by Jessica Shambora
Dana Perino is only 37 years old and already has the title "White House Press Secretary" on her resume.
But at age 25, after working on Capitol Hill for two and a half years, she was saying to herself, "I thought I'd be further along than this."
All around her, it seemed, men were leap-frogging into higher positions. She wasn't sure which path would help her advance her own career.
That early confusion and uncertainty makes Perino particularly sensitive to young women in the same predicament today. She is, not surprisingly, also someone whom ambitious young women look to for advice. They ask her what they should do: Go to grad school? Ask for a promotion? Stay in D.C. or work on a local campaign?
Perino, who is now chief issues counselor at PR giant Burson-Marsteller (WPPGY), was struggling to find the time to respond to multitudinous requests when she thought up a solution that she calls "Minute Mentoring." It's speed dating applied to mentoring. She coordinated the first event last Thursday in D.C. at the offices of Bracewell & Giuliani, with the help of Susan Molinari, the former New York Congresswoman who is a senior principal at the law firm. (Read yesterday's post about the Minute Mentoring event.).
Perino had lots of advice to dole out, some of it gathered within the corridors of the White House. Like the time her predecessor as press secretary, the late Tony Snow, told her that she would be briefing the press the following day. All she could think about was the challenge of replacing the man she calls "one of the greatest to ever grace the podium."
Snow told her, "You're better at this than you think you are." And it's a message Perino passes on to other women who doubt themselves. "It applies to everything in your life, not just your job. You're a better friend, sister, wife, mother, daughter than you think you are."
Perino, who was President Bush's spokesperson for close to two years until he left office last January, told the young women that she used to catch Condoleezza Rice for quick questions as the former Secretary of State made her way from the Oval Office to the Roosevelt Room. "Some of the most effective meetings you'll have will be in the hallway," she said.
Perino also had plenty of practical tips:
On self-enrichment: "Turn off the television and read. One hour of reality TV is fun; four hours is destructive. Enrich your brain. Reading makes you a better writer. A lot of men and women coming out of college today are not good writers and it's very frustrating."
On health and battling stress: "Find a healthy fitness activity and start incorporating it into your daily life." Each day before heading to the White House, Perino used to do one hour on the elliptical machine while reading the newspaper.
On taking risks: "Don't be afraid to move." Perino shared her own story of moving to England and San Diego before arriving back in D.C. at the job that led to her position at the White House. And she told the young women that if they wanted to run for Congress, they'd have to go back home. "You can't run for office in D.C."
What struck Perino the most about the inaugural Minute Mentoring event? The eagerness of well-known, accomplished women to be mentors, whatever their party affiliation. "For as partisan as this town is," she says, "when it comes to women helping other women, there is no partisanship."
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