Just what do you do all day?

A few weeks ago, my mom told me about a conversation she had with one of her friends.  The friend asked, “Just what does Stefanie do for a living?”  Her response?  “I’m not exactly sure.” 

Thanks, Mom.

When I tell people I’m a lobbyist for an association, I find that I either have to explain what a lobbyist does, what an association is, or, God forbid, both.   After 10+ years of doing government relations for associations, there’s still confusion over what exactly I do on a daily basis whether I’m talking to my friends or my coworkers.

It’s best to start off with what I don’t do.  I don’t go to Capitol Hill with wads of cash to bribe Members of Congress.  I leave that to my unethical comrades.  I’m also not having daily three-hour, three martini lunches.  That would make me a very unproductive individual who belongs in rehab as opposed to the Rayburn House Office Building.  However, there is a very social aspect to this job that I’ll get into in a minute.

In my current job, I represent my association before Congress and the Administration on a number of issues related to mental health, psychological research and traditionally underrepresented populations.  It takes relationship building, strategic planning, community outreach, a bit of luck, a prayer or two and a lot of patience to accomplish my goals.  No two days are ever alike. One day, I may be giving an issue briefing to my association members.  The next, I’m running around the Hill meeting with staff.  It’s never a dull moment when 535 unique personalities stand between you and legislative success for your organization.

Socially, being a lobbyist sometimes requires a few late nights in DC.  Outside of the standard political fundraiser, some of the best intelligence gathering occurs during happy hour.  Yes, even when we’re decompressing from a long day at the office, we’re still talking about work.  If you enjoy a good reality show, stop by Johnny’s Half Shell after 6 pm on a Wednesday during a congressional session.  It’s sorta like Face the Nation meets speed dating.  As with any situation, moderation is key.  You don’t want to be featured in the gossip section of the Washington Post as the drunk lobbyist dancing on the bar.  Save that for the weekend.

Technology has become an integral part of the lobbyist’s arsenal.  Since we’re out of the office quite a bit, we rely on smartphones to connect to the office as needed.  Blackberry is still king of Capitol Hill, but it’s slowly being upstaged by the iPhone and various Android devices.  Thanks to sites like Facebook and Twitter, lobbyists can follow one congressional hearing while attending another. 

I love what I do.  Advocacy is a great way to bring positive change.  Sure, it has its moments of sheer frustration.  I wish political differences could be set aside in favor of genuine compromise.  I wish lawmakers would take legislating as seriously as they do fundraising.  However, this maddening, super-hyper, type A career is what I chose to do and this association advocacy chick wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Personal Reflections on 15 Years in Association Management – Guest Post by Shawn Boynes, CAE

I’m so thrilled and honored to present my first guest blogger of Association Advocacy Chick, Shawn Boynes, CAE.  In this post, he explores the lessons he’s learned during his  career as an association executive. 

Several months ago, my dear friend and colleague, Stefanie Reeves (or better known here as Association Advocacy Chick), asked me to be a guest blogger.  I didn’t think twice about it and gladly accepted the invitation.  Pressure on!

As I pondered what to write, I realized that I have somewhat of an interesting perspective to share and one that isn’t shared very often.  I hope to enlighten a few and maybe even open dialogue for many.

As I reflect on my experiences in this incredibly rewarding profession, surprisingly, not much has changed.  15 years ago, I was the first African-American man hired by the association I worked for at the time. It was shocking to me because D.C. has a strong population of educated African-Americans.  Surely I wasn’t one of a kind.  Well, fast forward; there’s still a lack of diversity in many organizations and as I’ve risen to senior level positions in other associations, I’m still just one of a few.  I no longer ask why but instead ask what can I do to help change it?

I’ve had many incredible opportunities and met people who inspired me along the way.  One thing that has stuck with me is a conversation I had with Velma Hart (2009 ASAE Chair) several years ago at ASAE’s Future Leaders Conference.  I shared my frustrations with her and asked her for guidance on how to deal with the pressures of being “the only one”.  She in essence told me to “show up” and be visible to represent for others like me.  Since then, I’ve become more engaged in ASAE; I became a DELP Scholar; and earned my CAE.  All have provided me with a platform to break into certain “circles” that wouldn’t have been options to me.  I took Velma’s words seriously and I’m showing up!

It is with clear intent that I hope to inspire other African-American male association executives to do the same – be visible and show up.  I also have a responsibility to reach back and pull others up and along with me.  I will be the trailblazer and pave the way for others instead of sitting back waiting for it to miraculously change.  Consider this my call to action –brothers let’s make it happen!

Black Like Me

Earlier this week, Kristin Clarke wrote a dynamic piece for ASAE’s Acronym blog entitled White Like Me.  Using the context of the midterm elections which resulted in no African-Americans in the Senate, she describes the continuing frustration of not having more African-Americans serving in association leadership positions.  If you haven’t read it, you can find it here.  As an African-American woman, I wanted to offer my perspective on this topic.

Let’s talk about the pipeline.  The typical career path for a lobbyist is moving up the food chain on Capitol Hill which usually leads to a high-level lobbying position downtown.  Sounds simple, right?  However, just as getting a lobbying job is a matter of “who you know”, so is getting a job on Capitol Hill.  Traditionally, those connections have served white males very well.  So, if you’re already lacking the “who you know” part, it makes it very difficult to get your foot in the door.

The same pipeline challenges exist in the association community.  While it’s not as difficult as getting a congressional position, in many instances, once a job is secured, the career ladder seems to disappear.  Don’t believe me?  Take a walk through your office one day.  Look at those in lower level positions and those who aren’t. I can almost guarantee that most of your lower level staffers are minorities who have held that same position for more than three years.

As association executives who’ve climbed the ladder, it’s our responsibility to reach back.  I can point to many instances in my own career where I was given a helping hand in the form of a reference, a lead on a job, or genuine advice on being the only woman of color in the room.  When was the last time you talked to your administrative assistant about his or her career path?  It’s time we have these conversations and provide professional development.  We didn’t reach our levels of success with degrees and credentials alone.  Mentoring is vital.

The pipeline remains one of the many reasons why we see so few minorities in leadership roles.  However, I leave you with two examples of associations who have made diversity in leadership a priority and have seen the fruits of their labor.  My former employer, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), is currently led by Executive Director Arlene Pietranton, CAE and recent ASAE fellow.  Two of ASHA’s Chief Staff Officers are African-American women, Vicki Deal-Williams and Lemmie McNeilly, CAE and a DELP Scholar.  ASHA’s current President is Tommie L. Robinson, an African-American man and one of several individuals of color who have held this position.

My current employer, the American Psychological Association (APA), is led by its CEO, Dr. Norman Anderson, an African-American man.  My department, the Public Interest Directorate, is led by Dr. Gwen Keita, an African-American woman.  The 2011 President will be Dr. Melba Vasquez, a Hispanic woman and APA’s first president of color.  Progress may be slow, but it’s definitely coming.

A little help from my friends

Having a blog presents a number of opportunities.  It gives me a chance to express my views as an association lobbyist who’s also a DELP scholar.  Soon, it will also be a vehicle to showcase the writings of some of my fellow scholars.  There’s tremendous talent within DELP and it’s only fair that I share it with the rest of the association community.  In the next few weeks, you’ll hear from two of them.

First off will be my fellow 2008-2009 DELP classmate Shawn Boynes, CAE.  Shawn is Senior Director of Education for APIC – Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology and received his CAE this past May.  He has blogged for ASAE’s Acronym and was one of the featured bloggers during ASAE10. 

Following Shawn will be Aaron Wolowiec, CMP, CAE, member of the 2009-2011 DELP class.  Aaron is Director of Education and Associate Partnerships for the Health Care Association of Michigan. He’s chair of ASAE’s Young Association Executive Committee, fellow YAPstar and has his own blog, aaronwolowiec.com.  

I’m looking forward to their posts and hope that you’ll find them interesting as well.