On January 15, Jane Danowitz arrived at DC EcoWomen’s monthly EcoHour in a geometric necklace hanging over a bright fuschia blazer – an outfit nearly as bright and colorful as her personality. Speaking to a captivated audience, she told the story of her life and her career – her youth as a feminist and an activist in a supremely patriarchal world, and her remarkable multi-sectored career path. Throughout the story, and in the question and answer session that followed, she left the crowd with many gems of wisdom.
Danowitz is currently the Director of the U.S. Public Lands Program at Pew Environment Group, but the path she took to get there was rather unusual, branching into politics, lobbying, the labor movement and women’s rights. Immediately after graduating college, she accepted a job as a typewriter for a moderate Republican Congressman before going on to law school. She then spent the next couple decades in many different field – she lobbied for First Lady Betty Ford, and then worked in the labor movement. She headed the Women’s Campaign Fund, for several years, where she helped women get leadership experience – her dream job. Finally, Danowitz worked with the Clinton Administration, and then the Land & Water Conservation Fund, which is how she finally wound up at the Pew Foundation 10 years ago.
Given her varied experiences, some call her the “one-woman-coalition,” and for good reason.
Her life story unsurprisingly left her with many good lessons, some of which she shared with the fellow women in the audience:
1. Don’t Rush Into Job Specialization Try out different industries, sectors, and skills. Look around, and don’t rush into any specific career. A broad array of skills is extremely helpful to pull from whenever needed.
2. Career Transitioning is Difficult (but Important) In a new environment, it’s important to hone your skills right away, and this will often take some gruntwork. Spend time learning the dynamics of the field, who gets ahead and who doesn’t. Danowitz suggested to “stand by the copy machine” to pick up valuable information from candidly-speaking colleagues.
3. Network and Keep your Contacts In a city like DC, you might be more likely to get a job because of who you know than what you do – so networking is essential. Keep in touch with your colleagues and acquaintances, and work to broaden your network. Make sure to treat your equals AND those below you with respect – you never know who’s going to rise quickly to the top.
4. Don’t Become Stagnant If you feel you’ve reached a wall in your career, take a small step back to think about how you could revamp and improve it. Spend time learning about other industries, talk to your networks. Don’t be afraid to say goodbye to a job – it is far better than working to the point of displeasure.
5. Have a Vision Work for a job you believe in. Leave at the end of each day feeling like you’re making a difference, at least in some small way.
Jane Danowitz grew up in a world that was even more discriminatory towards women than it is today. But it was clear why excelled – with her charisma and passion, she could hold her own in a room dominated by men. She could even do it in a bright blue blazer with red heels.
In fourth grade, Danowitz wanted to be President of the United States – and although that particular fantasy was never fulfilled, she will always keep that memory to remind herself that youth doesn’t see barriers. Likewise, every EcoWoman should never forget to dream and reach for the stars.