3 career lessons for working women from Hillary Clinton (even if you're voting for someone else)

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Understatement of the election year: Hillary Clinton is a polarizing figure. For some, she's inspirational – potentially the first female president, a woman who can get things done, the most accomplished candidate in terms of raw political experience. People in this camp tend to say things like, "If the presidential race were a job interview, you'd have to hire her, no question." But, then, of course, there's the other perspective, which says that she's not trustworthy, that she's made bad decisions when it counted, and that she might have broken the law. People who agree with this point of view tend to say things like, "She should be indicted." Today, we're not here to talk about whether either of these takes are right. We're here to talk about Hillary Clinton, the leader, and what working women can learn from her – yes, even if they're voting for Bernie or Cruz or Kasich or Trump, or writing in "Wonder Woman" and calling it a day.

hillary in iowa

(Photo Credit: By Phil Roeder via Wikimedia Commons)

1. Impostor Syndrome Is a Waste of Time

"By exhibiting confidence and publicly extolling their own virtues, female politicians running for office break the rules of the game and subvert existing power structures," writes Christina Cauterucci at Slate. "As a politician, Clinton makes repeated asks for money and votes. Implied at the end of every ask is 'because I deserve it,' and often, 'more than that white man I'm running against.'"

In short, Cauterucci says, Clinton has "shed the impostor syndrome impulse to cower in self-doubt and toil away in obscurity while risk-taking, self-promoting men get all the credit." That might not make her a beloved candidate, but ask yourself this: Would a presidential candidate who was nice and accommodating be likely to get your vote?

Often, it seems that professional women are damned if they do, damned if they don't. Ask for what you want, and you'll be seen as too aggressive. Fail to ask for you want, and you almost certainly won't get it. In fact, PayScale's Salary Negotiation Guide shows that 75 percent of people who ask for a raise, get one. You might need to ask differently if you're a woman than you would if you're a man, but you still need to ask. Giving in to impostor syndrome won't advance the ball.

2. You Don't Need to Be Likeable to Win (Although It Sometimes Helps)

Even Hillary's staunchest supporters often refer to what's called her likeability problem. The question, of course, is whether it's a problem with her – or with the rest of us.

"Perhaps the problem is that we still find female ambition vaguely distasteful," writes Elizabeth Winkler at Quartz. "Intellectually, most Americans believe women are capable leaders; certainly, we know it's what we're supposed to believe. But emotionally, Americans still find the image of women in power hard to swallow, hence the higher bar for proving competence."

The problem stems from our old friend unconscious bias, those beliefs we hold without knowing we have them. It's totally possible to know in our heads that the president can be female or that women should be able to ask for a raise or promotion, etc., but when a woman runs for office or asks for more money, she's often perceived as aggressive, shrill, pushy – code words for "unfeminine."

What's the solution for women? Unfortunately, recognizing the current state of the world is probably required. Whether or not you, as an individual, choose to play along by, say, tying your salary request to a communal concern, as Margaret A. Neale has advised, or by relying on data to build your case, or some combination of both, is up to you.

The one thing you must not do is quit, and seek likeability above your own success. Do that, and you're more likely to be find yourself the office mom than the CEO.

3. Just Keep Going Forward

Most of us want to be liked, even if we don't want it more than, say, a promotion or the Oval Office. It's a normal human impulse. That's why it's impressive to see someone who apparently doesn't care – or at least, doesn't care enough to let it slow her down.

During the Iowa Town Hall, an audience member asked Clinton why younger voters don't have "the same enthusiasm" for her as they do for Sanders. (In other words, yes: he asked Clinton why, in her opinion, millennials don't like her.)

Clinton started with a typical political reply, referring to high school students who worked on her campaign in Oskaloosa – and then dropped some truth on the audience.

"You know look, I've been around a long time. People have thrown all kinds of things at me. And you know I can't keep up with it. I just keep going forward," she said. "They fall by the wayside. They come up with these outlandish things. They make these charges. I just keep going forward because there's nothing to it. They throw all this stuff at me and I'm still standing."

Maybe that's the best advice at all. In the end, a successful career is about persistence. As Mary Pickford once said, "This thing we call 'failure' is not the falling down, but the staying down."

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