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Panel Recap: Challenges, Risks, Rewards: Women in the Lobbying Profession

By: Amy Showalter, The Showalter Group


One of NILE’s most popular programs was an October of 2021 event on the challenges, risks, and rewards of women in the lobbying profession. The conversation and insights were candid, motivational, and actionable.

The panel was moderated by Stephanie Craig, Vice President, Kith Crisis Management and Communications. Joining Stephanie were: Jocelyn Hong, Principal, Jocelyn Hong & Associates; Cristina Antelo, Principal, Ferox Strategies; Marla Grossman, Partner, American Continental Group, and Brianne Doura-Schawohl, Vice President of U.S. Policy, Epic Risk Management.

As I read the webinar transcript, there definitely was a pattern to their comments, so I created categories for each discussion theme, as well as questions to ask yourself as you reflect on their advice. And yes, these tips apply to everyone!

Support Others

“Be proactive about finding the strength of diverse voices and talent. Find ways to showcase that in your organization. When I lead a meeting, I let people know that I’ll be calling on everyone so I can make sure a multitude of voices are heard. That way if someone is dominating the meeting, I can assure a more even distribution of thoughts and ideas.”
- Marla Grossman

“I think it's about celebrating when women do step up and speak out ---acknowledge them for taking that chance. And I think that will foster more of that when women feel supported.”
- Brianne Doura-Schawohl

“I want to build a strong team, but there's junior people who need the real rules. Some of that is the unspoken rules. I can help someone with writing and how to track a bill, etc., but there are power dynamics here that need to be taught.”
- Cristina Antelo

“Pull people up. It’s important to mentor others and show your humanity in terms of acknowledging that you may have family challenges, past work challenges that you overcame, etc. If you're in a position to mentor, pull people up.”
- Marla Grossman

“Support others – when you are in a meeting and someone, usually a woman, brings up an idea that isn’t stated with great confidence or verbal commitment, many times a man will pick up that idea and take it as theirs. As females, we have all had that happen to us. We need to be alert to it and call out those with the original ideas rather than letting someone else take the credit.”
- Jocelyn Hong

Are you only looking out for yourself or helping

others to be heard, as well?

Show Them the Money

“Remember that those who bring in the revenues—the rainmakers—will always have more power and leverage to influence or dictate the type of work environment they want to be in. If you're the one bringing in the business, if you're the one with the clients, you will have more power. And so, as a younger professional, the earlier you realize that, and the sooner you go out to establish your own relationships, get your own clients, bring in the revenues, you will have more power. You don’t necessarily have to wait. Those who are within larger corporations or firms need to think about control and power because that’s what a lot of the dynamic is, regardless of who has the best ideas.”
- Marla Grossman

Stand Up, Speak Out

“I was in a client meeting with the CEO on one end of the table, and another consultant who has been in this business for a long time who disagreed with my strategy. I told him “Here’s why you are wrong. . . .” and his response was, “You know what, you're right. I agree with you. We should change the strategy.” And I was like, hey --- I just did it. And at that moment I felt like I crossed the Rubicon. There's a giant learning curve that takes several years. But the moment that you know that you've got command of it all, it's not walking the walk anymore. You just know that you’ve put all the work in and deserve to be there.”
- Cristina Antelo

You don’t get confidence by repeating “manifestations” while looking in the mirror. Just like the results you get from working out, it comes from doing the work, not talking about the work. Are you doing the work to give you the confidence to stand up and speak out?

“If the choice is between being “passive aggressive” and “aggressive aggressive,” I’m going to choose “aggressive aggressive”. I don’t believe in waiting around for someone to rescue me. Why should I wait around for someone to put a golden slipper on my foot for me to get in that carriage and go to the ball? I’m not waiting for a fairy godmother. I am the fairy godmother because I make things happen for people.”
- Jocelyn Hong

This brings up a superb point. Many professionals have a “how can someone help me?” mentality rather than thinking “How can I provide value to someone today?” What can you do today to provide value?

Coffee, Note Taking, and Delegation

“As a young professional I was being asked more than not if I would get people coffee because I initially started offering that before meetings just to be nice. I love to nurture people and take care of them. I had to stop it though, because it was an assumption that people made that I would serve everyone. And so I stopped offering it and I tell people to bring their own coffee!”
- Brianne Doura-Schawohl

“I am a note taker and a coffee getter because within five minutes of conversation, anyone with any sense will know who I am and what my role is. And after what I’m able to share with you about your issue, you’ll realize that that I’m more than the coffee hostess.”
- Jocelyn Hong

“I will make it a point specifically to ask men to do things that normally the women either volunteer to do or are asked to do. Maybe it’s not fair to them, but I’m thinking well, if I’m going to ask a woman why wouldn’t I ask a man? If everybody has got to do something, so I’ll have to say, “Young man, would you please add paper to the copier?”
- Cristina Antelo

“I do take notes. I have weaponized my notes as a tool of accountability. I’ve been in meetings where people are engaging in small talk prior to getting down to business and you can hear the chatter ---- how they are trying to one-up each other about their recent vacations to Paris, interactions with the President or the Speaker, introducing new legislation, etc. When it’s my meeting, and people – mainly men - are hijacking it to talk about their “I’m better than you stuff,” I don’t allow that to go unnoticed. I have learned that notes documenting everyone’s BS can become a weapon of power. It holds everyone accountable to do what they said they were going to do. So if someone says they are going to get a jogging date with the President, I will pin them down for a time, date, and a place and ask when the client should come to town. After I started using note taking for accountability, I became the feared woman with the notes. Men would say, “Watch what you say at her meetings. She’s going to put it in her notes somewhere!”
- Jocelyn Hong

Your Visual Vocabulary

“Members of Congress have power from their voters; they don’t have to worry about their appearance as much. But being a junior lobbyist isn’t the same as being a member of Congress. Just because Senator Kyrsten Sinema wears a jean jacket on the Senate floor doesn’t mean that a junior staff person can do that in a client meeting.
If you don’t take interest in presenting yourself professionally, if I’m a client, why do I believe you would take interest in representing me and putting your best foot forward for me if you can’t even do it for yourself? There are some people who are brilliant, they are the best writers, etc., but unfortunately that’s not the only thing they are judged on. You have got to be able to interact with people, and people are judging you whether you like it or not based off everything. You can say you wish it wasn’t that way, it’s not fair, etc. but it is human nature. I do believe that if someone can’t put together an outfit, they might not be able to organize their life.”
- Cristina Antelo

“Appearances do matter because you want to look like a professional. You don’t want to hire someone who looks like they are still in bed. It’s important to have a professional image because we’re in professional services.” I didn’t recognize several people on Zoom calls that I had known for many years. I was pretty appalled.
- Jocelyn Hong

“Every time you get dressed, you are asking for something.

What are you asking for in work settings?”

What Do You Know Now that You Wish You Knew Then?

“Trust your instincts. If you think someone is being creepy or inappropriate, trust your instincts. They probably are and go with your gut. That instinct is there for a reason. Trust it.”
– Marla Grossman

“Don’t be afraid to say no and set those boundaries. When I started my career I was a constant people pleaser because I felt it was the only way to propel my career forward. I just had to keep saying yes. And the best thing I learned to do was how to say no and to set those healthy boundaries. It was amazing the next steps my career took when I learned those lovely little words. So don’t be afraid.”
- Brianne Doura-Schawohl

“I wish I had known how to land a punch professionally because I think there are lots of ways to address things but sometimes you have to learn how to land the punch so that people aren’t walking all over you, but you also remain accessible. It’s a fine line.”
- Jocelyn Hong

“It’s important to work on soft skills as well as the policy skills. I’ve had conversations since I was 22 years old with my bosses about soft skills and the importance of continuing to develop them.”
- Cristina Antelo

Want to watch the full panel discussion? NILE members can find it in the members-only section of the NILE website.


Amy Showalter is a national authority on grassroots and PAC effectiveness. She is the author of “The Underdog Edge” (Morgan James) and “The Art and Science of the BFF: 105 Ways to Build Relationships on The Hill, at the State House, and in City Hall.” Her insights have been featured in over 1,000 media outlets. Amy’s clients include many of the nation’s most prominent organizations, including Pfizer, International Paper, the American Heart Association, Bayer, and the National Association of Realtors®. / Twitter: @amyshowalter

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