Heard on the Hill

From a Bernie Woman to Hill Women: Don’t Get Locked Out

Symone Sanders has some advice for women on Capitol Hill

Symone Sanders, in red, speaks to members of the Women’s Congressional Staff Association in the Longworth House Office Building on Wednesday. (Courtesy Women’s Congressional Staff Association)

One of the millennials who embraced Sen. Bernie Sanders for president until the very end was his 26-year-old national press secretary, Symone Sanders.

“The way I related to Sen. Sanders was on the issues,” said Symone Sanders (no relation) of the 75-year-old Vermont independent. “I think we have to look at the issues and he’s a funny guy, he’s a nice person, he likes movies — I don’t know if folks know that, but he is a movie buff.”

Sanders, who graduated from Creighton University in 2013, grew on the national stage through the campaign and is now a political strategist and CNN political commentator.

When it comes to choosing whom to work for in Washington, “gender isn’t the only thing that makes us relatable,” she told Roll Call, after meeting with the Women’s Congressional Staff Association last Wednesday.

[Sanders Draws Battle Lines with Trump]

“While I do think it is attractive to work for a female member, I think it’s really important that … young women, specifically, go out and it’s OK for them to seek out to work for male offices,” she added. “We need to have open minds and my mind was very open to seeing where I aligned with Sen. Sanders.”

Her openness was evident at last week’s discussion, moderated by Elizabeth-Burton Jones, press secretary to Virginia GOP Rep. Scott Rigell, when she talked about her career path, work-life balance and breaking barriers.

“Sexism still plays a really big role,” Sanders said. “Women, we still have to walk a fine line of not being loudmouthed or angry but still coming across as assertive and a leader. Nine times out of 10 when people think you’re a loudmouth, they probably don’t like you, they don’t want you in the room, or they don’t want you at the table. And you’ve just been locked out of an opportunity. But ‘Bob’ has just as loud of a mouth as you have but he’s seen as assertive or as a leader.”

Sanders, left, and Elizabeth-Burton Jones, press secretary to Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell. (Courtesy of Women’s Congressional Staff Association)
Sanders, left, and Elizabeth-Burton Jones, press secretary to Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell. (Courtesy of Women’s Congressional Staff Association)

Sanders has maneuvered through Washington by her immense confidence in her abilities.

“I think a lot of times, young women on the Hill, especially those that are a little bit more shy, are very unsure about their thoughts,” she said. “Part of that is because we haven’t done our research.”

[Bernie Falling Out of the Sky? Campaign Says No]

Sanders said that to be assertive on the Hill, be knowledgeable.

“You might not be a confident person but you need to be damn sure about what it is your thing is. Whatever your thing is,” she said.

And, female staffers, she said, need to know their strengths.

“I am not only good at identifying the issue but I’ll give you a solution and that has really helped me,” she said. “Nowadays, I identify the solution a little more boldly than I have in the past. I’ll just say, ‘That is absolutely f---ing incorrect, but let me help you give an answer.’”

She added, “A  lot of people have messaging issues — organizations, companies, individuals, members. The way you become an asset is you solve people’s problems.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.