“Take risks. Take chances. Look for opportunities. You’ll be surprised where that next job opportunity will come from,” said Bobbie Kilberg, president and CEO of the Northern Virginia Technology Council.
Kilberg sat down with Women of Washington hosts Aileen Black and Gigi Schumm to discuss her time working for various presidents and to share her advice for young women today.
“I would recommend to a young person to come in as an appointee, rather than coming in initially as the federal civil service,” she said.
Kilberg explained her reasoning. “If you come in as an appointee, you might find yourself with more freedom to take risks and change the status quo, because you don’t view this as a lifetime career,” she said.
Kilberg shared anecdotes from the three presidential administrations she has worked for: Nixon, Ford and George H.W. Bush. She talked about early struggles she faced in Washington during Nixon’s administration, and shared what made her successful as a young woman in that environment.
“You needed somebody who was your mentor, who would really stand up for you and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to fix this and I’m going to give you an equal shot. Once I give you a level playing field, you’re on your own. But I’m going to give you a level playing field,’” she said.
Kilberg left Nixon’s administration before Watergate, and worked in academia until President Ford called her to serve in his administration. She said that coming back to the White House had its own challenges.
“But, it was also a different time for me in that I now had a little boy. I all of a sudden was faced with how do you balance family and work? And Gerald Ford was fabulous on that, and he really felt very strongly that family was important.”
She went on to talk about one memorable experience from Ford’s White House, when she was called in to work on a Saturday, and when she could not find a sitter, Ford told her to bring her infant son. When her son started to fuss, Kilberg said, “Gerald Ford didn’t miss a beat. [My son] started to cry, and the President got up, put Jon’s binky in his mouth, and went on with the meeting. A White House is what the President makes of it. And [Ford’s] determination was to make it family friendly and to make it a place where people wanted to come to work.”
Kilberg also discussed her mentors during her career, including former President George H.W. Bush. One mentor she talked about was the woman who made her decide to go to law school, Patrica Connell Shakow, legislative counsel for former Sen. Ken Keating.
“One thing that Pat Connell said to me that always stuck in my mind was, she said, ‘You need to go to law school and stamp that ticket, and nobody will be able to consider you as unprofessional, because you’re a lawyer,'” Kilberg said of Connell.
Kilberg explained why Connell gave her this advice and why it always stayed with her.
“Back then in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, women coming out of the best schools in the country were declared to be secretaries,” she said. “You’d go up on the Hill, and their male classmates were becoming the legislative aides and the legislative directors, and [the women] were becoming the executive assistants, even if they had graduate degrees. But if you had a law degree, they could not do that to you. They had to treat you as a professional.”
Gigi Schumm welcomes Washington's most ambitious and influential female executives to share their secrets to success. Contact Gigi at firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe to Women of Washington’s audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.