Lobbyists raise their glass to mentor

Twice a year, some of the leading women in the lobbying industry gather around the dinner table to toast their successes and remember an old friend.

The exercise in professional solidarity began years ago and took on new meaning after a colleague, all-star lobbyist Laurie Sullivan, died from breast cancer in 2008.

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“We always end up telling stories and it’s a nice way to get together and really talk about someone who was really a mentor to all of us,” said Shannon Finley, a partner at Capitol Counsel. “We’re all women who [Sullivan] helped in our careers. She was incredibly supportive, and there’s not a decision that I made without talking to her.” 

Finley, along with Sullivan’s partners at Avenue Solutions, Tracy Spicer and Amy Tejral, meets for the annual dinner date with about nine other lobbyists, congressional staffers and consultants.

With reports showing only about one-third of registered lobbyists are women, established female lobbyists said having a support network has helped them find their way.

“One of the biggest challenges for women is their lack of confidence. And women need to get past that and realize that they have the skill sets to succeed,” said Elizabeth Frazee, founder of TwinLogic Strategies.

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Arshi Siddiqui, a former senior aide to Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi 

(Calif.), said she grew comfortable in a high-pressure work environment because long-time staffers placed confidence in her. 

“I was very lucky to have two mentors who helped me learn how to manage the stickier points of being a leadership staffer — a man and a woman, both institutions on the Hill,” said Siddiqui, who is now a partner at the K Street powerhouse Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which consistently ranks at the top of Washington firms.

“Having that guidance made all the difference,” she said.

While female lobbyists often have hurdles to overcome in Washington, being a minority can add another layer of difficulty.

Jocelyn Hong, a principal at the lobby shop Twenty First Century Group, recalled being one of the only Asian staffers when she went to work on Capitol Hill in 1992. “I might as well have worn a chicken suit,” she said.

Hong said mentors such as former Transportation and Commerce Secretary Norm Mineta and Francey Lim Youngberg, a deputy secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, helped her “to identify with being an Asian Pacific American.”

“I feel like I am a walking amalgam of everyone who has ever given me the time of day,” Hong said.

Many of the women who have “made it” on K Street have found ways to give back.

Melissa Lavinson is on the founding board of the Women’s Energy Network’s D.C. chapter, which affords women from all areas of Capitol Hill’s energy sector the opportunity to talk law, policy and parenting.

Frazee founded a group called Women Who Tech that holds events a few times a year to “give women an opportunity to ... do the things that the boys do on the golf course, but in an environment where they feel comfortable sharing common experiences and advice,” she told The Hill.

Michaela Sims, who founded Chamber Hill Strategies in 2012, directs a program with her law school alma mater, the Creighton Law School, that brings third-year law students to Washington for classes and government internships. 

“I feel very strongly that it is our responsibility and my responsibility to help those who need it,” Sims said. “It’s not that it can’t be done [without the assistance] — I did it. But it would have been a lot easier.”

Lauren Maddox, a principal at the Podesta Group, started a scholarship at the all-girls Catholic high school she attended in Milwaukee about 30 years ago.

The scholarship is named after a former government teacher, Mary Mross, whom she calls one of her first role models, and gives $1,500 to young girls who are interested in policy work. 

In the corporate world, Kathryn Karol, Caterpillar’s vice president for global government and corporate affairs, spearheads the company’s support for the United Nations’s Girl Up campaign.

“At Caterpillar, we’re stepping up to help girls and their education and to empower governments understand why it’s so important [for them] to become educated,” she said.

Read more from The Hill:

Women take power as lobbyists