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Donelle Harder is pursuing a master’s degree, volunteers on weekends and recently moved from a position in the House to the Senate. Her greatest source of pride, however, is not her own career, but her efforts to advance the careers of other women on the Hill.
Since she first worked in the office of Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas), Harder has been part of the Women’s Congressional Staff Association.
When she began working for Marchant, Harder was one of two female staffers. She soon became the only one.
That made clear to her the necessity of networking. Since being elected to the executive board of the WCSA, Harder attends events, manages the Twitter account and helps to organize the annual leadership conference, which pairs younger women with mentors.
“It’s been refreshing, with just how divided Congress is, to see that on a relational level you can still have friendships,” Harder said, adding that she has “created great friendships on both sides of the aisle.”
Now serving as press secretary for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Harder says she did not set out to pursue a career in politics, although she was high school student body president in her native Texas. “Politics found me,” she said.
She pursued a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Baylor University because she felt that journalism is “a way to serve the general public.”
Harder, who deals with the press on a daily basis, explained that journalists have “a great responsibility” when “going to a place other people can’t afford to go or don’t have the time to visit.”
She experienced that firsthand when she traveled to India during college to assist in a caste reconciliation project. She wrote a column for Baylor’s newspaper about her experiences.
“I got [blowback] for the column,” Harder remembered, “I got people saying I was lying about the caste system. It just further confirmed to me that the column needed to be written.”
After graduating, she moved briefly to New York City and then to a public relations firm in Annandale, Va., which worked with several elected officials.
The transition from that spot to Marchant’s office felt natural to Harder, who served as the Congressman’s first online communications adviser.
“I was skeptical of social media at first, but I have seen its incredible power,” Harder said.