Spotlight: Empowering Girls to Dream Big with Valerie Jarrett

On Wednesday, Dana Kirk had the opportunity to sit down with Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President to talk about Valerie’s commitment to empowering young girls to dream big. Dana serves as the Senior Entertaining Partnerships Executive at Tumblr.  

If you think about who has the ear of the President, most people think of Valerie Jarrett. From the passage of the Affordable Care Act to criminal justice reform, Valerie has been one of the driving forces for change in this administration. As Senior Advisor to the President, her role encompasses everything from overseeing the White House Offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs to chairing the White House Council on Women and Girls. On the heels of the round table with feminist voices of the media industry held at Tumblr HQ, Valerie talked with Tumblr Executive Dana Kirk about her hopes for what the state of women will look like in the future.

Dana: Thank you so much first of all for being here. It’s such an inspiration and so empowering to meet you.

Valerie: That’s how I feel about you! That was an incredible room.

Dana: As a woman and as a woman of color, it is really such an honor.

Valerie: Thank you.

Dana: So, first question. So many young women tuned in and attended the United State of Women summit. Your career path is obviously inspiring and quite frankly, a little bit intimidating! As young women with voices who are passionate about certain issues, how do you begin to make change and can you offer any advice for those who are looking to get on that path?

Valerie: Well, The United State of Women is a great platform to connect with. And there’s something for everyone; if you care about women and girls, whether it’s domestically or internationally. Find out what your passion is and just start working. And do bite size pieces, don’t try to solve everything at one time; try to make incremental change. Good is better, as what we often say, so, start where you like.

Dana: I think that’s a great point because so many people are so passionate about so many different issues, they don’t know which one to tackle first.

Valerie: Just pick one and start. I say that to women in terms of giving them career advice as well. We have so many choices today, it’s almost paralyzing. Just begin, and then you’ll find that one opportunity leads to another.

Dana: From the box office to the Olympics, it seems that women are breaking barriers everywhere. But, in so many examples from Leslie Jones to Gabby Douglas, misogyny is still a very real thing. Especially with social media, it’s even kind of maximized or amplified. How do we continue to make strides despite this kind of backlash? And does the backlash really mean that we are making strides?

Valerie: You know, there are people who are entrenched in the status quo and don’t want to see us make progress. We cannot let those voices win out, so we have the power of our own voices, we have the power to use social media, we have the power to highlight positive role models who are women who are breaking barriers all around our country and all around the world. We just can’t give up. We have to be relentless and we have to provide positive reinforcement for what we know is working and what we know is lifting women up.

I often say “you can’t be what you can’t see,” so if women can see those positive role models, whether it be Justice Sotomayor, or whether it’s the First Lady of the United States, or it’s Ursula Burns at Xerox, then they begin to say “I can be there too.” And we have to develop really difficult skills because you’re right, there is going to be backlash,  and we can’t let that take away our calm or take away our agency.

Dana: That’s such a good point. Now, When you look back at the last eight years of hard work and progress working with the White House, is there a specific policy or law you are most proud of? And how do you feel like that change fits into the legacy that you would like to leave in Washington?

Valerie: I think the President’s biggest accomplishment is the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Knowing now that every family in our country has access to affordable health care is transformative. Not only are we going to be healthier as a result of it, and be able to have preventative services, our children will be able to stay on their parent’s health care until they’re 26. No longer can insurance companies discriminate against people who have pre-existing conditions.

So, we are going to be healthier, but it will also be good for our economy. We’re going to begin to realize what the federal government has already realized, which is that it saves us money to have the Affordable Care Act in place. Just think about people who have illnesses that are going to be treated early as opposed to waiting until later, which can potentially be fatal.

So, all of that I think is what really makes me so proud of the affordable care act. We’ve done a lot – the economy has bounced back; we’ve made enormous, unprecedented progress in that area. I think that ten, twenty, fifty years from now, people will remember that the President created the Affordable Care Act.

Dana: That’s right, I love that. Lastly, what do you want the state of women to look like? Five years, ten years, whatever the timeframe is, from an eventual standpoint, what do you want the state of women to look like?

Valerie: My goal is for every young girl to be able to achieve her dreams and for her dreams to be big. For her dreams not to be narrow, fitting into some kind of stereotype of what she should be, but for them to be infinitely large. That we have a society where the ability for her to achieve her dreams is something that is commonplace, and that there is no surprise when a woman is an astronaut, or the President of the United States, or running a corporation, or whatever it may be.

Is there someone you would want to see featured in a future spotlight? Tweet us @USWomen2016!