Mining Her Own Voice

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During college, Jessica Grounds (EML’12) began volunteering with political campaigns and what started as an interest would eventually frame the path of her career. 

“I moved to D.C. from college, where I had worked on my first campaigns,” said Grounds. “I continued to work from D.C., but I switched to a political consulting firm. I advised campaigns and became involved with a bi-partisan political action committee that supported women under the age of 40 who were running for congress. That group started in 1999.”  

Grounds became entrenched in the notion of getting more women into political roles. One glaring factor was the lack of organizations focused on inspiring and training young women to run for officeGrounds, along with her compatriots, came together to create Running Start, a non-partisan organization that provides training for young women interested in running for public office. 

As she advocated for women in politics, Grounds saw similar struggles in the business world as she sought support from the private sector. 

“When you run a nonprofit you have to get funding from the private sector,” Grounds said. “The companies fund you because they have a foundation or philanthropic giving. I was seeing that companies were struggling to promote women into leadership positions as well as retaining women. If they didn’t have women in those leadership positions deciding where the philanthropic dollars went, it kept impacting money coming out of the private sector to fund these organizations I was helping to build.“

These challenges she faced with her organization inspired her to go back to school to develop the skills to find a solution.

“I was looking for a graduate program for a long time,” she said. “I come from a family where both my parents have multiple graduate degrees, and in my 20s I had looked into business programs but everything took me away from the day to day work that I loved and it wasn’t really the right fit in time.”

Grounds learned about the Georgetown McDonough Master’s in Leadership program from her future business partner, Kristin Haffert (EML’11). 

“Kristin said ‘I’m in this really great program at Georgetown’ and I was like, ‘Tell me more,’” Grounds said. “I was really intrigued by what she was sharing, so she actually introduced it to me before we were working together full time. I started to do my research about the program and it was almost like it was meant to be.”

Grounds was looking for a program that focused on managing, leading, and building effective organizations. At the time, the global dimension of the program piqued her interest as well. While she was one of the youngest members of her class, she truly appreciated the diverse backgrounds of her classmates. 

“That combination of very different styles, approaches, and considerations to leadership was really dynamic,” she said. “It led me to thinking about what good leadership looks like and what works. My classmates were from my age to their early 60s, so you had this experience of life. It shaped my understanding of how workplaces function effectively and has been very instrumental in the work I do today.”

After graduation, Grounds continued her work in the private sector for a few more years. Then in 2016, she and Haffert founded Mine The Gap, which helps to create and innovate women’s initiatives. It also works to communicate to companies why it matters to have more gender diversity on their boards by demonstrating the skills women bring to the boardroom and how they help make companies more effective. The organization builds programs and then helps to support and advise initiatives around women’s leadership and diversity, equity and inclusion strategies for companies and organizations. Grounds uses the leadership foundation that Georgtown McDonough gave her in her day-to-day work.

“When I pivoted to work in the private sector, my education at Georgetown really helped support my movement in pivoting the work I had already done in politics to the business world,” she said. “I currently advise companies on working on diversity issues, particularly around gender diversity, to build more effective workplaces. My training gave me language and a depth of research and background that really supported what I do today.” 

In addition to running a nonprofit, Grounds also is an adjunct professor at her other alma mater, Pepperdine University. Her area of expertise is women and politics. She also regularly shares her insights with other Hoyas through events like the 2021 Women’s Forum.

“I appreciate how much Georgetown has reached out and included me in so many different places and highlighted my work,” said Grounds. “I feel like they really appreciate me as an alumna. Also, the fact that you can just pull these amazing experts just from among Georgetown alumni to talk deeply about these challenges for women in the world is a testament to the broad range of experts that Georgetown helps support as graduate students.”

Grounds believes Georgetown enforced her principle of being a lifelong learner. It taught her that after graduation,  you continue to grow and learn as a leader. She also noted that the program emphasizes finding your own voice as a leader.

“The EML program was really great to say, there are these great ways of leading but you have to find your own way in that, your own authentic voice in leadership” said Grounds. “That’s really important for leaders as you step in, especially when you’re talking about underrepresented groups who have not had role modeling. We really have to lean into our own authenticity because it’s so hard to break through these barriers and do it. Sometimes we feel we’re doing it by ourselves because it’s very lonely to be a leader; sometimes you’re the only one and no one gets it. That was really importantly encouraged to recognize this basis of understanding, but also realize that everyone is going to find their own path.”