Stilettogal: What motivated you to start your business (Blueprint Earth) and follow this new career path (Congress)?
Jess Phoenix: I started the nonprofit Blueprint Earth because I saw a critical need to better understand and protect the environment while giving scientific research opportunities to young people from diverse backgrounds. Science has traditionally been done mostly by older white men, and that’s not who the scientists of the future will be. To date, Blueprint Earth’s participants have been 76% female, 54% people of color, and 60% are from low-income backgrounds. We train our researchers how to do real environmental science at no cost, which opens doors for many students.
This same principle drives me to run for Congress. We need diversity in our Representatives. Only 88 out of 435 members of the House are women, the average age is 57.8 years old, and the vast majority come from careers as professional politicians, business, and law. There is only one scientist in the House now, and he is a physicist. We need people who truly represent our country’s diversity, and understand the huge challenges of the 21st century – like climate change – and how to innovate to solve these problems.
SG: What are three tips you can give to women who are deciding to start a new business/career path?
1 – Tell your whole network! They can help you judge the merits of your plan, and getting a wide range of input can help you avoid mistakes that may be obvious to your friends/colleagues.
2 – Don’t be deterred by self-doubt! Impostor syndrome is a huge sticking point for many women. You wouldn’t be considering this change if you didn’t have the thought that you could accomplish your goal. Besides, you only have one life to live, so don’t let doubt have the driver’s seat.
3 – Do your research! Make sure you go into every meeting as though you were studying for a final exam in school. Know the company and individual you’re meeting with backwards and forwards. Know your own skills, abilities, and accomplishments, too. You want to have examples and facts to back up your positions, so get to studying!
SG: What challenges have you had and how did you overcome them?
JP: have worked in male-dominated fields for my entire career. When your work demands that you carry a 70lb pack down from the summit of a nearly 14,000 foot volcano, you don’t get a pass for weighing 100lbs less than your male colleagues. I’ve had to be physically strong as well as prepared mentally for sexism and misogyny. I realized early on that the best way to avoid or curtail sexism in the workplace was to let my work speak for itself. That’s also the scientist in me: facts speak louder than bragging!
SG: What are some unique things you have done to promote your work and mission?
JP: I have done three television shows for the Discovery and Science Channels, and this is how I believe I can reach science lovers (and future science lovers) with my message of the importance of science in our everyday lives. Even though TV science isn’t always exactly how we do science in the field, I do get the opportunity to excite and engage with people who may never have the opportunity to see an erupting volcano on their own. Helping them understand how beautiful and incredible our planet is will help our environmental conservation efforts for years to come.
SG: How do you define success?
JP: To me, success is when you define your goals as being complete to the highest level you can achieve. It’s a personal thing, and it changes from day to day. Some days, just getting out of bed can be a success. On other days, summiting Mt. Everest is just getting started. I’ve learned that I can’t be successful at all unless I’m both kind to myself and to others.
SG: What legacy would you like to leave?
JP: It is my dream to leave the planet in a place where humans can exist in a sustainable, stable balance with our natural environment. I’m working every day to understand our world, educate the next generation of scientists and innovators, and to influence policies that shape our planet’s future.
SG: What kind of shoe are you and why?
JP: I am probably a Nike Air Max 360. It’s versatile, athletic, innovative, and has a bit of neon flash for fun. Since I do a lot of different things with my career and am a redhead, I think it’s perfect match!