Valerie Young is a Fairygodboss indeed. After becoming “acutely aware how differently I was treated in public when wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase versus carrying my baby with a diaper bag over my shoulder,” she resolved to figure out why this bias exists — and how to address it. She’s attended policy briefings in the US Congress and think tanks in Washington, DC, and she’s worked at a women’s advocacy nonprofit to fight for caregivers and women’s equality. We love her wise words about raising your hand and unleashing your ambition.
Fairygodboss of the Week: Valerie Young
FGB: Tell us a little about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
VY: I practiced law for 6 years before my first child was born. During my maternity leave, I became acutely aware how differently I was treated in public when wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase versus carrying my baby with a diaper bag over my shoulder. After reading Ann Crittenden's "The Price of Motherhood" I knew why.
Our culture and our public policies demean family care and the women (and some men) who provide it. I immersed myself in research about the economic costs family caregivers bear and began to attend policy briefings in the US Congress and offered by the numerous think tanks in Washington DC, where I live. In a few months I was hired by a women's advocacy nonprofit, and found fighting for caregivers and women's equality to be intensely rewarding and intellectually stimulating. I've been working in that field for 12 years now, and I love it.
FGB: What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
VY: I've educated women with children about how they are adversely impacted by public and private institutions, and how policy changes are absolutely necessary to both value care and put women on a level playing field. Because of me, some women have met with their own members of Congress and urged them to act on paid family leave, earned sick days, affordable child care, and other issues. Helping other women develop their confidence to become political activists and insist on their own rights is the most important and meaningful thing I've ever done - in addition to raising my own two children!
FGB: What is a challenge that you’ve faced and overcome?
VY: I used to get terrible stage fright before a conference appearance or speaking in public. Now that I'm an expert on the economics of care and women's status, I know the key is to concentrate totally on the substance of what I'm saying and block out everything else. No more stage fright!
I've delivered lectures to grad students and high schoolers, hosted webinars, had full and frank discussions with Congressional staff, offered powerpoint presentations, and been interviewed on the radio. If there's a podium and a microphone, you'll have to hold me back! What I have to say is important. Encouraging others is about them, not about me.
FGB: Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? Why?
VY: Oh, gee, so many women have taught me, made me bold, and shown me what good my talent can be put to. I stand on the shoulders of giants! I have been so fortunate. Because I can't list them all, I will list the first: Ann Crittenden. She graciously replied to my first email and I stayed in touch until she involved me with her work at the National Association of Mothers' Center (now Mom-mentum). She took me seriously and started me on the path of public policy and women's advocacy. Meeting her changed my life.
FGB: What do you do when you’re not working?
VY: Read, mother (it's really a verb, you know), travel, work out, and write letters — letters!! — to my far-flung friends. And now I'm looking for a job — so I write cover letters and send out job applications and network like crazy. I also just wrote an article for Slate.
FGB: If you could have dinner with one famous person - dead or alive - who would it be?
VY: Tom Hiddleston, the British actor. I adore him.
FGB: What is your karaoke song?
VY: "Like A Prayer" by Madonna — we all sing it at the top of our lungs in exercise class. Hysterical.
FGB: What is your favorite movie?
VY: Anything with Helen Mirren because she's such a badass.
FGB: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?
VY: “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” —Oscar Wilde
FGB: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
VY: BOOKS books books books books. And then more books. And then, more book SHELVES, because mine are full to bursting!!
FGB: What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
VY: Nobody gains when you hold yourself back. Go ahead and raise your hand, open your mouth, unleash your ambition, and don't apologize and accept responsibility for things that aren't your fault!
FGB: Why do you love the work that you do?
VY: Because empowering women is the single most effective way to improve everything in the world. Raising women's status decreases poverty, income inequality, violence, and social injustice. It promotes better leadership, expands the economy, increases the standard of living and makes it possible for more people to realize their potential. And I've got the data to prove it.
Note: Valerie Young is looking for a job involving gender equity and women's empowerment globally or in the US. If you know of any leads, email us ([email protected]), and we’ll connect you with her!
Fairygodboss is all about women helping other women. So each week, we celebrate a woman who makes a difference in other women’s careers. Is there a woman who has made a difference in your career? Celebrate and thank her by nominating her here.