Issue #29: These women are on fire!


What a weekend! Several underrepresented voices were celebrated at the Academy Awards (including Olivia Colman, pictured above). But how are women lifting each other up in the nation’s capital? In the past few weeks, there has been so much worth featuring, including a story on how two women have risen up the ranks of D.C.’s fire department and one woman who recently became the first female singer in the nation’s oldest college a cappella group. Be sure to expect much more in a week from now before Women's History Month and the imminent International Women’s Day. For now, don’t forget to read this month’s advice column.


Is it OK to apply to a job that has a business relationship with your current workplace? There’s a job open right now at one of our communications vendors, and I really like the company (in large part due to how great I think their product is), and I really want to apply, but that’s gotta be a conflict of interest, right?

Actually, it’s mostly not! But before you switch tabs to shoot off that resume, I will say that, as usual, it depends.

If you want to maintain a positive, professional reputation in most fields you want to mostly avoid not just real conflicts of interest, but also perceived ones, since perception of others is pretty much the whole game when we’re talking reputation. So while we can get into the technical details of what does and does not constitute a conflict of interest, it’s more useful to talk about how it looks in practice: is it considered weird, or in bad taste, or questionable, or outright unethical to take a job with a vendor for your current organization?

That answer, in my experience, is not really!

Now, the details do matter. If you plan to join the vendor in a sales or account management capacity where you might have the opportunity to personally profit from your current organization being a client and you steered your organization to contract with this vendor in the first place, it’s worth considering how that might be perceived. You don’t want people to think you’re making decisions about how your current organization spends it’s money based on your personal interests in the success of a particular vendor.

But the weird, complex design of capitalism and how it interacts with the way we execute our missions actually makes it less weird to go work for a vendor. As a client, you have the opportunity to see the product in action in a real-world context, and it’s absolutely natural that you’d have opinions about the products, tools, systems, and platforms you interact with every day. Those systems matter; we’re all humans who deserve to accomplish our goals in the easiest, most intuitive, and most friction-free way possible, so we can focus on whatever it is we’re really trying to get done.

And from that perspective, it’s not only natural, but often desirable, for people to work for companies they’ve worked with as vendors before. People who understand and value products are often much more effective at marketing them, designing them, supporting them, generating ideas for new iterations or new products entirely, and yes, even selling them.

By way of real-world examples, I’ve worked in HR and operations in various contexts. I’ve evaluated several HR information management systems, candidate tracking systems for hiring, and internal communications platforms, and been responsible for contributing to and or making decisions on which tools the organization will purchase and use. I would have no problem working for a vendor should the right opportunity with a good company with a good product represent itself, and more importantly, I don’t think anyone would think it’s weird. After all, that’s how good products get made: they come from the needs of the people who use them every day.

I think if it were obvious I were pushing a specific company at every workplace regardless of fit, that would obviously be a problem, and you shouldn’t do that, of course. Different organizations have different needs from their tools, and I think most professionals are able to understand that and make those decisions responsibly. Be one of those people, and it’s much less likely that people will see conflicts of interests in how you operate.

So the main question to ask yourself is this: Thinking about your general network of influence in your field (taking into account the people you know at your job, the people you’ll know in your new job, and your friends or former colleagues or whoever else in and adjacent to your field), is there any reason that any of them would feel specifically negative about your taking this new job? Maybe due to specific professional relationships or because you really pushed for them to adopt this vendor? If so, it’s worth considering those relationships (and, depending on the situation, even just asking them straightforwardly what they think).

But even then, I don’t think you should default to an assumption that it’s a no-go. There are trade-offs for everything, and maybe you’d be willing to take a reputation hit because you really think you’d thrive at this particular vendor company, and that can be OK because nobody is looking out for your own interests other than you. It’s your decision to make. Just be thoughtful about it.

If you’ve got a work, job-search, or networking question for Kim, hit her up at or find her on Twitter: @ranavain

  • Two women rise through the male-dominated ranks of D.C.’s fire department. [The Washington Post]

  • Halcyon, a two-year-old, D.C.-based incubator, is raising its first fund. Kate Goodall, the CEO, has grown the organization’s offerings with the By The People arts and innovation festival and WE Capital, a consortium of leading businesswomen investing in women-led companies. [Washington Business Journal]

  • See how a women’s coworking space in Washington, D.C. became a flashpoint for debates over feminism, money, and power. [Vox]

  • Clothing can sometimes speak louder than words, as women lawmakers showed at the State of the Union. [The Huffington Post]

  • It took 109 years, but the nation’s oldest college a cappella group now has its first female singer—and she’s a D.C. native. [The Washington Post]

  • Learn about retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcelite Jordan Harris, who was laid to rest earlier this month at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, with full military funeral honors. [U.S. Air Force]
    This D.C. band started a record label to promote underrepresented artists. [DCist]

  • The “accidental bra fairy” has helped women for years. Now, she’s been affected by the shutdown. [The Washington Post]

  • From Accenture Federal Services' Sara Abiusi to Howard University's Tashni-Ann Dubroy to FedBiz IT Solutions' Nina Tiaga, learn about several local women who have now been awarded the Minority Business Leader Award. [Washington Business Journal]

  • February 25: At the George Washington University Museum, Cindy Gueli will discuss the captivating, surprising, and moving first-person stories she collected for her book, "Lipstick Brigade," which is about how women triumphed over the challenges of war.

  • March 1: Once again, Femme Fatale DC is hosting a pop-up, this time in Columbia Heights. The opening party will offer a live performance by Boomscat and a shopping experience with over 20 womyn-owned businesses.

  • March 5: Join D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser as she honors outstanding women of achievement in the District.

  • March 5: FINCA Impact Finance is hosting a panel on how women are disrupting the finance and technology industries.

Michelle Goldchain and Kim Stiens contributed to this newsletter.