Washington will swallow your soul if you let it. It’s a place where many moral compasses go to die. So maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Vice President of the United States is ridiculed when it’s reported that he’s spent his time in office choosing to live his life differently from the D.C. status quo.
Since a Washington Post profile of Karen Pence, the vice president’s wife, appeared last week, critics have obsessed over a single line, which reported that, as of 2002, the vice president doesn’t dine alone with women other than his wife. At the Atlantic, the New Yorker and other venues, writers have argued that Pence’s preference amounts to a discriminatory policy against women employees, leading to them being left out of important meetings that could boost their careers.
But it’s not true. And I would know: I’m a woman, and I worked for Pence while he served in Congress.
Pence’s personal decision to not dine alone with female staffers was never a hindrance to my ability to do my job well, and never kept me from reaping the rewards of my work. In fact, I excelled at my job because of the work environment created from the top down, and my personal determination to succeed. I engaged in senior staff meetings and strategy sessions side-by-side with the congressman and my colleagues, and I never felt sidelined because of my gender. My proposals and suggestions were always valued as equal with those of my male counterparts.
As time went on, I was able to prove that I could handle increased responsibilities, and so more responsibilities were provided to me. My gender never factored into how my work was evaluated, or whether my responsibilities were expanded. In fact, the congressman would sometimes send me to GOP leadership communication meetings to represent his voice — and more often than not, I was the only woman in the room. My work product determined my success — not private dinners with the congressman. When looking back on my time in the office of the man who is now vice president, I don’t consider it to be a period of missed opportunities.
The fact of the matter is, it’s not as though then-Congressman Pence was out having private dinners with male staffers and I was excluded. He wasn’t having private dinners much at all. He had children at home, so as often as possible, after voting and his daily duties, he’d race home to share a meal with the people that mattered most to him most: his family. Frankly, he modeled for male and female staffers alike that it was possible to serve in a public role with excellence while being wholly dedicated to his family.
This is by no means a partisan issue. Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, Independent, or couldn’t care less, if you choose to prioritize your marriage and esteem your family while faithfully carrying out public service, you should be praised. If the only woman you want to dine alone with is your spouse, you should be commended. With his choice about how to divide up his time, Pence made a strong statement about work-life balance, the importance of family time, and respect in the workplace: values we can all get behind.
There’s enough mudslinging to go around in Washington, so let’s hold ourselves to high standards and not critique someone based on his or her principles. We should demand integrity from our leaders and not criticize them when they choose to uphold it.