Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Champion For Equality & Women’s Rights
Q: Growing up, did you know you wanted to be a Politician?
Congresswoman Speier: I worked on my first political campaign when I was 16, and I was hooked from that moment on. I later interned in Congressman Leo Ryan’s office, and then returned to his office to work for him after I finished law school. It was after our fateful trip to Guyana, where Congressman Ryan was assassinated, and I was shot, that I decided to dedicate my life to public service. I distinctly remember laying on the air strip not knowing whether I’d survive. Fighting injustice and giving a voice to the voiceless has been the constant driver in my life.
Q: What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Congresswoman Speier: You must lead even when the wind is not at your back. You have to stick to it because nothing ever comes easy. We have to take opportunities to get something done in Congress. Look at our fight against sexual assault in the military; after years and years, we are still fighting it. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You can never stop pursuing what is right and you have to be willing to stick your neck out.
Q: What would you say is your greatest accomplishment thus far?
Congresswoman Speier: I have a rewarding career, but without a doubt the greatest accomplishment in my life was raising my two children. I firmly believe that there is no greater calling for us and nothing that can bring more joy and fulfillment.
Q: If you had the power, what one Government policy would you reverse?
Congresswoman Speier: Rather than reverse a policy, I would have the Equal Rights Amendment ratified once and for all so that women are officially recognized as having the same rights as men in our Constitution. Most Americans think discrimination against women is already prohibited in the Constitution; and when they find out that’s not the case, they support ratification of the ERA. As the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia poignantly said in a court opinion, “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It does not.” It is time for Congress to change that.
Q: What advice do you have for young women who want to pursue a career in politics?
Congresswoman Speier: My advice for any young woman, no matter what career she wants to pursue, is to follow your passion and go for it! Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Lack of confidence is one of the biggest factors holding women back. That’s why when I speak to students I always ask them to ask themselves, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” Their answers are always inspiring, and I tell them whatever it is they dream of doing, that’s exactly what they should strive to do. Fear of failure paralyses us, but it shouldn’t.
Q: What is one skill you believe that women should have to facilitate a successful career in politics?
Congresswoman Speier: You have to have fire in your belly, passion to right a wrong, empathy, and authenticity – voters will see through phonies.
Q: Which woman inspires you and why?
Congresswoman Speier: Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She is a fearless warrior who has tackled some of the most formidable court cases as an attorney and a jurist, all while fighting misogyny and chauvinism as a student and throughout her career. Her work has been critical to helping women in the fight for economic and social equality. For example, she battled sexual harassment in the workplace as a young law professor at Rutgers, after she learned how much less they were paying her compared with a male colleague with the same experience. It was the year the Equal Pay Act was passed. When she pointed out the disparity, the dean said, “Ruth, he has a wife and two children to support. You have a husband with a good paying job in New York." Ruth didn’t back down. She rallied the women on staff, and the university settled.
Q: Is there an interesting fact that most people wouldn’t know about you?
Congresswoman Speier: I took judo as a youngster and achieved a brown and white belt. I love to play gold and am terrible at it.