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Q&A: Former White House Communications Director Shares Career Advice with Women at Hilton

Hilton strives to provide a great place to work where all women can thrive and meet their potential, in all roles and regions around the world. Kristin Campbell, Executive Vice President & General Counsel, spoke with Jennifer Palmieri, bestselling author and communications strategist, about women in the workplace during a recent fireside chat with Hilton’s Women Team Member Resource Group (WTMRG). Jennifer detailed her experiences serving as head of communications for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and as White House communications director under former President Barack Obama. Her book, “Dear Madam President — An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World,” is a New York Times #1 Bestseller.

Jennifer shared with Kristin, executive sponsor of the WTMRG, and fellow Team Members, her practical career advice. “People take their cue from you,” Jennifer said. “If you act like you belong in a room, people will think that you do.”

Q: What can Team Members who are early in their careers do to build confidence? 

Jennifer: It’s trite but true, when you say something, normally somebody else is thinking it — they just haven’t said it yet. But it’s incredibly empowering advice — people take their cue from you. If you act timid, they’re going to think that they can walk all over you, but if you have presence and believe in yourself, it really does change things. I watched other women do it and have confidence, particularly women of color who had to struggle way more than me to get where they were. I learned a lot from them, getting advice from them and just watching how they really did demand a lot of respect. 

Q: What advice would you give women who want to empower and mentor fellow Team Members?

Jennifer: Ask questions. This was something that I learned from President Obama. In meetings, if you don’t speak up, he makes a point of asking you what you think. Look at each face, and particularly if you get a nervous, blank stare back, there’s probably something on their mind they want to share. And that’s the most important thing that I’ve seen make a difference in what you get out of people and also having them feel empowered. Ask questions. 

Q: In your book, you encourage women leaders to “move forward, draw fire” and “nod less, cry more.” Can you share the philosophy behind this advice? How can it help women become more effective leaders? 

Jennifer: So “move forward, draw fire” was a joke among the secret service detail on the Clinton campaign, not with serious things, but with something like a scheduling battle. On a really bad day, someone pulled me aside and said: some days, you don’t move forward, you just draw fire. I tell this to a lot of women candidates: don’t expect to not get criticized. That doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. 

Nod less, cry more — when bad news is delivered, your colleagues all look to see how you’re going to handle it, but they really look at the women. “Is she tough enough? Can she handle this?” The thing is, I was tough and I could handle a lot of bad news, but I am also a very emotional person and I’m easily moved to tears. I don’t like to sob at work, but if something is important to me, or I’m talking about something important to me, I will well up. It would happen in the oval office, you talk about a lot of hard things, or on the campaign trail. I am strong and I cry. I am emotional.  So when I say cry more, I don’t mean people should sob at work, but you shouldn’t be scared to bring your emotions and passion into the workplace. I’m going to be professional, I’m not going to do things that are disruptive and a problem, but I’m not going to do things the way they’ve always been done. Sometimes we’re too on guard. Ask, “What is actually going to be productive here?” To get the best out of everyone, sometimes that’s bringing some emotion to the table. 

Q: What recommendations would you give our Team Members about defining their personal brands? 

Jennifer: You have to understand who you are at your core and be willing to reveal everything about yourself in order to communicate that. In politics, that means don’t do a poll to find out what people care about, tell us what you really care about. Understand your core and what it is that motivates you and then you have to be willing to reveal it.  But don’t base it on what you think other people want to hear because that’s not going to be defining of you and what you really believe in. You’ve got to be yourself. 

Q: What is the #1 item on your “bucket” list? 

Jennifer: I feel like I’m kind of living a bucket list life right now. That’s kind of my approach. I feel really lucky to have the chance to do that. I wanted to be a guest deejay on the Springsteen satellite radio station and I was able to do that. And I wanted to write a book, which I did and now I’m writing another. 

To read more about Diversity & Inclusion at Hilton, click here. To hear more from women at Hilton, click the links below:

  • Leadership Perspectives: Kristin Campbell, click here
  • Women at Hilton share the learnings that have shaped their careers, click here
  • Hilton’s Laura Fuentes shares how Hilton is empowering women, click here