By now, it’s no secret that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is a rising star on America's political stage. Famously known for her defense of women’s rights and as a strong woman herself, millennial women could stand to learn a few things from her.
It has long been known that women must seemingly pick between having a career and having children. Or if you do pick both, you’ll be a Marissa Mayer type, working crazy hours up until the day you give birth, back to work two weeks after baby, and dutifully employing a full-time nanny. But in addition to having a successful marriage with husband Jonathan, a venture capitalist, and despite working full-time in the Senate, Gillibrand gets home from Capitol Hill in time to cook dinner and spend time with her two sons, Henry and Theo, bathing them and putting them to bed.
Gillibrand believes in this so much that after she was appointed to the Senate in January 2009 and assigned a gavel time of 5 p.m.-7 p.m., she asked the Senate leadership if she could switch with a senator without young children, so she could have that time with her family. Told no originally, Gillibrand persisted until the decision was reversed.
There's no need to recount that women get paid 77 cents to every dollar men make. But what you do need to know is how important it is to change that.
One of Gillibrand’s first acts in the Senate was helping pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The bill fights pay discrimination, allowing employees who have been paid less due to discriminatory practices more time to file their claims — whereas past law stipulated a 180-day limit for filing any claim.
Additionally, Gillibrand’s current project is working to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would allow those discriminated against because of their gender to receive compensatory damages. This would finally put discrimination based on gender on par with discrimination based on race and ethnicity. It also would allow for class-action lawsuits, remove current loopholes on how discrimination is determined, and require employers to provide pay statistics by race, sex, and ethnicity to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
That might be a no-brainer, but it’s possible to slough off issues pertaining to women, since in the scheme of things it's easy to think that American women are incredibly well-off. But as Sen. Gillibrand points out, in sheer numbers, women's rights deserve as much dedication and concentration as anything else.
"Sometimes people say, 'Well, why do you just focus on women's issues,'" she told NPR. "Well, why do you focus on issues that pertain to 52 percent of the population? It's pretty important. And women are such the untapped potential in this economy."
At this age, its easy for millennials to feel like everything is so immediately important. That problems must be solved instantaneously, and we must know the second after we graduate — no, before we graduate — who we are and what we are going to bring to this world. But Gillibrand’s methodology reflects the importance of patience, and the way of things to come.
Gillibrand actively began thinking about running for office while working as a lawyer in New York in 1991. But she networked, volunteered, and participated in local politics for 15 years until she finally ran for Congress in 2006.
According to her, the same thought process applies to America's future.
“It’s not about right now," she says. "It’s over the next decade, and how we’re going to build and really create a strong women’s movement.”
As a child, Gillibrand knew the importance of political action, helping her grandmother decorate cars with campaign bumper stickers.
Later, while working full time at law firm Davis Polk, Gillibrand joined the Women’s Leadership Forum, and later took leadership of it to further her civic voice.
Gillibrand believes so strongly in women’s power that in 2011, she founded Off the Sidelines, a political action committee that’s focused on cultivating women’s power in the world. While the organization acts like a traditional PAC in the way that it raised $1 million for women candidates, it also provides invaluable resources for young women. Among them are helping women register to vote, offering volunteer opportunities, facilitating a book group, and running a mentorship network where girls can be matched up with successful women in their field of study. Gillibrand knows that resources like this pave the way for a brighter America.
Gillibrand says, "Only when every woman and girl fulfills her God-given potential can America fulfill hers."