Linda Mitchell spent more than a decade in marketing at Microsoft, leaving to start her own company, The Funding Connection, where she works to help women candidates raise campaign funds. She’s actively involved in local politics, leading workshops and working on a number of campaigns. She is currently the President of the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington State, and in this interview, she shares her transition into the public sector and how she helps women in the political arena.
Q: How did you begin your career?
Linda: If by career you mean my 13 years at Microsoft, it was lucky circumstance. I had worked at a number of small office jobs and was working for a temp firm in the early 80s when they asked if I’d be interested in a placement at Microsoft in the Hardware Division. I knew where Microsoft was, I’d driven by it on 520, but had no idea what the company did. I was, however, a little put off by the prospect of working with hammers and nails! Imagine my surprise to begin a job supporting the division that manufactured and sold computer pointing devices, “mice,” keyboards, and memory boards.
Microsoft paid for me to attend college and I worked my way up through the ranks from administrative assistant to product manager, principally focused on marketing Office products to small businesses.
Q: What made you transition from a position at Microsoft to starting your own politically-fueled business?
Linda: I didn’t know what I wanted to do next when I left Microsoft. I spent a few years on the board and as the board chair of the Women’s Funding Alliance and explored options. I discovered politics when Real Networks CEO Rob Glaser (an ex-Microsoftee) invited me to a fundraiser for now-Senator Maria Cantwell. Not long after that, I discovered the National Women’s Political Caucus and fell in love with the mission of the organization—to get more feminist women elected and appointed to office in Washington, regardless of political affiliation.
About that time I went to work on the campaign of Congressman Jay Inslee where I learned the skill and art of political fundraising. Not long after that, I went out on my own working with women candidates to help them raise money for their campaigns.
Q: What tips can you offer women who want to enter the political arena?
Get involved in your community. Take on leadership roles and make a measurable difference in causes you care about. Build your network. Meet people, collect business cards, develop relationships (and a database).
Develop a thick skin. Women in particular need to overcome the tendency to take criticism, rejection, and loss very personally. When voters or donors say no, it’s not because you’re a bad person. It can be about your position on the issues, their interest level, or bad timing. Don’t let it bring you to a stop!
Learn how to raise money. Campaigns are expensive and candidates spend a lot of time asking people for money. Attend political fundraisers, learn how it’s done, help others raise money, and get over any fear or reluctance. Quite simply, if you can’t raise money you can’t win a campaign.
Just do it! Women often tell me that they’re not ready. They need to get a degree, they need to get a different kind of experience, they need to get their kid off to college… Sometimes it is true that you need to add some experience or develop some expertise, but usually it’s fear holding you back. What’s the worst that can happen? A good loss in politics sets you up for a win later.
Q: How do you feel women can best have their voices heard and needs met by local, county and statewide leaders?
Linda: The most effective way is to elect candidates who represent your interests. Read up on their positions or, better yet, ask them. Candidates running for local office are very accessible at many campaign events, candidate forums, and community house parties. Once elected, call, email or visit your elected officials. They all have office hours and most are quite accessible.
Join with other people or groups who share your interests and concerns. There is power in numbers!
Q: With your position, how do you navigate the social rules of ‘never talk politics, money or religion’ with friends and family?
Linda: I understand differences of opinion and have gotten better over the years at seeing both sides of an issue. However, I still get very frustrated that women are not more supportive of other women trying to get ahead and lead powerfully, in politics and other fields.
We’ve been taught through example that candidates and elected leaders are men and that they lead in traditionally masculine ways. To truly support women candidates I believe you have to suspend your pre-conceived ideas about what a “good” or viable candidate or elected official looks and sounds like. I find that women who support the goals of the NWPC are not always able to take that philosophy to the voting booth.
The Hillary Clinton campaign cost me a few relationships. I was very disappointed at the reaction to Hillary’s campaign from “feminists” who discredited or discounted Hillary on very suspect reasons.
Women still believe that there is a finite amount of success that they have access to, so if “she” gets it, there won’t be any left for me—when instead, we should be focused on making sure all women are successful.