It’s San Francisco Small Business Week, a celebration of all the entrepreneurial energy that makes San Francisco, well, San Francisco. The week features a brigade of workshops, panels and networking opportunities to help Bay Area business people leverage what this city has to offer. We sat down with Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who’s leading a panel this Wednesday on women innovators, to talk about what she sees as key opportunities for Bay Area women, advice for this year’s graduating class and her new documentary, Miss Representation, a film about women's underrepesentation in positions of power and influence (the film is now in post-production).
What gave you the idea to produce Miss Representation?
I noticed a real dearth of healthy images of women in media – from magazines to reality TV to the cable news. All images project portrayals of women that are focused on youth and beauty and sexuality. And I looked at that in contrast to the all the powerful “real life” women out there – from Fortune 500 CEOs to legislative individuals. There’s a danger in this misrepresentation of women in the media – it sends girls the wrong message and they’ll end up thinking that their only value lies in these traits.
What do you hope people will get from watching it?
I hope people are inspired to find their purpose and passion in life and are not limiting themselves based on media’s representation of the “ideal” woman.
Have you ever felt discriminated against or misrepresented as a woman? Especially as an actress?
Oh yeah, all the time. It’s great to be away from the whole LA scene and here in San Francisco.
How do you hope things change for women by the time your daughter is an adult?
I hope that Montana’s voice counts. I hope that sexism and misogyny are challenged. I hope that policies and regulations are put in place that prohibit certain messaging. That there’s less of a double standard and young men are raised to respect women. I also really hope that we embrace more policies of flex times and maternity leave for working moms and there is less of a stigma attached to these things.
What's the one piece of advice you'd give to the young women who are just graduating from college?
I would encourage them to get excited about something that they can sink their teeth into and be passionate about whatever they do. Focus on whatever it is they aspire towards – whether it’s their career or being a mother or being a great friend. Just find a tangible way to somehow contribute to their society. Find that thing that they’re good at and don’t look for outside affirmation.
You’re speaking on a panel for SF Small Business Week on Women Innovators. How do you think Bay Area young women, specifically, can better position themselves for success in business?
We live in a complete creative bubble. I would encourage young Bay Area women to take advantage of everything our area has to offer in terms of diversity – whether that’s exploring all the nature we have around us (and using that as a stress outlet and inspiration) or new neighborhoods. All you need to do is drive a few hundred yards from where your home is and all of a sudden you’re in a whole different community that can inspire you. Take advantage of the city's international backdrop and all its progressive, solution-oriented energy. Leverage all that and do something that's socially responsible. Connect the dots in a unique, capitally driven way with the goal of being a socially responsible business. Work to give back to our community and inspire offshoots. There’s a very interesting energy and a great support network here for creating companies that are socially responsible and pro-planet.
Buy tickets ($20) to see Jennifer Siebel Newsom speak at Bay Area Small Business Week here.