Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Jenny Xia Spradling, Co-CEO of FreeWill, a digital estate planning company that has helped more than 150,000 people make wills. Before FreeWill, Jenny worked at McKinsey and Bain Capital, where she helped launched the firm’s first impact investment fund. She is also a cofounder of Paribus, later acquired by Capital One.
What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?
You can have a job where you believe in the mission and have really fast career growth. I always felt like this was a trade-off in choosing a career – you could have growth or mission, but not both. The movement of social enterprises has really grown even over the past 10 years, and I think there will be more and more opportunities for people to have financial well-being while also achieving impact they are passionate about.
What is your current greatest professional challenge?
It’s making sure that my team constantly has areas to grow. We have hired an incredibly ambitious team, and it means that they have fantastic performance, but also that their thirst to constantly adapt their roles is really high. As long as the business is growing that puts us in great shape, because we know they can grow into bigger and bigger roles. But if the recession that accompanies COVID-19 continues, and we aren’t able to undergo hypergrowth, we run the risk of losing members of the team. It’s a great problem to have, and one I think about frequently.
What inspires you most about your work?
I love that every day we drive millions in incremental dollars to charity that otherwise wouldn’t go to charity. At the moment, roughly 19% of FreeWill’s users include donations in their wills, with the average user donating around $111,000. That can be a significant source of revenue for our nonprofit partners that we are proud to bring to them. Since we launched in 2017, FreeWill has raised more than $1.5 billion for nonprofit organizations and that inspires me every single day.
How does your gender identity inform your work?
I identify as a woman, and it makes me prioritize seeking minority voices. In most of my previous jobs, I’ve been in the minority, usually by a large degree (e.g. 5 or 10% of the people at the table also being women). In this job, my co-founder and I put a conscious effort into making sure we had 50% female representation in every function, including our engineering team and management team. That said, there are so many dimensions of intersectionality, and we will always have more work to do to empower minority voices.
Do you think your gender identity has affected your career?
Somewhat, but not too much. I love exceeding people’s expectations of me. Unfortunately, as a female founder, that still happens fairly frequently – people are surprised that I’m co-CEO of company, and that we grew to over 50 employees in a couple years. When I beat expectations because of my gender identity, I think it actually makes me more memorable and that’s helpful to my career. Unfortunately it also means that they have to wait around long enough to see that they were wrong, and sometimes that doesn’t happen. I think all this means that I have to be more vocal about my own achievements than if I were a man.
How can philanthropy support gender equality?
I think philanthropy can impact gender equality movements by supporting female and minority candidates for political office. I grew up thinking “politician” was the last job I wanted, because I had the perception they were all scam-artists. If there had been more women in office, I wonder if I would have thought the same thing. It’s hard to aspire to something you don’t see and if nonprofits can help bring more female and minority candidates into the spotlight it will inspire the future generation even more.
In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equality movements taking us?
I see gender equality movements going in a positive direction. I hope to see 25% of Fortune 500 CEOs as women. It sounds like a small number, but we are only at 7% right now. We can do so much better. It starts with coaching and mentorship within companies. I’m a big believer that having allies in the majority is so important to offer truly meritocratic and fair opportunities for those in the minority to fulfill their potential.
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