Opinion

Opinion: We All Have the Same Challenges

Female staffers should be judged by the results they produce

Barrett Karr, center, is chief of staff to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Also pictured, Kelly Dixon, director of legislative operations. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

I am often asked what it is like to be a female chief of staff. My answer is that it is probably not that much different from being a male chief of staff — we all have the same challenges. 

But the question reminds me that I am fortunate to have worked for Kay Granger, John Kline and now Kevin McCarthy.

These members of Congress simply want to see the work done in the best possible fashion, by the most qualified candidate, regardless of gender. It’s all about accountability and results.

A fundamental underpinning of my management philosophy is the belief that individuals should be judged by the results they produce. Coincidentally, that philosophy is part of what attracted me, and many of the women I work with every day, to the Republican Party.

From my early days in Washington, I always rejected the stereotype that female staffers should be assigned to so-called women’s issues, like human trafficking, health care and education. Those are important issues, and I have worked on all of them over the course of my career, but I also refused to be limited to those issues because I am a woman.

On the contrary, my experience growing up as the daughter of a working mother and now as a working mother myself is that women care about economic issues just as deeply as men. The female executives and owners of large and small businesses whom I have met with over the course of my career care about taxes, regulations and workforce development. Moms care about quality education, owning a home and managing a family budget.

Women now make up 36 percent of small-business owners. Just like the members of Congress I have had the privilege of serving, the marketplace judges businesses based on their results. Consumers don’t care whether a business is owned by a man or a woman. If you bring forward a product or service people want to buy, you will be successful. If you don’t, you won’t last long. Period. 

I learned this lesson, up close and personal, during my time in private equity.  When I joined Carlyle in 2013, they assigned me a mentor, Adena Friedman, the firm’s chief financial officer. Adena, now the president and CEO of Nasdaq, became a strong role model who taught me the value of accountability and results. Her advice when I got to Carlyle was, “Go figure it out, be accountable for your performance, and show results.”

When I returned to the Hill three years ago, I brought this focus on accountability and results to my work in public service. I also vowed to pay it forward through mentoring women.

With Leader McCarthy’s full support, our office is piloting a women’s leadership training program for female senior staff. The mission is to help promising female staffers attain the professional skill sets that will make them the very best hire as a chief of staff, staff director or any other leadership position in the House and Senate.

Since launching this program, we’ve hosted speakers who have addressed themes such as know your value, learn to love risk and embrace accountability.

The House of Representatives currently has almost 70 GOP women chiefs.  It’s an encouraging number, but given the size of our conference, it could be more. As a woman in a leadership position, I am personally committed to ensuring the next generation of female leaders on Capitol Hill have the resources and tools they need to deliver results at the next level. And I am enormously grateful for the leader’s support of this program. 

I am also encouraged that a record number of Republican women are running for House seats this year.  The candidates come from diverse backgrounds — a farmer, an actress, a veteran, a teacher and more.  They highlight different parts of the Republican Party, adding complexity and depth as a whole, while also reflecting the cares and concerns of their districts.

I want these candidates to know that when they are elected, there is a pool of talented staffers — both female and male — ready to help them produce real results for the people who sent them to Washington.

Barrett Karr is chief of staff to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

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