November 24, 2020
Recently, Levi Strauss & Co.’s women’s employee resource group, Rivet, kicked off their new series called How She Got Here, featuring conversations with identified women in leadership exploring how they’ve navigated their careers, how they overcame obstacles and what they’ve learned along the way. The series kicked off with a candid conversation with Brand President Jen Sey.
Jen has been with LS&Co. for 21 years, holding a variety of leadership positions within strategy, ecommerce and marketing before her recent promotion. Growing up, Jen was a competitive gymnast and won the U.S. national gymnastics championship title. She is also a writer, documentary film producer, award-winning marketer and a mom of four … and the list goes on.
Here’s some of what she shared during her conversation with Rivet vice-chair Sarah Taylor and Rivet Chair and moderator Elise Richieri.
“When I first graduated college, I had dreams of being a writer and a filmmaker — which, ultimately, I was able to do both of those also — and so, I spent some time trying to figure out what I was going to do. I didn’t see myself as somebody who worked in a corporate environment. I remember the night they called to offer me my first agency job, I was in my crappy apartment just thinking, ‘I hope I’m not doing this in three years or five years or 20’ — and here we are!”
“But I found I was kind of good at it. I loved the intersection of commerce and creative and culture. After a few more jobs, I learned a lot about what I like and what I need in an environment. Eventually an old friend from Levi’s® called, and I came to work here. Since then I’ve sort of done the tour at Levi’s®.”
On Why She’s Never Been in a Formal Mentorship Program
“I think it’s often more effective when you have an affinity for a person and they’re willing to guide you and offer advice. At Levi’s®, I’ve been fortunate that a few women offered me friendship and mentorship. For example, at one point I had been passed over for a promotion and I was incredibly disappointed, and I had someone reach out to me and offer advice. It was so meaningful that someone cared enough to reach out, and that started a friendship and a mentorship relationship.”
“These are women who are 15 or 20 years older than me who had faced challenges as women in the workplace coming before us that I think aren’t even imaginable. They came to be people I really relied on over the years to ask advice and seek support from, and I try to do the same for others.”
On the Importance of Empathy and Living With Ourselves Right Now
“It’s a difficult time. None of us is at our best. You might be home and be alone. You might be home with four kids, like me. We don’t have the structure we normally have, and so I think everything is exacerbated and intensified during this time. And it’s so important we extend empathy and understanding to each other.”
“I have that conversation with myself in my head on a regular basis: Who do you want to be? What is it that you think is right? What do you stand for, and how can you extend a hand to others in those difficult moments? I think you have to take a breath and remind yourself who you want to be in the world. And screw up a bit of courage and do the right thing.”
On the Initial Backlash to Her Memoir About Her Time as an Elite Gymnast
“It was the early days of social media and I was just ripped apart. I didn’t really know how to manage it. But it strengthened my resolve, because I realized if it’s such a fight, there’s truth there. There’s more truth than I even know.”
“I wanted future generations to feel heard and I wanted them to know that it wasn’t OK that they were treated this way. I felt like if I could just connect with one other person and have them feel less ashamed, I could help them heal, even if we never spoke.”
On Having Hard Conversations
“I strive to deal with people fairly and with empathy — and that doesn’t mean you don’t have difficult conversations. You have to do it in a way that’s right for you. I have these phrases for myself that force me to go forward with the conversation. For example, if I have to give difficult feedback, I might start by saying, ‘This is going to be a hard conversation.’ And that opens the door so I can’t avoid it. I force myself to be direct because avoiding that conversation isn’t helping anyone.”
On Advocating for Yourself
“[Earlier in my career] I always felt that if I just put my head down and did the work that somebody would notice; but unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. What I’ve learned is: from the minute you take a job, say what it is you want to accomplish and talk to your manager about what you want next. But be open to a variety of paths. Your career is a jungle gym not a ladder.”
“It’s OK to be scared and to say, ‘I don’t really understand. Can you explain it again?’ Chances are, half the people in the room don’t know what’s going on either. Now, I’m comfortable saying, ‘I don’t know anything about that. Let me go educate myself and come back to you on it.’ You have to be confident that you will figure it out.”