Executive coach, strategy leader, and author Jessica (Begen) Galica MBA ’16 is redefining workplace success for women. Her new book, Leap: Why It’s Time to Let Go to Get Ahead in Your Career, reframes hard-charging burnout culture: purpose and intention are more important than ambition at all costs. The book profiles women who’ve shed workplace norms to find greater fulfillment and satisfaction.
Galica has challenged the status quo about women and career since college. As an undergraduate American Studies major at Georgetown University, her thesis examined archetypal portrayals of working moms across media. At MIT Sloan, she pioneered the first research study to compare rates of students’ class participation by gender—proving her hypothesis that men were more likely than women to speak up in quantitative courses.
After graduating from MIT, she worked hard achieving what she calls “shiny gold stars,” with coveted strategy roles at Apple, Bain & Company, and software firm Mendix. As time went on, though, she struggled with the work-life tension confronted by so many women: She became a mom, then Covid-19 erupted, and she began to question everything, from the definition of workplace success to gendered corporate norms.
“I had a ‘dream career,’ and yet I felt so lost, empty, and unfulfilled. I felt high-achieving and high-performing, but I wasn’t getting what I wanted out of my career. I felt really discouraged and frustrated with myself. What’s defective in me that I’m feeling this way?” she remembers. “I was also experiencing that it's simply hard to thrive in a corporate role as a woman. Despite progress we’ve made, there’s still bias and a lack of female role models … It created a level of stress and fatigue and ‘burnout’ that I didn’t even have a name for in the moment but that now I can acknowledge as a gendered experience.”
During this personal reckoning, Galica reached out to other women for informational networking and support. She discovered that many peers felt similarly and were quietly asking themselves the same big question: What was their purpose?
“It became apparent that this was not just me. There were so many people, in particular women, at this season of life—10 or 15 years into their career—thinking about how their career worked with their broader life, with changes such as becoming a parent or thinking about caregiving,” she says.
Starting in 2020, those affirming conversations created the foundation for her book, for which she interviewed more than 150 women about their own gratifying professional pivots. The same year, she also developed a coaching business, in which she helps women at similar crossroads to abandon “stale and rigid” narratives around work, such as leaning in or opting out, instead focusing on purpose.
“The reality is grayer. Ultimately, when you’re thinking about career and life success, the first step is letting go of narrow definitions of the path that you think you need to follow,” she says. “There’s this feeling that the only way to get ahead is to put your head down, lean in, keep your foot on the pedal, never take chances, and never make any jumps. In reality, so many women whom I profiled actually let go of that path, and often those choices actually catapulted them into more success.”
She hopes that the book arrives at a fortuitous time, when the pandemic seems to have motivated many professionals to reinvent their relationship to work, with a greater prioritization on contentment.
“We’re at a transition point where people are beginning to move from thinking that your life has to fit around your career and starting to embrace the idea that your career should be fitting into your life. It’s a radical change. People need support, inspiration, and resources to help them to figure out how to navigate that big transition,” she says.
For the first time in MIT’s 162 years, all of the top leadership positions are held by women. Register now for the October 17 MIT Alumni Forum to hear a lively online discussion with four women leaders at MIT. President Kornbluth and colleagues will share their own paths to leadership and the changing landscape for women in STEM and offer insights into how they're working together to lead MIT.