Ellen DeGeneres (and Hillary Clinton) Talk Breaking the Glass Ceiling

In the spirit of political sisters DeGeneres and Clinton, if breaking the glass ceiling and taking your place at the executive office conference room table is one of your goals right now, take note of these pointers from your politician sisters.
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Summer's over, but just like you got in shape to run a marathon, or hike that highest mountain, or swim across your favorite summer vacation lake, the race to break the glass ceiling (wherever you find it) also takes 24/7 commitment, discipline, training, making time, and changing course when necessary. But, like that marathon or hike or swim, it's well worth it.

So, in the spirit of political sisters DeGeneres and Clinton, if breaking the glass ceiling and taking your place at the executive office conference room table is one of your goals right now, take note of these pointers from your politician sisters:

No. 1: You gotta want it - bad - and be willing to out-work your competition.

Politicians may rest a little on the seventh day, but they rarely take the whole day off.

(I've written about DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz before, but what a great example she is of persistence and sailing through stormy weather.) The first woman to be elected chair of the Democratic National Committee, Wasserman Schultz is renowned for her work ethic.

When she first ran for the Florida State House, when she was just 25 years old, she recalls: "I got to work... making up in shoe leather what I lacked in financial resources. I knocked on 25,000 doors in that six-way Democratic primary, and won with 53% of the vote on the first ballot." While you might not agree with all her decisions, Wasserman Schultz continues to put that same level of determination and effort into her advocacy today. "I might not always convince you that I'm right, and I might not always win the day or be successful on everything I set out to accomplish, but I'm never going to lose because I got outworked."

No. 2: Sisterhood is powerful.

As a woman, you understand many of the issues that affect other women's lives, in business and society. Often, you can build on your experiences as a woman, a partner, sister, wife, or mother to build powerful connections and support among your work colleagues.

U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA.) was a citizen-lobbyist in Washington State when a legislator told her that she was just "a mom in tennis shoes." Instead of giving up, Murray made his intended insult her rallying cry and used her everywoman persona to build support, especially among other women. Running in her trademark tennis shoes, she has risen to become one of the most powerful U.S. Senators. So don't be shy about using your shared experiences to win with women - and for women.

No. 3: Male or female, there's only one way to win: Get the most votes.

Even if you have a strong network of female colleagues, you can't assume they will automatically support you, or that your friends will work on your behalf. Whether you're asking your colleagues to advocate for your promotion, or your boss to approve your new business idea, you can't take anything for granted. The only way to win is to do your homework, develop your strategy, and make the strongest possible case for your success - and keep on making that case until you've reached everyone you need and secured their support. You can't assume that your stellar reputation or your winning personality - or even your expertise - will carry you over the finish line. At the end of the day, the question is simple - have you made your case, done the math, and made sure that you have more supporters than the other girl?

No. 5: Be a team player

Early in her career as a (fervently pro-choice) Congresswoman, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky threw her support behind the Democratic nominee for Illinois Governor - an anti-choice man - and asked her voters to do the same. The candidate didn't win - but Schakowsky proved to her Democratic colleagues that she was a reliable team member. That experience helped to lift Schakowsky to national leadership in Congress, where she has been a staunch and effective proponent for comprehensive women's health.

It can be tough to support a colleague who disagrees with you on a fundamental principle -- or who simply may be an unpleasant person. But once you've made a commitment to be part of team, you can't expect the other girls to support you unless you support them, too. So be willing to close ranks when necessary to achieve your long-term goals.

No. 6: Keep on going - and don't be surprised by sudden turns in the road

Consider Hillary Clinton: When she was a little girl, she may have dreamed of moving into the White House as the nation's first woman President. But she almost certainly could not have imagined that her winding road to the White House would include stints as the First Lady of Arkansas - and as the First Lady of the United States - as well as service as a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, not to mention answering questions about her email! But at every unexpected turn, Hillary Clinton has proven herself able to shift gears and change course. Just check her out on the Ellen DeGeneres show the other day.

As any woman politician who has been left with smeary mascara on Election Night will tell you, these rules may not always assure success. But if you follow the example of our women political leaders, you'll have much better odds for breaking the glass ceiling. And if you fall short the first time, as these women would tell you, there's always another election just around the bend.

Adapted from Every Day is Election Day: A Woman's Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House, by Rebecca Sive, Chicago Review Press, 2013. "20 political books every woman should read," Cosmo, August, 2015.

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