Angela Rye may be the world’s most meme-worthy political analyst. Scroll through social media on any given day, and you’re likely to run across a clip of the liberal lawyer and frequent CNN and NPR commentator bringing some humanity back to politics. Maybe it’ll be her crowd-pleasing “boy bye” to former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, or giving the world’s most skeptical eye-roll when a conservative commentator claimed that Trump does “great things” with his spare time. The secret to her appeal? In an age that prizes bluntness, Rye resonates with so many people because she’s not only bold—she’s factual.
Now Rye is reaching a fresh primetime audience with her four-episode news special on the Black Entertainment Network (BET), Angela Rye’s State of the Union. The BET series is particularly meaningful to Rye because it presents a chance to connect with audiences of color, she told Newsweek.
Working for racial and gender equality has been a central focus of her career: Rye is the principal and CEO of the political advocacy firm IMPACT, which aims to empower young professionals to pursue economic development and civic engagement. She also previously served as executive director and general counsel of the Congressional Black Caucus for the 112th Congress between 2011 and 2013. Rye says that while she didn’t set out to be an activist, she had no choice but to pursue that path when she realized the depth of America’s racial and socioeconomic injustices. “Activism cannot be an option when you have people who are still oppressed,” she said.
In an interview with Quartz, Rye explains why being right doesn’t matter, how human decency ought to replace partisanship, and the career importance of never burning bridges.
1. What’s your big idea that other people aren’t thinking about or wouldn’t agree with? Why is it so important?
Human decency over politics. We have seen a steady decline in compassionate leadership and human decency since y’all’s president was elected. I would like to see people lay partisanship aside and remember to be compassionate and kind to humankind.
2. What behavior or personality trait do you most attribute to your success?
Drive and persistence (a much nicer way of saying stubbornness). I do not take “no” for an answer. I fully embrace the concept of “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
3. If you could make one change to help women at work, what would it be?
The changes would be on a policy level: Equal pay for women, more women in the C-suite and on boards of directors, as well as more women serving as elected officials.
4. At the start of your career, what do you wish you had known? What, if anything, do you wish you had not believed?
That macro-level change can go really slow. On the latter, I am still working diligently to shed the idea that being right is important. (It’s just NOT!) Progress is far more important than being right.
5. When in your career did you feel most despondent, and what did you do to turn it around?
November 2016. I felt like the system failed me and America. I am working through media platforms to share the importance of holistic, long-term political engagement, so November 2016 never happens again.
6. A key part of success is building strong professional relationships. What practice do you use to cultivate them with your colleagues?
Working relationships are rooted in respect. I work diligently at my craft and as a result earn the respect of my peers. I also believe in mentoring—both providing and receiving it. Finally, I have worked on not burning bridges I will have to cross later.
7. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My dad says, “Don’t put anybody on pedestals because human beings will always disappoint you.” To me that means treat everyone the same—respectfully, with kindness, and dignity. (I do have a hard time doing that if I get lied to though!).
8. If there’s one thing men can do to improve women’s life at work, it would be…
Treat women like you’d like to be treated. PERIOD. Full stop.
I wish people would stop… asking me rhetorically, “Did you see what Donald Trump tweeted?” In fact, my real wish is that Twitter would suspend his account… I’m just glad he’s yet to get on the ‘gram.
Everyone should own… their purpose.
This interview is part of How We’ll Win, a project exploring the fight for gender equality at work. Read more interviews with industry-leading women here.