Mary Jordan: What do you see as the biggest work issue for women today?
Sec. Hilda Solis: To me, it is still breaking through the glass ceiling. We have good people available, and we have networks that we need to tap into. It’s not like we have invent something. Women have to help women out. I want to underscore that because many times you hear about stories where other women don’t help each other.
Mary Jordan: How do you do that? Any kind of specifics about reaching out and helping people move up to the ranks and be welcomed.
Sec. Hilda Solis: I think that what I’ve learned from great women leaders [is that they are] very empowering, very much open and very much wanting to share. Women who feel secure about themselves can give support to other women.
Mary Jordan: How important is encouragement [for young people] whether it’s from parents or teachers or guidance counselors?
Sec. Hilda Solis: Absolutely important. I know, in fact, that I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing or working where I am now had it not been for someone very early in my life who challenged me. This was a high school counselor who was our career counselor there asked me, Mr. Sanchez, [he said] “Hilda, you’re going to prepare yourself for college. You’re going to get ready to go to college.” And I looked at him and I thought how could you say that? I don’t have the means to go there. I come from a blue-collar family. My parents don’t have money to send me to school. I wasn’t on the right track. In fact, I was on the other track - to be a secretary.
Another counselor actually told me that I was not college material and that I should lower my sights and stay as secretary. Thirty years later, I can say my title is Secretary of Labor.
Mary Jordan: We asked you what you wished you knew when you’re 17 that would have made this a little bit easier, your journey, and you said, “Keep striving, never lose heart. It’s not about how many times you get knocked down. It’s about how many times you get back up, and it’s what you do after you get back up and brush yourself off that really matters.” I just wonder if there was any specific time you could talk about when you did get knocked down and came back up.
Sec. Hilda Solis: Well, the one incident when I was in high school being told by someone that I wasn’t capable or ready to go to college. I mean, that just got Hilda angry and I said how can I turn this around? So I worked even harder. I worked harder to make sure that I could do well and that I could advance myself.
Mary Jordan: How do you deal when you make a mistake and it’s public? How do you internalize that and get up, like you said and move on?
Sec. Hilda Solis: Don’t let it stick – [let] things just slide off. It isn’t that easy for some us, and it isn’t easy for me either. But I think what you do is you try to learn from your mistakes, and then you try to avoid anything coming back that looks similar to that because you should have learned from it. I think for me, I like to use this analogy: be a sponge and soak up as much information as you can [and] wring out all the bad stuff that falls out. And then you’re going to be stronger because you’ll be ready to clean up and do whatever else you need to do. Then move on, and you’ll be lighter and you’ll be more agile.
Mary Jordan: Just as a parting kind of bit of advice for high school teenage kids who want to work at the White House or would like to be in the president’s cabinet someday, what do you say to them? What’s something important for them to remember?
Sec. Hilda Solis: Volunteer, get involved in your community. I really do mean that because that is something that, I mean, whether you’re applying for college or applying for a job, people want to know where do you put your priorities. Are you volunteering for a cause? Are you helping your neighborhood? Are you tutoring low income kids? What are you doing with that extra time that you have? I think that’s really important for young people in high school. And then attach yourself to other folks that you want to learn from, that you think you can learn something from.