Spotlight: Challenging Gender Stereotypes with Jess Weiner

http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Buk72WBjcVU

Jess Weiner, Founder and CEO of Talk to Jess, partners with global brands and businesses to help challenge gender stereotypes and shape the messages they send to women and girls. You’ve seen her influence everywhere from Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty to Barbie’s new and much-needed makeover. FORBES magazine recognized Jess as one of the “14 Power Women to Follow” on Twitter and INC. Magazine featured her in their “21 Thought Leaders Every Entrepreneur Should Follow in 2016. She’s one of the most inspiring people we’ve met and you can check out her blog or podcast for your daily pep talk.

Taylor: You’ve built a career around confidence, and in your 2015 TEDxTalk, you talked about self discovery being the journey towards that confidence. Can you tell us a little bit about your own journey?

Jess: Well I wanted to focus on the journey vs. the destination because I feel like we’re such a Type-A, perfectionist driven culture of women where it’s all about the end result and confidence became a thing on our to-do list instead of the thing on our to-be list. I felt like when I wanted to look at confidence as a theory, it was more about day to day moments and not like an end result, and that’s been my life. My life has been this journey where I’ve had lots of confident moments and I’ve had horrendously not confident moments. I’ve had moments where I’ve severely doubted myself, I’ve been depressed, I’ve been lonely, I’ve felt like a failure, an imposter, and all these things that are so shameful to talk about. I didn’t want to keep presenting confidence as this panacea of happiness and ease. I think confidence is something that is hard earned. I think that we earn it when we stumble, when we fail, when we get our hearts broken, and when we don’t do things well. We also earn it when we let the love in and when we let the joy in and when we locate the moments of our life that make us feel good. That’s just as important as having a to do list of things you need to get done. It’s also recognizing what works. What do I like? What are my preferences? What are my values? And how do I build a life around that. So, that whole idea of a journey also took a lot of pressure off because then I didn’t have to get it done and I didn’t have to get it right; I just had to keep going.

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Taylor: And in keeping going, you’ve really carved your own niche for yourself in making companies kinder to women and girls. What made you even realize that this was a niche that one, you excelled at, and two, there was really a need for?

Jess: When my partners at Dove first approached me ten years ago, they asked me if I would help them create a curriculum for girls that kind of lifted off the campaign for real beauty and brought it into girls lives and girls schools. I thought, what does a brand want to do with that? This was ten years ago and working with brands wasn’t as popular or as integrated as it is now. What I realized was that this isn’t just a brand, these are people. These were people, who were women and men, who had a vision to change the way women and girls felt about themselves and I could help them do that and I could borrow their platform and their power and their messaging, so it became a no-brainer to say yes. Then what I discovered along the way was that I really like it. I care about making systemic change. I think systems are complex and interesting and challenging to change, and that’s why we should work on changing them because they can affect so many people. So what I realized at the end of the day is even though my clients and my partners are big brand names, they’re really the people behind the brands that I partner with, and they’re the people that I support, and they are the women and men that I champion because they have a chance to go and change the world.

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Taylor: You mentioned dove, but your fingerprints are all over products that have touched millions of girls. From Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty to the amazing, new Barbie, do you have a change, or product, or suggestion that you are most proud of?

Jess: I feel proud of all of them for different reasons. I feel like my work with Dove has been my longest, going on eleven years. So much as changed in eleven years; I’ve changed and they’ve changed and I feel so excited about having a long term partner who I know has skin in the game for much longer. So, I’m proud of the longevity and the reach. I mean, we’ve reached 20 million girls with the dove self-esteem curriculum, in real time, not just online. So, it’s been a real human connection with girls.

I’m proud of the work with Barbie because it was time. It was overtime. And it was also so powerful because it was essentially the right moment in time. Even though people feel like maybe it should have come sooner, it was exactly the right time to make that change and I’m glad their sales are showing the benefit of that.

But honestly, the thing that I’m most proud of every day is not only the work with the brands, but the work with women and girls who are aspiring to make change in their work, to merge their passion with their profit and how they do that together. I get very excited about people who have maybe seen a campaign we have worked on or experienced a product change we’ve helped to create, and what it does is ignite for them how they’d like to do that more in their own careers.

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Taylor: What do you want the State of Women to look like?

Jess: In my generation, I hope that women’s lives look and feel more equal and equitable and safe. Because from a position of safety, physical safety, emotional safety, political safety, and financial safety, then the real innovation and evolution and revolution can begin. So, I feel like I’d love to see the state of women be more equitable, be inclusive, and be more innovative. I think women literally hold the key to shifting industry, family, politics, religion, music, and art and we haven’t had enough of the pendulum swing back to see those ideas in action yet. I’m looking forward to a time where we’re not divided by gender as far as, here are male historians and here are female historians, but here are unified world changers.