Welcome to Mogul's interview with Kirsten Gillibrand, United States Senator for New York.
We thought: who better to feature on our women’s site than a wife, mother, daughter and friend who passionately advocates for women, workers, students, families and many more. Senator Gillibrand is focused on growing the economy, providing affordable health care, ending sexual assault and encouraging more women to run for office.
Why are these her issues of choice? How does the Senator balance work and family life and also make time for herself? What inspires her - and can inspiration even be found in these troubling times? What's next on the Senator's agenda? Learn the answers to these and more questions:
Here are Senator Gillibrand's #TakeAways:
Jessica Lipps (JL,) Interviewer: Where were you born?
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (SG,) Guest: I was born in Albany, NY.
JL: Growing up, did you aspire to be in politics?
SG: I did! My grandmother loved politics. She wanted to make a difference, organized women to get involved and inspired me as a young girl.
-When I was about 8 years old, I said that I wanted to be a Senator.
JL: But if I’m correct, you went to law school!
SG: I thought it was a good stepping stone. I knew that I could make a difference in people’s lives but felt that I needed to get an education to do it well.
-My mom was a lawyer and I liked how she navigated complex legal issues on behalf of others. She would help people buy a home or adopt a child. She loved helping people!
-I thought that if I went to law school, I could learn how to be a better advocate and, maybe through that, find my way to public service.
JL: After graduating, did you practice law?
SG: I did! I worked at a big firm in New York City. After two years, I clerked for a judge. Then I returned to the firm.
-I realized that I wasn’t achieving my dreams and decided to search for a job in public service. Because I didn’t have relevant experience, most of my applications were rejected.
-I attended a political event and the speaker was Andrew Cuomo, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He spoke about the importance of public service. Feeling frustrated, I approached him and said: “I don’t think that public service is something that one can easily do!” He of course challenged me and, long story short, I got a job as his special counsel.
-This set me on a path to make public service my life’s work and gave me the courage to run for office.
JL: On what issues are you currently focused and why are they important to you?
SG: As I’ve traveled around the state, the stories are all the same. People are suffering and insecure about the future.
-When I delve into what would make their lives better, it's two things: access to affordable health care and getting a job.
-I'm focused on universal coverage and ensuring that health care is a right - not a privilege - and affordable for everyone.
-I also want to grow the economy for everyone through education, job training, apprenticeships and using community colleges and state schools to fit jobs in the area. For many people, education is out of reach. Creating access and affordability and zeroing out student debt are important solutions.
-Legislatively, I’m focused on leveling the playing field once you’re in the workplace. I work on affordable day care, universal pre-K, equal pay and raising the minimum wage. We need a National Paid Leave plan so that when a family event happens - for example, if a spouse or child falls ill or a baby is born - there are sick or vacation days to allow you to meet the needs of your loved one. Everyone experiences these life events, so I’m working on a lot of structural changes.
-Another focus is on valuing one another. What makes this country great is that we’ve always cared about each other and lived by the golden rule: to treat each other the way that we want to be treated. But what makes this country exceptional is when you care about others more than yourself. I want to have a renewal of that spirit of what our democracy is supposed to mean. We should continue to work to help others and I have a lot of different legislation to do it.
-Regarding the space of valuing women, I’m focused on ending sexual violence in the military and on college campuses and on changing the rules for harassment in Congress.
JL: Why do you think that it’s taken so long to make change in this area?
SG: One reason is because we don’t have enough women in Congress. We only have 18% in the House of Representatives and 22 women in the U.S. Senate.
-Until we get to 1/3, we’re not at a tipping point. We really should be at 51% because that’s a reflection of our population.
-I work a lot trying to recruit and organize women to run for office. I started a Political Action Committee called “Off the Sidelines" to task women to participate, vote, become advocates and run.
-We have a record number of women running right now! Over 400 women are running for office.
-Emily’s List is currently working with more than 25,000 candidates. They’d normally be working with about 1,000. The growth is exponential! I see a lot of promise and opportunity in the future and am really optimistic.
JL: How do you think that things will change when more women are in office?
SG: I think that more issues will come to the forefront. Equal pay and National Paid Leave would have already passed and we’ll pass these sexual violence rules. Also, we wouldn’t be dominating the debate about whether women should have access to contraception.
-So things would be different. I hope to get there someday. I think that it’s exciting!
JL: How do you have time to balance work with a family life?
SG: It’s any working parent’s challenge. I have it easier than many working mothers because I can set the schedule for my office to work around my kids’ school events and be home to cook dinner.
-I can do that but most parents can’t. That’s why paid leave and making sure that people have sick and vacation days is so important, because you need a day off to go to the amazing recital that you want to see. Giving parents and family members more flexibility is one of the most urgent things that we must do to better the workplace.
-Personally, I get a lot of sleep.
SG: I go to bed early and watch less TV.
-I put my son to bed between 8:30pm and 9:00pm. I will be in bed and reading a book by 9:30pm so that I can go to sleep by 10:00pm. I really try to get 8 hours.
-I wake up at 6:00am and try to work out most days because that’s my private time. I love pilates, yoga and spin classes and sometimes get to play tennis and squash.
-I try to keep my health as good as possible with sleep and exercise and by eating well. The rest falls into place largely because I have flexibility, so it’s important for me to really work hard for the people who have no flexibility.
JL: What inspires you? What keeps you motivated, especially during these tough times?
SG: Right now, I’m inspired by the women and young people who are marching.
-During the Women’s March, it was amazing to witness so many people all over the globe marching on all issues.
-I love that these marches are intersectional and that your sign could say: Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ Equality, Women’s Reproductive Freedom, Clean Air Clean Water, Muslim Rights or Immigration Rights. It didn’t matter what you marched on - it just mattered that you marched! I was so excited and inspired that I was in tears!
-Most recently, my husband and I marched with our children to end gun violence.
-If they can keep marching, then I can keep marching. We are in this together to fight for our values and protect people.
-You’re either going to speak truth to power and demand what’s right out of your legislators or let the status quo continue. You’re either going to take on these institutional biases or you’re not. I like that so many Americans are saying: ‘We aren’t going to tolerate this any more!' It’s brilliant, powerful and exciting!
JL: It is all of these things. At the same time, sometimes the problems seem insurmountable and you wonder if you can make a difference. Do you think that we can make a difference?
SG: You absolutely can! Every person can make a difference.
-This era of activism is profoundly different from anything that I’ve ever seen.
-For people of this generation, it’s our time to be heard. I think that we're up to the task.
-Our current policies are divisive and hateful and our families, communities and the people that we care about are at risk. There is a moral call to each of us to fight hard, speak out and not give up.
-It might be your meme, tweet or the way that you tell your story that inspires a member of Congress and causes that person to change his/her mind.
-Your voice matters. You can use it however you want and in any way that makes you happy. But use it because we need it!
JL: What credo do you live by and what advice do you want to impart?
SG: We are all called on to make a difference. We are all given certain gifts to help others. Don’t bury your talents in the ground.
-If you spend your life helping others and not yourself, you will transform the world. There’s no better way to spend your time.
-When you know why you’re on this planet, your job to fight for others to make a difference is easy and you won’t give up or give in.
-I have a lot of gratitude and take this responsibility with humility.
JL: What’s next for you?
SG: I’m writing a children’s book called “Bold and Brave” about the history of suffrage, the women’s right to vote. It comes out on November 13 and tells the story of 10 suffragists and what they did to win our right to vote.
-For this project, I read many memoirs and biographies of suffragists. I learned about what their lives were like and what sacrifices they made. It was fascinating! I didn’t know enough about our female leaders.
-The lives of the women who came before us are so inspiring. They were brave, courageous and knew that their voices were important. I believe the same for each of us!
Find & Follow:
Facebook: @Kirsten Gillibrand
Instagram: @Kirsten Gillibrand