Colleen J. Shogan, New Library of Congress NIO Deputy Director, Shares Her Experiences & Advice for Women in Politics

Colleen J. Shogan has been named the deputy director of National and International Outreach, (NIO), at the Library of Congress. Shogan, previously the deputy director of the Library’s Congressional Research Service (CRS) since August 2012, has been the acting deputy director of NIO since September 2015. Shogan joined the Library in 2008 as a section research manager in the Government and Finance Division in CRS and served as the assistant director of the division before being appointed the deputy director of the service in 2012. She is also an adjunct professor of Government at Georgetown University, where she teaches a graduate seminar on American Political Development, and a published author, with two books and many academic articles to her credit.

Get to know more about Colleen’s accomplishments, personal and professional experiences in the profession, hobbies and her fascinating perspective on women in politics:

“Women comprise approximately 20 percent of Congress these days. That’s quite an improvement from decades ago, but it is well short of gender parity or even comparable rates of participation in other developed democracies.” – Colleen J. Shogan, Deputy Director of National and International Outreach, (NIO)

You have accomplished a lot throughout your career: a Ph.D. graduate from Yale University, APSA award winner, former president of NCAPSA in 2013-2014 and now the Deputy Director of National & International Outreach at the Library of Congress. What advice would you give to young graduates in the discipline who are getting started in their career? What advice would you give young women in the field?

Colleen: A while ago, I drafted a list of suggestions I give to younger people who are starting their careers in Washington, D.C. Here they are:

  1. Treat other people with respect, as you’d like to be treated.
  2. Try to get to know something about the people you work with.  You don’t have to be friends, and in some cases, you shouldn’t be friends.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t know details about their likes, dislikes, hobbies, or family.  If you know someone on a personal level, it’s often much easier to work with them when the chips are down.
  3. Every day is a new day.  Don’t hold grudges.
  4. Find a mentor, preferably early in your career.  You need someone you can talk with who understands your goals and has walked the road ahead of you. No matter what stage you are in your career, it’s always wise to have a mentor.
  5. Take chances. Perhaps not every day, but you need to take calculated risks to advance.
  6. If you think you shouldn’t say something or write something in email, don’t do it.  Caution is always best.
  7. Don’t be afraid to switch focus. Simply because you’re on one track doesn’t mean you have to stay on it your whole life. Don’t be frozen by inertia. Make changes when problems outweigh advantages.
  8. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Choose your battles wisely. Err on the side of being a team player.
  9. Work is rarely simply nine to five. Learn how to deal with it. Sometimes, you need to work in the evenings or the weekend to get creative.
  10. Don’t get intimidated by failure. Everyone fails. If the goal is still important to you, find a way to achieve it. Many important accomplishments require more than one attempt.

These suggestions are applicable to both men and women. However, for women, I would say that you can’t take things personally. When I first became a senior level manager at the Library of Congress, I worried about every decision I made and scrutinized each comment I received. Then I watched my male colleagues. They didn’t internalize criticism or sharp remarks. I took a page from their playbook, and it made me a better manager and leader. Also, I see it time and time again. Women simply do not speak up in meetings or make their preferences or expertise known. No one is going to hold your hand at higher levels of academia or government service. Women need to speak up to show that they can lead.

Alongside Jennifer Manning and Ida Brudnick, you conducted research in a report entitled “Women in Congress: Historical Overview, Tabless and Discussions” last year through the Congressional Research Service. Based on the findings in this report and your overall experiences within your career, what are your thoughts on the inclusivity of women in politics and taking on political leadership roles?

Colleen: Women comprise approximately 20 percent of Congress these days. That’s quite an improvement from decades ago, but it is well short of gender parity or even comparable rates of participation in other developed democracies. However, there are pockets where the influence of increased numbers of women has had a real effect. For example, look at the women on the Senate Armed Services Committee these days. They’ve successfully brought the issue of sexual assault in the military to the foreground. They did that because they cannot be ignored; there is a sufficient number of them on the committee and they banded together to raise the issue. It’s a work in progress, like all other battles for inclusivity. If Hillary Clinton is elected in 2016, it will be fascinating to discern how her presidency will affect perceptions of women in public life, perhaps inspiring other women to follow in her footsteps.

What do you remember about being an APSA Congressional Fellow? Could you talk about what that experience was like and how it impacted you?

Colleen: The APSA Congressional fellowship changed my life and my career. I had a terrific job teaching American politics at George Mason University. I applied for the fellowship so I could merge the academic and practitioner perspective in my future classes. I had a tremendous experience during my fellowship year in the Senate. My boss offered me a job at the conclusion of the year, and I had to make a monumental decision. It was definitely a risk, but I was confident I could make a good career working for Congress. That decision has taken my professional development in directions I would have never imagined, and I thank the APSA Congressional fellowship every day for the opportunity.

You also write mystery novels! When in your career did you start writing mystery novels and how do you make time for it?

Colleen: A few years ago, I took a walk in my suburban Washington, D.C. neighborhood and conceived of the plot of my first novel, Stabbing in the Senate. I’ve read mysteries for years, but never thought too much about writing one. When I arrived at home, I jotted down the basic storyline. Soon thereafter, I simply sat down and started writing. I haven’t stopped since that day! Fiction is a great outlet, especially for those of us who have focused on tight, analytical writing for years. It enables the creative side of your brain and actually improves your writing overall. It took a while to learn about the fiction market and how to sell and publish a book in the mystery genre, but I’m glad I stuck with it.

As far as finding time to write, I follow the advice of Jim Lehrer, who also writes novels. How does he find time to write?  His answer is “Butt in seat.” In other words, sit down and write. No excuses. Even if I only write for thirty minutes, it’s progress.

My second book, Homicide in the House, is coming out in June. As long as people keep reading my stories, I’ll keep writing them. I like to think of them as realistic stories about working in our nation’s capital – except for all the murders!