Startup America Partnership COO Kathleen Warner On "Leaning In"


"Although there were a lot more questions than answers about where I’d end up in six months, I had a lot more faith in myself and my abilities that weren’t going to be recognized and supported if I stayed." By Kathleen D. Warner (COO, Startup America Partnership)

I’d gone to law school intending to change the world, particularly for those whose voices aren’t well-represented. I landed at number of law firms, and then at an investment bank where I was comfortable, but where my passion for catalyzing social change was nurtured only during my free time.

Then 2008 happened, and in a matter of weeks, the bank (which in many ways I loved) was sold to another institution. Thousands of people were laid off, but I was lucky enough to quickly be offered a position with the acquirer. Or so I thought.

At the same time a friend, who was then running for Congress, called me – first to check in and see how he could help – and offered me a spot on his fundraising team.

My first reaction was no: I’d never done fundraising of any kind; I’d never worked on a political campaign except as an enthusiastic volunteer; the pay was awful; and whether he won or lost the election, I was out of a job in six months. Not great with a kid in college and a mortgage. It would be much easier and less risky to simply stay at the investment bank with a stable income. But to work on a top Congressional race? I wasn’t sure how I could just let that pass me by.

I first tried to hedge my bets: I set up a meeting with my soon-to-be boss, and told him about the opportunity. I proposed that I either take a leave of absence or work part-time while I also helped out on the campaign. He sat back in his chair, shook his head no and then told me, “if you leave to go do this, just remember, this job won’t be waiting for you when you’re done. Given how dismal the economy is, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to find another job easily.”

Well, that clinched it for me: Although there were a lot more questions than answers about where I’d end up in six months, I had a lot more faith in myself and my abilities that weren’t going to be recognized and supported if I stayed.

So I leaned in and never looked back. The race was one of the top three nationally and we won, beating a 22-year incumbent. After the election, I stayed on to start and run the Congressional District Offices, building a top-notch constituent services operation for an area that spanned both the wealthiest and poorest communities of the state. I left soon after the successful 2010 election for my current role, where I support and grow the growing national network of entrepreneurial communities across the country. I never would have been offered this opportunity had I not taken the leap back in 2008. For me, embracing change and opportunity was necessary for my personal growth. I learned that I should trust my gut and listen to my inner cheerleader, while discounting that inner, fearful critic.

This post was originally posted at Lean In's website. KathleenWarner_290About the guest blogger: Kathleen Warner is the Chief Operating Officer of the Startup America Partnership. She is responsible for business operations and management of resources. Kathleen also coordinates a number of strategic activities and initiatives, including the Startup America Women initiative, all focused on heightening engagement with, awareness of and support for high growth startups. Prior to joining the Startup America Partnership, Kathleen served as district director for a US Congressman. Follow her on Twitter at @kathleendwarner.

Women 2.0 readers: When you have "leaned in" to your career? Let us know in the comments below!