Working at The White House: Meet the Women of the FLOTUS Office Part 2

We’re excited to share Part 2 of our FLOTUS staff series, highlighting the amazing women who serve on the First Lady’s team at the White House. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Part 1, which features a message from Michelle Obama herself, in addition to profiles on the four women responsible for events on the White House’s social calendar.

Today, we talk with the Chief of Staff Office—Sriramya Gainedi and Maggie Morrow. As special assistants to the Chief of Staff of the First Lady, Sriramya and Maggie are the primary liaisons to the FLOTUS office and effectively communicate the First Lady’s priorities and schedule throughout the building, which requires them to be multi-tasking experts. Both women interned at the White House prior to their current roles, and they credit networking and persistence as key factors in landing their jobs.

Here, Sriramya and Maggie discuss how they deal with self-doubt in a high-profile environment and where they see themselves professionally five years from now.

Name: Sriramya Gainedi

Age: 24
Location: Washington, D.C., USA
Current title: Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff to the First Lady
Education: University of Wisconsin

Tell me a little bit about your current position. What does an average day look like for you? What are your main responsibilities?
Every day brings a new adventure! I think the most “average” part of my day is how fast paced it can be, but no two days are ever the same. With my boss’ two hats, both as chief of staff to the First Lady and executive director of the Council on Women and Girls, I see my role as part strategist, part manager, and a whole lot navigator. I am in a constant game of Tetris with schedules but also act as liaison to the office to make sure priorities are communicated throughout the entire building. I have to adapt to anything that is thrown at me, often quickly and with little notice. But the fast-paced nature and unpredictability of the job is what makes it exciting and fun!

“I have been very lucky to have a lot of amazing people invest in me and my career, but it was also my dedication and drive that allowed new opportunities to present themselves.” – Sriramya Gainedi

What role would you say your educational background has played in getting you to where you are today? Is there anything specific you attribute your success to at this point in your career? 
My education played an enormous role in my career. When I first entered college, I was set on becoming a doctor and majored in political science because of my peripheral interests, never actually planning to pursue it further. It was not until a political science course my sophomore year that I realized I wanted my career to revolve around political discourse. While I was allowing the classroom to teach me theory, I knew I had to supplement the learning with practical experience, so I often volunteered and had internships. Being able to balance both school and a professional life taught me skills like time management that I use every day in my current job.

You’ve made your way through the White House as an intern of the Department of Commerce, the State Department and now back to the White House as special assistant to the chief of staff. Tell us about each transition and how each new opportunity came about.
Each opportunity after the White House Internship came to me through word of mouth. I have been very lucky to have a lot of amazing people invest in me and my career, but it was also my dedication and drive that allowed new opportunities to present themselves. Whether it was a former mentor asking me to join her team at the Department of Commerce, a mutual friend suggesting me to the ambassador at the State Department, or an old supervisor recommending me for my current role, the common thread was their ability to see my passion as well as their trust that I would get the job done.

You had the incredible opportunity to work on international women and girls issues in the Trafficking in Persons Office at the Department of State. What was it like to work on such a pivotal and emotional issue? What did your daily responsibilities look like in that role, and how did it shape your next career move?
Of course the topic is very emotional, but remembering the impact we were making kept everyone moving forward. When I agreed to come on board, I knew I was interested in human rights, but I had not done much coursework or professional work in the area of human trafficking. I was extremely lucky to work with such passionate people who truly care about the topic and taught me how human trafficking permeates so many societies and cultures. Working in such a niche area prompted me to think about marginalized communities elsewhere. I knew leaving the State Department I wanted to make the same type of impact but in other areas that affect women and girls, both internationally and domestically.

Have you had to overcome any self-doubt working in such a high profile position, especially at such a young age and so early in your career?
Yes, of course! It is not lost on me that I am working in an incredibly formative place, not only for the nation but for me as an individual. I am surrounded by people whose careers I’ve admired, and sometimes, it can be overwhelming to find your voice. When there are moments of self-doubt, I often try to remind myself of the reasons I am here and what I have to contribute to the team. I also remind myself that having moments of uncertainty only helps further shape me because everything is a learning experience.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I see myself hopefully graduating law school and starting a career in human rights law, focusing on war crimes and water rights, and having an impact on women and girls. But if the last three years have taught me anything, it’s that there are always going to be surprises thrown at you, and the true test is your ability to adapt and veer off the path you originally planned to get the most out of experiences. If I hadn’t taken a chance on any of the opportunities presented to me, even though it was not what I pictured myself doing, I would not be where I am.

 

Name: Maggie Morrow

Age: 22
Location: Washington, D.C., USA
Current title: Staff Assistant to the Office of the First Lady
Education: Tufts University

You started your career at the White House as an intern in 2014, but you were originally wait-listed after several rounds into the process. How did you handle that initial disappointment and what was your next move? 
I was obviously very disappointed because I’d gotten my hopes up with each round of interviews, but I’m also not one to sit around and be bummed waiting for something to happen. I gave myself 30 minutes between when I found out to when my next class started to feel sad about it, and then I made new plans for the summer, including a catering job, a different internship, and a research assistant position at my university. I was genuinely excited about spending the summer at college with some of my best friends, but then I received the email with my acceptance. I was so ecstatic that I picked up and moved across the country over the weekend. Thankfully, all of the people who helped me make my other plans were very understanding when I told them I’d gotten the White House internship and would be moving to D.C.

“I remember that I was hired by people who know what it takes to be good at this job, and that being cautious and scared won’t make me better at it…” – Maggie Morrow

Though you assumed your time at the White House had come to an end at the conclusion of your internship, you were cold called on your last day of college to interview for your first position as deputy associate director of correspondence. Landing a job without the opportunity to prepare for your interview is no small feat! How did you handle the opportunity and think on your feet? What do you think made you stand out during your internship to land you a permanent position?
Well first of all, I was so thrilled. Like most seniors, I had spent the last few weeks of college frantically finishing my finals, experiencing a series of lasts, and was truly anxious about what would come next. When I got the call, I was completely shocked to be interviewing for my dream job just days before graduation. The stakes were obviously very high, so I was very nervous, but luckily, I also felt qualified, and for each question they asked I had a concrete answer. It added to my confidence to know that those interviewing had called for a reason. The fact that they had chosen to call me meant they felt I could do this job very well.

As far as what made me stand out as intern, now that I’m an intern supervisor in the office, I think it was that I was diligent and paid careful attention to each task I was given from rewriting an office manual to picking out an ice cream cake…but that’s a different story.

If you could offer any advice to the next person stepping into your position, what would it be?
Be the kind of person who sees a problem and tries to find a solution. Every day in this job something comes up that I’ve never done before. I think that’s a time when my stubbornness and independence are actually helpful. Whether it’s finding a place to hold an important meeting when the whole complex seems booked or figuring out how to unjam an uncooperative copier, I don’t like to say that I can’t do something assigned to me, so thinking creatively to find solutions is a daily necessity.

Have you had to overcome any self-doubt working in such a high profile position, especially at such a young age and so early in your career?
Yes, every day, but then I remember that I was hired by people who know what it takes to be good at this job, and that being cautious and scared won’t make me better at it or be helpful to anyone. So, I try to let that stress and worry go and take my day one task at a time. Most days it works.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
For the first time in my life, I don’t have a specific plan of what I want to do next. Of course I have goals and dreams for my future, but this job has exposed me to so many career paths and lifestyles that I didn’t even know were possible. Also, because so many of the things that lead me to this job now were so unexpected, I want to make sure that I don’t plan so hard that there is no room for exciting and unplanned opportunities. For now, I’m trying to learn as much as possible from all of the people around me about what kind of person I want to be and what I want to be doing in 5 years.

Read Part 1 here and stay tuned for Part 3 of the series, going live tomorrow on The Everygirl!