Jessica Shortall Profile

  • Jessica is a top innovation speaker, social entrepreneur, and Former Director of Giving at TOMS.

  • She is an LGBT Gender Equality Advocate and Director at Texas Competes.

  • A straightforward, irreverent speaker who draws on a rich repository of global stories to challenge any team or audience to look at old problems with fresh eyes.
  • Jessica Shortall believes that the world isn’t as polarized as we might think, so she spends her time looking for common ground among uncommon allies in order to make good happen. Her eclectic career has built unexpected bridges among unlikely partners, always sustainably, intelligently, and backed by data.

    As Director of Texas Competes and America Competes, Jessica runs two coalitions: one of more than 1,450 Texas employers and chambers of commerce, and one national in scope, serving Fortune 500s and small businesses alike, making the data-driven case for Texas to be welcoming to LGBTQ people. This business-oriented voice has become a national model and is credited with changing the Texas political playing field on LGBTQ issues.

    Jessica’s first book, written out of sheer necessity, is a survival guide for breastfeeding and going back to work called Work. Pump. Repeat. As a follow-up to the book, her 2015 TEDx talk on the moral and economic case for paid family leave has garnered more than a million views.

    Jessica’s own life is filled with uncommon ground. She is the daughter of Venezuelan and English immigrants. She served, and spent 9/11, in the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan, a majority-Muslim, Central Asian country that was once part of the Soviet Union (as a result, she can swear in both Russian and Uzbek). She co-founded and franchised a food rescue and hunger relief non-profit, The Campus Kitchens Project, that puts young people in charge and is active in more than 50 U.S. cities. She was the first Director of Giving at TOMS Shoes, building out the company’s One for One giving mission by focusing on global partnerships, neglected tropical diseases, and sustainable eye care.

    Jessica has an MBA from the University of Oxford in the UK, where she was a Skoll Scholar in Social Entrepreneurship. She is married with two children and a rescue dog.

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    Jessica Shortall's Speech Descriptions


    This talk is part career journey (global and varied and full of surprises), part exploration into where empathy comes from and how to build it, and part praise of the role of data in building surprising bridges among different groups, to create shared goals. A good portion of this talk centers on Jessica’s experience in building the country’s largest state coalition of businesses making the economic case for LGBT non-discrimination – in Texas. But the *how* of that work is what ties in with those themes of empathy and data and facts and bridge-building, in any sphere. While it’s ever-evolving, Jessica gave the first version of this talk as a keynote at SXSW in 2016. It received two standing ovations and an Austin tech reporter called it “one of the best I’ve ever seen at SXSW.”


    Jessica has obsessed over this topic for two decades. In trying to do good, most of us rely on the heart to make decisions. But while the heart can drive us to try to change the world, it’s the brain – driven by facts, seeking input and expertise and involvement of those we’re trying to impact, ruthlessly analytical and rigorous – that needs to be in the driver’s seat, if we’re going to do lasting good. This talk pulls from Jessica’s own diverse career as well as from other case studies to illustrate why a rigorous approach matters to doing good, and to prepare the audience for a lifetime of challenging themselves and others to do good well.


    In a talk that is thought-provoking, funny, and emotional, Jessica delves into the myriad ways in which our culture reinforces gendered roles in work and caregiving – and how the rules we are expected to follow impact all of us. This isn’t about women and work – it’s about how we tell our children these rules from birth, how we reinforce it to grownups, and how all of that shows up at work. This culture is locking men and women – whether we have children or not – into roles that don’t fit our modern economy or our aspirations. We have to know the problem to find our way out of it, so Jessica shares data, stories, and images from popular culture, and discusses how we, individually and as organizations, can start to find our way out.

    What People are Saying about Seeing Jessica Speak

    Rating Entries

    “It was the kind of speech that brought the crowd to its feet for a standing ovation – twice…One testament to the effectiveness of Shortall’s message was the size of the ballroom crowd. South by Southwest attendees come from all over the world, and aren’t typically interested in state-level politics. But by the end of her talk, nearly every seat was taken, which is especially noteworthy given that Vice President Joe Biden held the very next speaker slot in a different ballroom.”
    – (Austin American-Statesman, 3/12/17)

    “I gotta say, the Jessica Shortall speech, in terms of pure speech-making talent, was one of the best I’ve ever seen at SXSW.”
    – (Lilly Rockwell, tech reporter for the Austin American-Statesman)

    “What a powerful presentation! Your keynote was outstanding and the immediate feedback was absolutely excellent. The ‘hallway’ conversations were unanimously positive and robust, a sure sign of the impact you made on us.”
    – (Georgette Bronfman, executive director, Eastern Region Public Media, re: Public Radio Super-Regional keynote)

    “Jessica Shortall was flawless in her delivery of her message on workplace diversity while emphasizing on the public sphere and domestic sphere as it relates to men and women.”
    – (attendee, Mount Mary University Voices of Leadership, 2019)

    “Jessica connected with her audience immediately, putting them at ease by telling some brazen truths about herself. She has a unique ability to impress you while making you feel like you can completely relate to her. She is truly a world-class speaker.”
    – (Tamra Rushing, VP of Marketing, CareFusion)

    “Jessica brought real passion to the intersection of business results and social impact. In a small, interactive session of senior women, Jessica really drew them in for an engaging, dynamic conversation.”
    – (Alison Dew, VP Global Marketing, Dell)

    “My favorite speaker was Jessica Shortall. I loved her message and I liked her take on everyday things that you just take at face value and never think about or question.”
    – (Stephanie, Lincoln Financial Group – ICAN 2017 keynote)

    “Jessica did exactly what we wanted to achieve, which was to inspire people to do more. And she did it so eloquently! She should be speaking all over the world.”
    – (Julie Shannan, Deputy Director, GirlStart)

    “Jessica has a fantastic grasp of her subject matter, drawing from personal and global examples. And she entertained us all with her irreverent style, gripping, funny anecdotes and examples, and refreshingly honest approach.”
    – (Lee Walker, Senior Fellow, University of Texas – Austin)

    “Wonderful speaker…just perfect; great message and very passionate.”
    – (Corporate employee)

    “Brilliant. I could have listened to you for another couple of hours.”
    – (TEDx attendee)

    “Thank you…that was exactly what I needed my daughter to hear.”
    – (Parent, Laurel School, after commencement address)

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    Books by Jessica Shortall:

    Work. Pump. Repeat.: The New Mom’s Survival Guide to Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work

    Work. Pump. Repeat: The New Mom’s Survival Guide to Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work was inspired by my own experiences of literally circumnavigating the globe with a breast pump. I interviewed hundreds of working mothers and dozens of HR professionals to create the first practical, relatable, judgment-free guide for women who want to try to continue breastfeeding after they’ve returned to work.

    This book is a collection of war stories, hacks, and strategies from hundreds of women who’ve been there.

    This book will tell you how to pump on a public toilet, in an airplane, in a moving car, and virtually everywhere in between.

    This book will remind you you’re not alone. We have dried breastmilk on our work clothes, too, and we’re with you.

    This book is the anti-judgment, pro-sanity antidote to the Breastfeeding Wars.

    This book is my love letter to working mothers.

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