities to convince our colleagues to vote for repeal. And we were ultimately successful.
L(L): What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself currently graduating from school and moving into the professional world?
Senator Gillibrand: Find something you’re passionate about and pursue it. It can be a career or a cause or a candidate or an issue. But get involved, make a difference and never give up. I am fortunate that my grandmother gave me great advice back then, she always said, “You can do anything you want to do if you put your mind to it.”