“I created a job for myself based on the need I knew existed”
A large part of the reason I became invested in Spike was the prospect of increasing mentorship opportunities for women and creating a forum to share stories and experience. That’s why I’m excited to introduce our weekly “Bossy Ladies” column. Each week we will feature a different mentor who will share their experiences, give advice, and answer questions. You can ask specific questions for them in the comments section and they will post a follow-up piece mid-week.
This week we spoke with global gender equality adviser, Kristin Haffert, and got an insiders look on what it is like to work with international women, create the job you want, and switch careers.
How did you get involved in your work with international women?
I started my career as a community organizer and I worked on campaigns – mainly for women candidates. Getting women into politics is my passion! When women are in legislatures, they bring policy priorities to the forefront that benefit all of society and promote greater opportunities for women. Nearly two decades ago, it was women in Congress that lobbied for the National Institutes for Health (NIH) to conduct heart disease drug trials (heart disease is the leading killer among women) on both men AND women. While spending a few months in South Africa, I saw both the evident and untapped power of women that is similar throughout developing countries around the world. I imagined the issues women would raise in office if they were elected – in a country with rampant violence against women and cultural practices that would otherwise continue for decades. After seeing enough men dozing under trees, I quickly realized women were running the show – from behind the scenes. I knew I could parlay my political skills to support women aspiring to political office who needed a campaign plan or women new to politics looking for a roadmap on how to play with the boys. I looked for ways the skills and experiences I had gained in the US could be useful in an international context and looked for the organizations that focused on political development abroad. I didn’t look for a job that fit my skills…I created a job for myself based on the need I knew existed.
What advice would you give women on shifting their careers into a new domain?
Know your passion. Know what you’re good at (and not good at!). Be calculated about aligning your skills with your new field or industry and learn the new language you’ll need to sound like you fit right in. Be aggressive about educating your future employers about your relevant skills and experiences. The best job I ever had didn’t really invite me for an interview. They said, “Let us know when you’ll be in town and you can come in and meet with folks.” I was on a bus to DC the following week, and landed my dream job a week later. Never underestimate the importance of meeting in person!
I’d like to share a general piece of career advice with women. It is important to lift up others – especially women. In a man’s world, we can either help each other, or let our sisters down. I’m particularly aware of the needs of younger or less experienced women, and do my best to help them find their path. They don’t need to make the same mistakes I did. Help them get a step ahead and their success is your success. And if they do this for their mentees, who knows how far women can go?
Women can be wonderful supporters; they comprise all of my mentors who I credit for my career path and opportunities. But be aware, women are quite competitive — be prepared and be willing to call them out on their bad behavior. Competition is healthy; unhealthy and mean spirited competition is unacceptable.
Working with former US Secretary of State, Madeleine K. Albright I came to truly appreciate her most famous quote, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
Kristin Haffert is a principal at Haffert Global. Ms. Haffert has experience in more than 50 countries leading initiatives to promote gender equality. With Haffert Global, she has advised governments, corporations, non-profits and foundations, as well as delivered valuable training and strategic planning for the advancement of women.
Prior to establishing Haffert Global, Kristin successfully launched and directed the first department for global women’s programs at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI). From 2002-2009 she provided strategic advice to political leaders and country staff on promoting women’s leadership in legislatures, political parties and elections throughout the world. She has designed and delivered leadership training for women at the national and grassroots level; developed and implemented international development programs; initiated public-private partnerships for a range of causes.
Kristin has led get-out-the-vote initiatives for the Kerry and Obama Presidential campaigns and various bipartisan efforts. She has also managed successful campaigns for corporations such as AT&T and Sutter Health. She holds a Masters Degree in Leadership from the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.