Jennifer Siebel Newsom
Founder and CEO, MissRepresentation
Posted on: February 1, 2012 | Go to profile
After witnessing the injustice in media and being horrified at the thought of raising a daughter in a culture that degrades women, Jennifer became the creator of Miss Representation, a documentary that explores how the media’s misrepresentation of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence. Jumping headfirst into a project she knew nothing about, Jennifer is thankful to have been surrounded by talented and supportive people while she learned the ropes of everything from fundraising to filmmaking. Jennifer is also the founder of MissRepresentation.org and Girls Club Entertainment, LLC, an actress, having appeared in shows like Mad Men and Numb3rs, and a nationally recognized speaker.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: I worked for Conservation International right out of college (‘96), helping indigenous communities- mostly women- living on the fringes of nature reserves build environmentally sustainable micro-enterprises. Upon graduating from Stanford Business School in 2001, I set out to work in the entertainment industry as an actor and producer. After one too many sexist experiences and having been introduced to leaders like Senator Feinstein and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, I started to examine the connectivity between the misrepresentations of women in entertainment and the under-representations of women in leadership positions in the real world. My first film as a writer and director, Miss Representation, is the result of my constant questioning and sleuthing and need to right wrongs in our society.
When I set out to make Miss Representation, I knew that it needed to be more than a film, but a movement. Missrepresentation.org is the result- a call to action campaign whose mission is to empower women and girls to fulfill their potential. Having successfully launched both Miss Representation and Missrepresentation.org, we are more committed than ever to making films which value women and the feminine at their core. As part of the larger Girls Club platform, Regina Kulik Scully and I are executive producing The Invisible War (Sundance 2012 premiere) and have two more films in development.
Q: Who is a leader that you have great respect for and why?
A: I have tremendous respect for Gloria Steinem and Secretary Hilary Clinton. Ms. Steinem is so well read and speaks with such courage and conviction. She is extremely generous and modest. And I admire her calm despite the storms around her. She is a true sage. Secretary Clinton embodies a perseverance, tenacity, and steadfastness that I find rare in our culture. Despite being such an intellect, she is quite disarming and has a curiosity and kindness that is quite inspiring. And, I love her laugh- it’s contagious.
Q: I love the quote “the bigger the vision, the smaller the first step.” Right now, what is the big vision you have for your career?
A: I would love to continue to be a small step in the movement that uplifts and inspires us as a culture to value women and value the feminine. When this happens, I will rest knowing that our country and culture is in a good place.
Q: What are your top 3 tips for networking?
A: Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself.
Celebrate other women and their achievements- there is room for us all.
Be generous with your words and resources.
ON Starting Out
Q: If you had a young sister or a daughter who was a senior in college, anxious about landing her first job or unsure of what she wanted to do, what would your advice be to her?
A: I would (and will) recommend that my daughter be sure whatever job she takes is a step towards her passion, if it’s not her passion. I will discourage her from taking a job that looks good on paper or that others want her to take at the expense of doing something she loves. I will have encouraged her to spend a lot of time figuring out what she loves and what makes her happy so that this step won’t be too difficult.
Q: Is there an example in your life of a time when others were against you or your dream, yet you persevered?
A: I made this film despite early naysayers. Friends and family questioned the film concept. Long time feminists and women’s rights supporters were skeptical. Many said Miss Representation had been done before and questioned who I was to be making this film. People even told me I was wasting my time as things had gotten better for women. Well, we proved them all wrong- thank goodness!
Q: Life is full of setbacks. Can you share an experience of one, and how you were able to bounce back?
A: I had given birth to our daughter Montana in September of 2009 and I never took a maternity leave and was pretty unprepared for working motherhood as I tried to wrap up the documentary while simultaneously dealing with health problems affecting our daughter. We were at doctors’ offices three to four times a week and she was in braces and a helmet 24-7. It was scary, not to mention I was exhausted and sleep deprived from breast-feeding her around the clock. Simultaneously, I was having staff issues involving a short-term hire under the influence. Not to mention, I made a huge error in bringing on the fiancée of a woman I hired to assist me with production. This man couldn’t have been a worse fit. He turned out to be the most arrogant and sexist person I had ever met (a major faux pax given the film’s topic) and after weeks of turmoil, I finally let the fiancées go. These experiences set our production back and I was humiliated. I started to doubt myself and all that I was trying to do. I also questioned the film’s ability to have an impact and change our culture for the better.
After that, I was very gunshy about hiring people. The good news: I was forced to slow down, seek clarity and re-prioritize. I also learned to take my time in hiring people and have since surrounded myself with people whose egos are less (if not at all) and whose intentions are clear. At the end of the day, I have learned to trust that there is a reason for everything and a lesson in everything.
Now, when things don’t go my way or I am faced with obstacles, I try to find the lesson in the pain and look for the opportunities of personal, professional, and even societal growth.
ON Taking Risk
Q: How do you overcome feelings of insecurity, fear or discomfort when deciding to take a risk?
A: I take risks all of the time, mostly because you learn the most from risk taking and because I feel most alive when I am pushing boundaries and moving the ball forward in life. Truth be told, I don’t think very often about the negatives when I take risks- otherwise I wouldn’t take them.
ON Giving Back
Q: What cause(s) have you chosen to support and why does it resonate with you?
A: While there are so many important causes out there, I am committed to doing what I can to empower women and girls and give youth and families the tools to fulfill their potential. I am a firm believer that if we can help more women into leadership, we’ll see a more transformational style of leadership that embodies empathic, compassionate, collaborative and win-win outcomes. I also believe that with more feminine leadership, education, the environment, and health care will become national security interests and corporations will focus on triple bottom lines, as compared to just the economic bottom line. And, if we can raise the next generation of youths to prioritize their education, talents, contributions to society, and giving back, as compared to getting caught up in the “me” generation and hypersexualization and beauty, I think we will create a healthier community. I also believe we have to help families support the healthy development of their children – whether it’s through providing healthy, natural environments and parks for them to play in or public educational venues such as museums.
Q: Oprah has that great section in her magazine “What I know for sure.” What do you know for sure?
A: I know for sure that when a woman is healthy and happy, she can take better care of her family.
Q: What are the top 3 things that you do to stay healthy?
A: I walk or do pilates or yoga.
I drink a lot of water.
And, I eat what I want although I try to eat fresh and organic whenever possible.
Q: What do you believe is the secret to finding the right person and maintaining a long term, good relationship?
A: I believe the secret to finding the right person is firstly, being open to meeting them and secondly having a lot in common or complimenting each other. Your life partner needs to be your lover but also your best friend. I believe that healthy relationships are sustained with a healthy dose of communication, shared interests, mutual respect, give and take, and lots of laughter and shared memories.
Q: How do you respond to the question “How has having a child changed your life?”
A: Having children has made me a better person and a better citizen. I grew up with younger sisters and lots of pets and was responsible and nurturing in that sense, but having children made me more concerned about the larger community around me. If my child is going to be breathing this air and playing with these kids, well of course we need to take care of everyone and everything around us. Moreover, having children has made me want to be a better model for my kids- more organized, less frantic, more present, grounded and at peace. I suppose it’s a lot to ask myself to completely transform into a calmer, less overwhelmed version of myself overnight, but hey, it doesn’t hurt to try.
Q: Which book(s) has had the most significant impact on your life and why?
A: I would say Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose has had tremendous impact on my life in that it has helped me to move through the dark periods in my life and clarified my convictions as it relates to why we need to change the status quo of what is going on in our society. I also love Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry. While the working mother balance act is a daily struggle for me- this book offers simple activities and life lessons to slow down and stay present through our children’s lives while satisfying the personal at the same time.