Jessica Federer

President & COO, Medicalert International Foundation

In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman”?

A “Power Woman” is both indomitable and gracious. She is impossible to subdue or defeat, and her resilience is characterized by goodwill, benevolence, and kindness. These are the same qualities that make a “Power Man.”

With all the different issues one could focus on, how do you balance your efforts in pursuit of gender equality? Is it a global approach or a specific issue that you are passionate about?

Education. If you’re want the best return on investment, you can’t get much better for society than education. If you look closely, you can see that passion for education threading through everything I do. At the MedicAlert Foundation, we are saving lives by sharing information, and that takes a large community education effort with families and first responders. It’s also why I’m so excited to be working with a visionary tech founder and to be a part of an effort to transform how society learns with a new startup, Lyearn. And, it’s the reason that I’m on the m-Powering Development advisory board for the United Nations ITU. Education is a key that opens the doors to innovation, to collaboration, to understanding–to equality.

If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?

Over 70 nations have had a female leader, and shamefully, the U.S. is not yet included in that list. So, on behalf of all the women and girls that have been waiting to see a female President, I would be pleased to accept the job for a day.

Why do you think women's reproductive rights are under attack? Globally it seems women's health and security are under such attack; from religion, to cultural attitudes, to lax government protection, women are more vulnerable than ever. What policies would you propose that he US government pursue (or change) to alter this.

The best way to represent the rights of women is by having women in leadership, in both elected and appointed positions. We need more women in office.

Are you involved in politics at the local or national level? No Why or why not?

Absolutely. While the current state of political affairs leaves much to be desired in terms of collaboration, policies are how our society works. I am proud to be part of the m-Powering Development Initiative Advisory Board, providing strategic guidance to the leadership of the UN’s ITU (Telecommunication Development Bureau). We are focusing on using #ICT4SDG–that means using internet and communications tech to help countries reach the sustainable development goals that were adopted by the Member States at the United Nations in 2015 in New York City.

I think the top action we can take as a society is to improve education. This is one of the UN’s sustainable development goals: ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Schools today are woefully underfunded and unprepared to deliver a new generation of innovators and integrators. We owe it to our citizens to provide students young and old with a better opportunity to understand the world around them, and the necessary skills to create meaningful value in their environments.

What issues in the workplace contribute most to the gender pay gap: accessibility? unconscious biast (including questions about previous salary requirements)? economic? reproductive? or some other nefarious reason. Why do you think these are still challenges we face?

Pragmatically, I’d rather stop speculating about the reasons the system is broken and just get it fixed. Every employee and employer has a responsibility to eliminate the gender pay gap. Let’s do it already.

Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block in the work place and what you did about it?

Absolutely. During one of my positions I led a team that was entirely homogenous. There was a glaring lack of diversity, and that was impacting our ability to innovate and succeed. So, I sought out diversity of backgrounds, age, experience, and nationality and brought them into the team. The result was spectacular. If you’re encountering a block in the workplace, sometimes it’s because you don’t have the right perspective to create a solution.

Do you think that asking previous salary requirements in job interviews contributes to the pay gap between women and men? NY State recently outlawed this practice. Should we push for a nationwide ban?

Having lived and worked in other countries, I’ve found that some employers ask a wide range of questions that I find either irrelevant or inappropriate. I politely decline to answer. If the employer is genuinely interested in having you on the team, they will respect your views.

Have you seen any changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? If so, what are they?

There haven’t been nearly enough. I’m disappointed in the progress we’ve made. It’s a sad reflection of our world that we can innovate to develop self-driving cars, but we can’t manage to improve public health infrastructure so young girls around the world get the same opportunities as their brothers.

Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?

When I was 16, I got a job teaching CPR and First Aid classes for the American Red Cross. I would carry Rescue Annie mannequins around the city to schools, churches, and offices to teach people how to help one another. I loved the fact that in a few hours, I could teach a room full of people how to respond in an emergency, how to react when someone is choking or stops breathing, how to save a life. That experience paved the way for my studies in public health, and my work at both Bayer and the MedicAlert International Foundation.

Do you believe that open access to porn (including violent video games, social media etc.) contributes to gender inequality and violence against women?

I believe in treating others the way you want to be treated. Every human deserves to be treated with respect. And behaviors that are disrespectful to any group of individuals are detrimental to our health as a society.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

You can’t control anything in life except how you chose to respond, and that’s the only thing that really matters.

There are many studies that support the idea that a female presence in the board room increases the bottom line and leads to healthier work environments. What can we do to continue to support and enhance the growth and presence of women in high profile positions.

Let’s be bold. Just do it. We should have gender parity on our boards. Germany put in a quota for 30% a while back, and yes, it was controversial. But, now the boards are 30% female.

What can we do today? Every person can make their voice heard. Companies listen to their customers. Name and shame companies lacking gender parity. Vote with your dollars to support companies that are setting a good example.

Whom do you most admire? Why?

My husband. He’s the most inspiring person I’ve ever met. He was born in Gaziantep, Turkey, and through hard work and determination, he came to the USA, learned English, became a citizen, started his own businesses, and is now a successful entrepreneur in one of the greatest cities in the world. He’s an amazing human. It took a while for our paths to cross, but every day, I am grateful that we found each other.

What is your favorite book (fiction or non-fiction)?

Viktor Frankl, A man’s search for meaning.

What is your favorite place on earth? Why?

My favorite place on earth is home in NYC. It’s the best.

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