Advice from Hillary Rodham Clinton: “You Don't Have to Be Perfect. Most Men Never Think Like That."
By Cindi Leive
Hillary Rodham Clinton has been many things. You know the list: a lawyer, our First Lady, a senator, a presidential candidate, a pantsuit icon, a political lightning rod (remember health care in the 1990s?), the "most admired woman" in America (for the twelfth year running, according to Gallup), and, most recently, the most traveled secretary of state in American history, visiting 112 countries in that job and doing everything from fighting for human rights in Burma to facing criticism for the attack on the American compound in Benghazi, Libya.
But right now, without a government gig for the first time in over three decades, what she seems most like is a woman in between. Behind her is a high-octane book tour for her new memoir, Hard Choices (not without its speed bumps; her remark to ABC's Diane Sawyer that she and her family were "dead broke" when they left the White House provoked skepticism, and she later acknowledged she could have discussed the subject in a more "artful" way). Ahead of her is a choice about whether to run for president once again, after the 2008 race that won her 18 million votes, exponentially more than any female candidate before her. "Toward the end of the year, beginning of next year, I'll have to make a decision," the Secretary told Glamour. (On The Daily Show, she gamely filled out a career aptitude checklist to help her decide: "Do you like a home office?" Jon Stewart asked. Yes, she said, she did.)
In the meantime, though, she is focusing on an issue women of all political parties—people of all political parties—can and should get behind: the advancement of women and girls around the world. Nineteen years ago [in September], then First Lady Clinton delivered a 20-minute speech in Beijing that put the phrase "women's rights are human rights" on the map; [in September] at the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, she [launched] No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project, dedicated to collecting data on the state of women globally. "No Ceilings will effect change for millions of women and girls in the twenty-first century," Melinda Gates, cochair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, [told] Glamour. "I'm optimistic that it will [help address] these inequalities once and for all." [Glamour] interviewed Secretary Clinton about that—and about her career advice for women, because the book offers a detailed portrait of her work life: negotiating, networking, mentoring, and being mentored.
Here, excerpts from [Glamour's] interview, the complete version of which can be found in the September issue of Glamour, available on tablet now or on newsstands. Listen in for her advice on everything from networking to dealing with doubters. Whether or not you share her political views, she's a work coach with serious experience to share.
Cindi Leive: You've been on the book tour to end all book tours! One of the things that I found fascinating about your book was the amount of personal-relationship building that goes into diplomacy—the long walks, the teas, the personal conversations that then allow you to get things done. Do we underestimate that piece of diplomacy?
Hillary Rodham Clinton: I think we underestimate it even beyond diplomacy. I think that relationships are at the core of any political system and economic system—any family—and I think we drifted away from understanding that in our country. The people-to-people level is critical. It is ironic, though—we can text with anybody in the world, we can have a videoconference with anybody in the world, but [there should be] an even higher premium on showing up and getting to know someone. Looking them in the eye, listening to them, trying to understand where they're coming from.... When I became secretary of state, I felt one of my primary jobs was building relationships around the world. And I did spend a lot of time and effort thinking through, How do I connect with this person?...
CL: You've said many times that your own approach to sexism, when you encounter it, is to just smile and keep going. But it can get pretty vile—during the 2008 presidential campaign we all remember the use of the word bitch. How do you know when you should smile and when you really have to call somebody out?
HRC: There's no easy answer. I'll give you some guidelines. I have generally not responded if it's about me. And I have responded if it's about somebody else, because if women in general are being degraded, are being dismissed, then I can respond in a way that demonstrates I'm not taking it personally but I'm really serious about rejecting that kind of behavior. Now, sometimes when it is about me...you have to not just remain silent but try to figure out a proper response—again, though, not going to the place of anger and feeling sorry for yourself, because that kind of plays into the hands of the sexists.... It does take practice though, Cindi. This is not something that your average 25-year-old—well, let me talk about myself: me at 25—would have either fully grasped or been able to respond to. So I've got a lot of hard-earned lessons that I can fall back on.... Back when I was going to school, I remember being in a big conference hall at Harvard and taking the Law School Admission Test...and some of the men were just rattling us.
HRC: [Saying], "What are you doing here? You shouldn't be here." "You're taking a place of a man who could maybe get drafted and die in Vietnam." It was just really personal! Personal and pointed. So I was in that group who were kind of on the front lines of a lot of this change. I think we're in a much better place than we were, but we still have to stand up for ourselves, and stand up for each other. Women standing up for each other is critically important.
CL: You've talked a lot about the importance of young women running for office. I hear from many of our readers that they're not all that interested. They think it just looks like it's going to be incredibly difficult—a blood sport.
HRC: It is.
CL: You quote Theodore Roosevelt, who called it "the arena." That sounds like The Hunger Games! How do you persuade women this is something worth doing?
HRC: I start by saying there are many ways to be influential. I mean, you can work for politicians...or in government and make a difference.... And for young women who are interested in running for office, you just have to decide you're going to follow Eleanor Roosevelt's maxim about growing skin as thick as the hide of a rhinoceros, and you have to be incredibly well-prepared—better prepared [than a man], actually—and you have to figure out how you're going to present yourself, and you have to have a support group around you, because it can be really a brutal experience. But I think if you were to talk to women who have run, both successfully and unsuccessfully, nearly all of them would say, "You learn so much." You learn about yourself, what you're capable of doing.... And it doesn't have to all happen when you're young—I mean, one of the most powerful women in American politics is Nancy Pelosi. She had five children. She didn't go into politics until her youngest child was in high school.... That's one of the great things about being a woman in today's world: You have a much longer potential work life than our mothers or our grandmothers did.
CL: You joke about the attention paid to your hair, to your pantsuits, to every fashion choice. Is it ever valid to look at those things?
HRC: It is. I mean, clearly people should meet an acceptable threshold of appropriateness! [Laughs.] But I think that for many women in the public eye, it just seems that the burden is so heavy. We're doing a job that is not a celebrity job or an entertainment or fashion job.... In a professional setting, treat us as professionals.... [And] it takes a lot of time. I've often laughed with my male colleagues, like, "What did youdo? You took a shower, you combed your hair, you put your clothes on. I couldn't do that."
CL: If the next president, whoever he or she might be, is a Democrat, that person may face a Republican House and Senate. What do you think that president can actually hope to get done, given how little the parties seem to want to work together right now?
HRC: I don't in any way underestimate the difficulties, because it's only gotten harder. But I do think you just have to go into it with the attitude that you're going to speak clearly and authentically about what you see the country needs...and seek out whatever possible partners you can, even in the other party. I've looked at successful presidents going back. Some of our most successful governed through periods when their party was in charge, and when the other party was in charge. There's no magic formula.
CL: Esquire once said that your job as secretary of state was to "deal with difficult men."
HRC: There's truth to that!
CL: What advice do you have for our readers about how to deal with difficult men or women at work?
HRC: I will say, keeping your head down and doing the best job you can in the beginning gives you the opportunity to be evaluated on the basis of the contributions you are making. I often would listen more than talk in my early meetings with people.... [Then], when you feel strongly about your work or about a position, you'll be given more attention [than] if you hadn't done that constantly.
At the same time, you cannot be afraid to present yourself. And sometimes that takes practice. If you're not comfortable with public speaking—and nobody starts out comfortable, you have to learn how to be comfortable—practice. I cannot overstate the importance of practicing. Get some close friends or family members to help evaluate you, or somebody at work that you trust.
CL: Women know they need a mentor. I'm curious—how do you decide, in your own professional life, who you want to mentor?
HRC: I look for people who have raw intelligence and a great work ethic and loyalty, and I can quickly identify people who have the right ingredients. But sometimes it is more difficult to get them to accept the fact that they can take on increasing responsibility....Oftentimes individuals will decide how far [they] go by how much work they're willing to put in and how quick they are to ask for help. I consider that one of the great skills: Too many people...have this deep-seated fear that if they ask for help, they will be thought less of. In my [view], they'll be thought more of.
CL: I thought it was interesting in the book how many times you asked people for advice. You called [American diplomat] Richard Holbrooke, [former Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice—
HRC: I'm a big believer in that, because I don't think any of us have the answers to everything. There's no human being on earth who fits that category. So why wouldn't you ask for help? Why wouldn't you run ideas by people that you respect? Too many young people cast around trying to figure out what the answer is themselves, because they're afraid to come back and say, "I'm not sure I understood you," or "Could you give me a little more information about what you need?" Just do that. It saves you time, it saves your boss's or mentor's time. And it's a great lesson to learn.
CL: Do women feel that they have to be perfect from day one?
HRC: Yes! And that's a huge impediment that we impose upon ourselves. And I've seen it in so many talented young women who hold back because they're not sure that what they say will be smart enough. Or maybe they've said something in a prior meeting, and people acted like they hadn't said it, and that was crushing. Then we have all had the experience where 20 minutes later, a man says the same thing and everybody responds positively.... So don't take it personally. Take it seriously so that you understand it, and then try to devise techniques to overcome it. And I think this..."perfectionist gene" that too many young women have holds them back, and instead they should be really aiming for "good enough." You don't have to be perfect. Most men never think like that. They're just trying to figure out what's the opening and how they can seize it. They're not thinking about, Oh my gosh, I'm not perfect, my hair's not perfect today, I wore the wrong shoes. No.