Aspiration’s CIO Jessica Jackley Wants You to Get Comfortable With Confrontation

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Aspiration’s newest Chief Impact Officer, Jessica Jackley, is working to fuse the seemingly unrelated spheres of sustainability and finance. To work in finance, it was important to her to work for a company “with a conscience”—as she puts it. Now, the Bucknell University alumna is sharing just how Aspiration is making a difference (both on the environment and in the financial lives of young women), and the exact steps she took to find herself in her new high-profile position. 

Her Campus: Can you explain what Aspiration is to a college woman who has never heard of the brand? 

Jessica Jackley: We’re a financial firm with a conscience, helping people make better financial decisions – so you can do well and do good. Aspiration helps you track the social impact of each purchase you make, and offers fossil fuel-free deposits in your Spend & Save account, socially responsible investment options, and cash back when you shop with brands that are good for the planet. And, we commit to donate 10 percent of our earnings to charity. 

HC: What were your major(s) and minor(s) in college? 

JJ: My majors were Philosophy and Political Science (double major), and my minor was in Poetry. 

HC: What were your internships in college? 

JJ: I worked for World Vision, my first foray into international relief and development work. I also worked in a Senator’s office, taught art lessons, worked as a waitress, and did a lot of lifeguarding. 

HC: Okay, so what exactly do you do as the Chief Impact Officer for Aspiration? 

JJ: I lead our team to innovate on all social impact related initiatives within the company. For instance, I mentioned above that Aspiration helps customers track social impact. We do this by getting data on a company, plugging that data into a formula, and then producing a score from 1-100, based on how well that company treats its people (from workers to customers to the broader community) and the planet (from energy usage to pollution and more). We show you this score on our app, so you can learn more about which companies are forward-thinking on sustainability issues, and which aren’t. This is just one of the initiatives I manage; I oversee all of our philanthropy, special partnerships, and much else. 

HC: What skills did you learn in your college internships that you felt were most valuable to getting your job with Aspiration? 

JJ: I’m not sure if I learned skills that are useful today as much as I learned broader lessons about how to approach work. In particular, I remember learning again and again that, no matter the job, I was the boss of my own productivity and that getting my core work done ahead of schedule meant there would be room to dream up new projects. This was my favorite part. 

For instance, I remember being given a very basic filing job that was supposed to take up the entire day. I finished fast, and then proposed I work on something else (something much more interesting). This kind of attitude and proactiveness earned me the right to gain autonomy and a lot more responsibility, a lot more quickly. 

HC: What was the ladder like to the job you have now with aspiration? 

JJ: I’ve always tried to choose internships where I thought I could learn and grow the most, and where I respected the people I worked with. Then, once I was in an internship, I’d do all I could to work entrepreneurially, initiating new projects based on insights I gained along the way. So, if I saw an unmet need in the organization, or had an idea about how to serve a customer or constituent better, I’d come up with a solution and propose that. More often than not, I’d get permission to go ahead and work on it. This practice really honed by ability to create bigger things later, launching not just projects but whole organizations based on overlooked needs I saw around me. 

Crazily, my job with Aspiration is my first permanent, full-time job with a company I didn’t help create. And, my role at Aspiration was something we created because there was so much alignment between my background and Aspiration’s mission. I’m so excited to get to help Aspiration continue to lead the way in sustainable, social impact-centered banking. 

 HC: What do you look for when you’re interviewing a new candidate at Aspiration? 

JJ: I look for people who are insistent problem-solvers. Solution-finders. Won’t-take-no-for-an-answer kind of people. I want people on my team who always find a way. 

 HC: What’s your advice for college women who don’t feel like they’re being taken seriously at their male-dominated finance internships? 

JJ: My advice is two-fold. First, get good at meeting people where they are. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and like the whole world is against you if just one person is giving you a hard time – so, step back, take a breath, and just hone in just on the particular person who isn’t taking you seriously, or is dismissive toward you, or whatever else. Then make an attempt to understand them. Listen to them. Get to know them. 

And then, this is the second part of my advice: get comfortable with confrontation. Learn how to express your feelings clearly. Learn how to ask for the changes you might need to succeed. Whether or not the person you’re trying to work better with actually articulate directly what their particular biases might be, you can always observe behavior and request for that behavior to change. 

To learn more about Aspiration’s sustainability strides (and how it can help you plan for your financial future) head to Aspiration