Kathryn Hamm '91: “If you’re part of the Princeton community, it’s not by accident”

April 12, 2024
Kathryn Hamm '91

Kathryn graduated from Princeton in 1991 with an A.B. in psychology and a certificate in women’s studies. She also holds an M.S.W. from the Catholic University of America. Kathryn is the Chief Operating Officer for The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, overseeing business operations, strategic partnerships, and sales development. She comes from an educational background; has worked for the women’s professional soccer league, the WUSA; and spent many years in the wedding industry, where she was known as a “LGBTQ Wedding Expert”.

This interview is part of the Career x Identity series, which provides students a look into alumni career trajectories with a focus on intersections of career and identity. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


What does your identity mean to you? 

Part of the nature of my engagement with the Center for Career Development is my identity as an educator. It means a lot to me to mentor and pay it forward. I’ve volunteered as a speaker during Princeton in Washington (PIW) over the years, and many of the students who come to my talks and want to hear about my career journey understand that it’s connected to my time in the wedding industry and supporting the advancement of marriage equality from a business and entrepreneurial standpoint. Additionally, GayWeddings.com, where I served as publisher, was a business that my straight mom started, so it has this family angle. What I’ve noticed over time is that the students who come are generally interested in policy, but they’re also interested in a wider range of business opportunity, creative thinking and are reflecting on their own identity. So, for me, that piece of being an educator and being connected to this experience of a Gen Xer and someone who came out in 1991 during my final semester at Princeton — which was a tough time to come out — means that I bring this unique experience through my professional journey.

Because I’ve had some practice speaking publicly about being part of the LGBTQ community and because I feel really connected to Princeton and the growth of young people, my identity in this regard is one where I feel like I’m willing to have the open conversations about it and to say “hey, I’m here and I’m a safe place to talk to about both your professional interests, but also about experiences such as coming out at work”. When I first started, I was an educator at independent schools, and I really wrestled a lot with whether or not I could come out as a school counselor. My latest phase is interesting because now I’m working with my wife running this family business, The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter. It takes work and intention, but we realize we have this really cool opportunity to bring this vision and leadership into the very male-dominated business of political analysis in Washington. To come in and lead as women and as a lesbian couple has been fun and I feel like we’re breaking new ground in what we’re doing in the world of campaign politics.

How have your identities impacted your career trajectory?

If anyone were to look at my resume or my Linkedin profile, they’d notice that I have a very unusual path. I’m a trained social worker, I’ve spent a lot of time in education, I’ve done sales and marketing and I’ve built an online business and supported professionals and couples around issues of marriages and weddings, which has an advocacy component to it. Now, I’m running this business in an environment that’s new to me. The throughline is that one, I’m an educator and two, it’s really important for me to be doing something that really matters to me. 

Something that I bring to all of that is a level of authenticity, for better or for worse. I just show up as myself, and that drive for authenticity and to do meaningful work has probably been the strongest throughline in my career journey. I’m most impactful when I’m coming from this place.

Part of my development has been learning to trust my instincts around conversations that aren’t happening in the mainstream, recognizing my power and privilege within that and trying to find a way to open doors and build bridges. When I first started in the wedding industry, I was trying to advocate for people to pay attention to the needs of same sex couples, and in having these conversations it became apparent that, additionally, there were so many other individuals of varying racial, ethnic, religious, class identities who didn’t necessarily have a voice at the table. So, making sure to expand opportunities for those professionals who held some of those identities and ensuring they know what’s available to them was important for me. 

My wife and I also became adoptive parents, and that has been a real learning journey and pushed us to consider our identities in relation to our child and people around us. I do my best to try to use my privilege to open doors or change conversations, so even when I’m not consciously aware of the identity work, there’s a way in which I see it coming up all the time — in my purpose as a parent, a business owner, a colleague, a friend and a volunteer.

If you were to give a current student advice on how to have the confidence to be your authentic self in the workplace where you’re facing challenges that are directly related to your identity, what advice would you give?

The first thing I would say is to take a look at the handbooks and interview people to understand what you’re getting into. There are some jobs where you’re going to have to do really hard work and figure out what you can learn from people around you, and this can be especially hard when you’re someone who is of non-dominant identity in a work environment. I think it’s essential to find a mentor or somebody who can reflect a positive mirror, someone you trust, someone who can be honest with you and support your growth. 

Second, coming to Princeton, you’re accustomed to fighting for it and pushing through, but there’s a point when you have to say, “let me evaluate what my goals are and where I want to be going.” When you look for your next opportunity, you know what your non-negotiables are. What’s the kind of community you’re looking for? What is the cultural ethos? Is this the kind of team environment that is well-suited for personal growth?

Also, every work situation is dynamic. I’d encourage students to think about how they fit within an organization and how that organization fits their values and goals. For most schools/organizations I worked with during my career, I ran through a simple binary evaluation of whether an organization is a “How can I help?” or a “It’s not my problem” organization. I know that, for me, it’s a recipe for disaster if I choose to stay at a “It’s not my problem” kind of place. This depends on the individual, but for me, I love building teams and having dynamic engagement. Some questions I’d suggest thinking about are what do you want, how do you like to work, how do you thrive and what do you look for in mentors and leadership.

What are some ways a student might be able to get a realistic idea of an organization's DE&I practices?

I find most people know in their gut what’s going to work and what isn’t. Sometimes, when you’re a young person and you don’t feel empowered, it’s really easy to dismiss your gut feeling and to not want to turn down opportunities about which we’re not entirely sure. 

Generally, for those of us with white or light skin privilege in this country, there is a deep level of operating without consciousness that takes daily work and effort to see it play out. If you are of a non-white identity and you are looking at a work community that is predominantly white, you have to ask yourself, “What hold does whiteness have here? How much awareness is there? How much ability for conversation is there? Who else is working alongside me?” If you have an identity that’s relatively hidden like having a physical disability, being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community or any other identity that isn’t easy to see, this can be more complicated. Some folks are not as vocal about their identities for preservation purposes, and that’s okay. There are so many scenarios, so you have to figure out the practical realities of the identities you hold. That means gauging your surroundings, where you are situated, taking a look at the work community and beyond, etcetera.

As students reflect on who they are and how that plays a role in their career exploration journey, is there any advice you’d like to offer?

One of the reasons I chose Princeton is the dynamism of campus. And still, as I meet people who attended Princeton, I can’t believe how dynamic, wonderful and interesting they are. So first, understand that if you’re part of this community, it’s not by accident. Understand that there is always support to be had, whether that is something within the structure of the university or reaching out to someone who might be outside of the traditional structure, but is part of the community, understands your perspective and may be able to help you with where you want to go. I have used our alumni network extensively, and I have never had the situation where the alum I reached out to didn’t respond — which is unbelievable considering how busy the people who exist in our community are.

Shifting gears, but something I find of equal importance: if a person is ever sacrificing too much of themselves and their innate talent and ability for somebody else, whether that’s an organization, a family member or a person at work, and it causes a disruption to learning and growing and bringing those talents forth, one needs to take a look at that and try to avoid those situations where that feels compromised. Right intention and right work leads you the rest of the way. When you’re attuned to what you're bringing and you are giving as much as you are asking for, in whatever shape that may be, there are great things ahead. If you can be aligned with bringing the very best of yourself and being a tree that’s able to bend in the windstorm, you will find your way through.