The bush is back
On any given night, staffers choose from receptions, fundraisers or happy hours scattered across ballrooms, reception halls or old committee rooms. Interestingly, there’s much more bipartisanship among this generation than among their bosses. ‘One of the biggest misconceptions is that Democrats and Republicans are always at war with each other, that none of us get along. That’s totally not true,’ says 28-year-old Amanda, a Republican staffer. ‘There are obviously people who don’t like each other, but the staff – we’re mostly friends.’ a recent former staffer, who estimates that as much as 80% of the with someone else on the Hill.
And even now, sexism remains a deeply entrenched reality. In May, a National Journal survey of 80 female staffers found that 89% of them had personally experienced sexism on the Hill. Guys visit the cafeteria to ‘check out the talent’, says Paul Thacker, a former Senate staffer who interviewed 100 current staffers for an Edmond J Safra Center for Ethics fellowship project on congressional experiences. ‘You walk into the Senate Hart building; that place has the most amazing collection of beautiful women on the Eastern Seaboard of the Americas. That is the place working on the Hill at age 31, a senator ogled her while she stood with her boss in an elevator. ‘It was really obnoxious. I thought, I’m being checked out by a senator while standing next to a senator. He looked up and down my body, cataloguing me,’ she says. ‘Afterward, my boss was like, “I’m really sorry.” He was a freshman, so he didn’t say, “Why are you doing that to my staffer?”’
Perhaps this persistent bias is predictable in a workplace where the Senate pool was males-only until 2008 because some senators preferred to swim naked. These attitudes make groups like the for women, who are outnumbered in senior positions. According to LegiStorm, a congressional research database, there are 2 032 male senior staffers and 1 356 females. ‘Being a woman on the Hill brings its own set of complications,’ says WCSA president Sara Lonardo, 32. ‘ Our members come to WCSA through friends, coworkers and our own outreach effort, particularly at the beginning of each new Congress. The rapid growth speaks to the desire among women to make connections with each other, both for the professional development opportunities and purely for friendship.’
Back in the Senate cafeteria, Lauren and Alana describe how inspired they continue to feel whenever they walk through the Capitol. Alana says, ‘If you walk through the dome and you’re not still in awe…’
‘It’s time to leave,’ Lauren interjects. ‘ People don’t really come here to make money,’ she continues. ‘I have friends from college who do a lot of similar things off the Hill. But what I love here is that I’m working for the person who’s going to make the decision, who’s going to vote yes or no.’ Alana nods. ‘It’s like if you’re on the Hill, you’re playing the game. If you’re off the Hill, you’re just on the sidelines going, “Coach, put me in!” And they’re like, “Nope.”’ Lauren grins. ‘I really love this job.’