Chief Executive Officer, Step Up Women's Network
Posted on: February 8, 2012 | Go to profile
Through her leadership of Step Up Women’s Network, one of the top women’s groups in the country, Jenni creates vital connections between professional women. She also promotes mentorship, networking and advancement opportunities for underserved teen girls. Extending to offices in LA, Chicago and New York, Jenni and Step Up have been featured in The Huffington Post, Inc., and Real Simple, among other outlets. Jenni is thrilled to spearhead a growing platform that marries her desire to promote equal opportunity for women with her developing business mind.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: I’ve always been interested in and motivated by social justice issues, specifically equal opportunity. Initially I focused this passion in the direction of law but quickly realized the practice of law was not for me. I explored my passion for business by becoming a literary agent representing writers and directors for film and television. This gave me the opportunity to represent clients and advocate for them while at the same time being very entrepreneurial. After several years it was clear to me that I needed to return my focus to work on equal opportunity issues. I found the perfect marriage of my social justice and business passions in nonprofit work. The initial transition was made easier by focusing on legal oriented nonprofits, like The Alliance for Children’s Rights and the ACLU. Then after I had some experience under my belt, the opportunity to lead Step Up Women’s Network came my way and I haven’t looked back.
Q: How much time do you spend on networking versus focusing on the internal affairs of your business (such as management, strategy, ideation etc)?
A: It is different at different times. When I first took on this leadership role I tried to connect with as many of Step Up’s members and supporters as possible. But pretty quickly I had to dive deep into the work of the organization and focus on some internal needs. Now that I’m starting my third year, the focus is much more balanced with the goal of increasing my external presence.
Q: Can you share a story of how networking led to a great success?
A: I got the interview for my job at Step Up by networking. When I let my network know that I was looking for the next challenge in my career I had no idea that three people would send me the same job description! I stay in contact with people I’ve met through business and volunteering who I have a genuine affinity for. It is a testament to the power of networking that several people from different circles found out about this opportunity, shared it with me, and said ‘it would be the perfect fit’. Networking is not about gathering up an impressive rolodex of connections – it is about being able to call on that network to activate on your behalf when you need it. This requires building relationships over time and being genuine in your interactions so that people will know something that ‘has your name written all over it’ the minute they see it.
Q: Can you share a personal story of successful negotiation that leaped you forward?
A: Since it is reported so often that women don’t negotiate well on their own behalf, I’ll share about a salary negotiation that was a big moment for me in the hope that it inspires. When I was a junior agent the partners came to me with an opportunity to take over the client list of a much more senior agent who was leaving client representation to move to the producing side of television. This woman had developed a niche business within the agency and they wanted someone to pick up where she left off. The partners expected me to say an enthusiastic “YES!” right away. Rather than jumping at the opportunity I asked a lot of questions, explained what I considered the risks to be, asked for an opportunity to talk to the senior agent I’d be replacing and for time to think about it. They gave me 24 hours.
When I went back to the negotiating table I ended up in a one-on-one negotiation with the senior partner who is a legend in the business and known as a very tough negotiator. He offered me nothing: take on the new role but remain at my existing salary and benefits for the remainder of my current contract. I told him that was not acceptable to me and presented my arguments. Long story short, I ended up doubling my salary and significantly increasing my benefits package, not to mention getting a new office and an assistant.
Part of the success of this from that partner’s point of view was that even though he was giving me a lot more than he initially wanted to, he got to see me in action. He was hiring me to be a tough negotiator for clients and he saw a glimpse of the service I could offer. It helped me create a relationship with someone who I still consider a mentor to this day.
Q: Who has been your greatest mentor(s)?
A: It is tough to pinpoint the ‘greatest’ mentor I’ve had. For me I pick up advice and guidance from lots of different places and influences. Step Up is a multi-generational mentoring platform of women giving back to other women and to underserved teen girls so mentoring is a part of my daily life. For example, my management style is very mentor-oriented. I focus a lot of energy on trying to mentor my team. But in doing so I learn about myself from the smart, talented, capable women I work with on our staff and our volunteer boards of directors. Mentoring is never a one-way street. The Mentor often gets more than the Mentee.
ON Taking Risk
Q: Usually reaching something great or grand in life requires taking a risk. What has been your greatest risk so far and how was it rewarding?
A: One of my team members once called me an ‘optimistic realist.’ I’d say that is a good assessment. I’m willing to take risks because I’m optimistic that I have what it takes, whether within myself or my team, to come out on top 9 times out of 10. But that is also after lots of research, planning and robust debate! I’d say my biggest risk to date was leaving the practice of law to explore career options that would be a better fit for me. I thought I’d be a lifelong lawyer, perhaps even a judge. When I found that I really did not like the day to day practice of law it was a huge disappointment. But gathering up the courage to explore totally different career paths and essentially start over was incredibly scary. Scary but necessary. Getting through it means that I’m much more confident in myself. If I haven’t taken a risk in a long time I’ll try something new–like sky diving–to put me in that place of fear. Overcoming fear is the best medicine for being afraid.
Q: Who are your favorite designers?
A: I’m a fan of so many designers. I love Narciso Rodriguez, Proenza Schouler, The Row, Bottega Veneta. But sadly none of those pieces are actually in my wardrobe! Some of my go-to’s are BCBG, DVF and Trina Turk mixed with pieces from Ann Taylor, Guess by Marciano, J Crew and other lines that are more affordable and have great basics. I try to buy things that are good for layering and travel since I am often on-the-go for Step Up to NYC and Chicago.