Jess Jacobs, 25
Actress and Co-Founder of Invisible Pictures
In Hollywood, withstanding bias, sexism and ridicule is an everyday occurrence for women, given men’s executive positions in the industry. Actress Jess Jacobs, for one, was 24 when she started feeling a lack of respect from the companies she was auditioning for. “I was reading scripts where women characters were passive recipients of the world around them rather than active participants in it,” says Jacobs, who then launched a female-led, female-sourced production outfit of her own. “I wanted to use content creation and my experience as a storyteller to change the narrative.”
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
I have worked as an actor since I was 15, so it’s really the only job I’ve ever known. As I’ve grown in the industry and as a woman, I have found empathy to be a critical trait, and being an actor is being a professional empathizer. My job is to put myself in other people’s shoes, to find the humanity in even the most difficult of individuals. However, after a number of years and a number of exciting successes, I was looking around and finding myself often feeling uninspired. I was watching women’s stories turned into niche films and television. I was reading scripts where women characters were passive recipients of the world around them rather than active participants in it. So it became obvious rather quickly: I wanted to use content creation and my experience as a storyteller to change the narrative and work towards bringing underrepresented communities who have been made invisible by systems and institutions around the world into the mainstream. And so Invisible Pictures was born. Between being an actor and being a producer, I am honored to embody multiple stages of the storytelling process. My greatest achievement has been my contribution to the building of a space to make all of those things possible, always in community with other artists and producers and creative minds.
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
Ask any young woman in Hollywood, and they’ll tell you that some version of “you’re too…” is a daily occurrence. Actresses, especially, are subject to every judgement under the sun. I also have been told throughout my career numerous absurd things. Besides the classic “you’re too old for…” right after “you’re too young for…” and so on. I was once told that I was tough to cast because I “didn’t have a quirk, like frizzy red hair,” as if that physical “quirk” was somehow my missing link.
I think the spark for me, though, really came when I wanted to produce my own content because I was tired of reading passive women characters, and someone told me that I couldn’t be a producer and be taken seriously as an actor simultaneously so early in my career. I was told I was too unknown to make a difference. I was told I was too small to change things. I was told I couldn’t pursue two passions at the same time. So, of course, I knew I had to go out and do just that.
3. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
The biggest limitation I have faced in my career is the immense amount of unintentional sexism that seeps into content at all levels of the media, from small independent projects to major network TV shows. This kind of content is not only uninspiring to me as an individual, but also sends the message of disempowerment to all women who consume the content and internalize these messages around the world.
The biggest stereotype I have faced in my career is the fact that walking into rooms with heavy hitters as a young woman is often met with a twice up-and-down and a patronizing smile indicating an obvious lowering of expectations. A lot of these limitations and stereotypes led me, in more ways than one, to rely on other people to tell me how to live my life. The messaging I had received was that I was not in a position to own my power or to be a leader. I was waiting for someone to give me a shot, rather than standing up and building my life, my career and my passion for myself.
4. What did you learn through your personal journey?
I overcame the stereotypes and limitations I faced by looking at all of them as opportunities. Every obstacle was a chance to learn something, to take a risk, to show myself what I was capable of. If the stereotype says pretty women can’t be intelligent and successful in business, then I would be sure to put on my favorite outfit for a meeting. If the stereotype says young women can’t be trusted with important responsibilities, I would take on more than anyone thought I could handle and confirm myself capable. And as much as I’ve learned, I am still working everyday to approach things as a woman rather than trying to beat a man at a man’s game. As a millennial, I have an instinct for digital content which is so valuable in the industry today and finding a producing partner with an expertise in traditional media was, and is, so much more fulfilling than trying to act like I can do it all alone. Before my 25th birthday, I co-founded Invisible Pictures, with my producing partner, Emmy-nominated industry veteran and one of the most incredible women I know, Audrey Rosenberg. We are dedicated to authentic stories which are not normally represented or elevated in dominant culture.
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
My one piece of advice: Do it anyway. Society’s limitations are perpetuated by our willingness to let them have power over us. Preconceived notions are only notions. Go make your own rules.
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.