Voices of Leadership: Jessica Shortall

Dr. Pharr & Jessica ShortallJessica Shortall was astonished when, upon returning to work after maternity leave, a co-worker asked how she enjoyed her “vacation.”

“I’d never been on a vacation like that before,” Shortall said in disbelief as she shared the experience with a group of over 300 Milwaukee area business leaders and members of the Mount Mary community. The perception that caregiving is misunderstood and undervalued in the workplace, was the topic of her keynote presentation at the Voices of Leadership event on March 21.

“Caregiving is considered women’s work and designated a lower value,” said Shortall, an advocate for gender equity and author of “Work. Pump. Repeat.”

“Such perceptions are not fair to the health, happiness or well-being of women or men,” she said. “Yet there is no enemy imposing this on us. We buy into it.”

Shortall challenged the audience to consider the inputs that reinforce gender stereotypes, from unrealistic stock photography – one image depicting a mother balancing a baby on one hip and a laptop on the other - to the children’s books that parents read to children at bedtime.

Whether the images portray a mother wearing an apron or a father taking an afternoon nap on the couch, these are detrimental and pervasive, she said.

“These types of images are keeping us (men and women) in our lanes, and are failing all of us,” she said. Even in books that portray children as barrier-breaking – boy princesses and girl engineers – the parents are often stereotypical, giving little chance of hope for the future. “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Whether or not women are caregivers, their roles are defined within the context of caregiving, whether that is caring for their children or aging relatives. This translates into lower wages, career potential and representation in various fields.

And while many men want to actively enter into caregiving roles, they are also limited by society’s perceptions and are often seen in a comedic light, such as “Mr. Mom.”

When Jessica’s son entered kindergarten, she noticed how volunteer parents are called ‘Room Moms,’ as if the gender of the volunteers was a foregone conclusion.

The event was sponsored by Mount Mary’s Women’s Leadership Institute. The Voices of Leadership event is an annual keynote event for Mount Mary, providing the opportunity to engage in conversations with women leaders who have broken ground in entrepreneurship, innovation, social change and leadership.  These women share their experiences, stories and best practices to help participants see and pursue their own leadership potential.

In preparation for this event, student groups from Mount Mary have been studying issues of gender roles from various perspectives. They exhibited their projects from a diversity of disciplines, including communications, interior design, fashion, art therapy and fine arts.

“Jessica is working to reset societal expectations, so all people can work across gender roles,” said Mount Mary President Christine Pharr, Ph.D.

The event concluded with a panel discussion with Shortall and Milwaukee-area leaders providing insight into how to affect change and greater equity.

Here are a few of the takeaways:

Lift up the good you see around you, and call out the negative. For example, why is ‘working moms’ a socially accepted descriptor, while ‘working dads’ is not?

Equity in work and caregiving isn’t simply a women’s issue. “Having solidarity with one another allows all of us to be human, no matter what shape it takes.”

Demand equity including equal pay, and use your privilege to set the stage for others, too.

Build partnerships – whether they are allies at work or life partners at home – in which you are equal.

 “We can tell ourselves a new story, write ourselves new instructions,” Shortall said. “That work starts today.” 

Click here to view all photos from the event. 



Student Projects

The Women’s Leadership Institute's Voices of Leadership event is about more than bringing a leader to campus to learn from her experiences. It's also an opportunity for our faculty to utilize the themes of the keynote to enhance the curriculum and explore these different topics with students in a way that is relevant to their disciplines. Learn about the following course collaborations for this year's Voices of Leadership event. Click here to view the program and learn more about the student projects. 



Our fall 2018 printmaking class updated some murals in Mount Mary's parking lot based on the themes of equity.



A fashion design class created gender neutral garments this past fall, and the images will be displayed at the event in March.

Interior Design

Interior Design

Alum, Tina Raasch-Prost, assisted on a wellness room project in the Interior Design Advanced Studio course in spring 2019. The students used virtual reality technology to create lactation space concepts for the Voices of Leadership event.

Studio Art

Studio Art

Conversations around explicit and implicit bias about gender roles in work and at home have inspired the Spring 2019 3D Design art students to again design and build the centerpieces for the March 21 Voices of Leadership event. The spring 2019 Painting course students will finish the centerpieces with their own understanding of this subject by painting them and adding supplementary components.

Art Therapy

Art Therapy

Students participated in an open studio early in the spring 2019 semester to produce artwork inspired by themes of gender equality, eliminating stereotypes and roles around earning and caregiving. Students were photographed with their artwork to create an exhibit for the event.


Sponsored in part by:

johnson_controls_logo.jpg     aurora_logo.png               
BAIRD      Marsh & McLennan     Nancy Cheski ’65     Virginia Cornyn ’62     WE Energies  
Chr. Hansen    Marquette University Women’s Innovation Network   WaterStone Bank   Park Bank