Heard on Campus: Entrepreneur Jessica Weiner on making an impact and a living

October 15, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jessica Weiner — a 1995 graduate of Penn State, social entrepreneur and CEO of the global brand and media consulting firm Talk to Jess LLC — delivered the 2019-20 AAUW State College Centennial Lecture as part of the Penn State Forum speaker series on Oct. 15 at the Penn Stater Conference Hotel.

Her address, “The Business of Being You: Making an Impact While Making a Living,” explored how Penn State shaped her lifelong journey of advocating for social change; the importance of representation in advertising and storytelling; and how students can turn their passions into impactful and fulfilling careers.

“Who I’ve become as a woman, as an entrepreneur, as a business leader and as a human being — a lot of the genesis came from my time here at Penn State,” Weiner said. “It was here at Penn State I got to cultivate my interest in many intersectional areas that matter to me, and especially as a young woman I will tell you that I found my activism roots here on campus.”

Weiner shared the story of how, when she was a senior at Penn State in 1995, she organized a series of protests against what was known as “the Mifflin Streak,” an event that resulted in large numbers of male students verbally or physically harassing female students outside of Mifflin Hall. Weiner’s leadership and her work to produce a video story that aired on MTV was her first experience elevating marginalized voices and using storytelling as a vehicle for social change.

Since graduation, Weiner has worked with major brands and Fortune 500 companies to launch inclusive and socially-conscious products and messaging campaigns. She helped Disney reimagine their "Disney Princess" brand to better empower young girls; helped launch Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty," which sparked a national conversation about beauty and body image; and was part of the team that led Mattel to launch an additional line of Barbie dolls with diverse body types, skin tones and physical abilities.

“Millennial parents had really moved on [from Barbie] to looking to have toys and experiences for their children that represented what their children looked like, who their children played with and the ideals that they value,” Weiner said. “It took us about six years to internally get everybody on the same page to shift Barbie to four body types — she now comes in her original body, curvy, a petite and a tall; she has seven skin tones, 22 hair textures and 24 eye colors. And now the number-one selling Barbie doll in the world is the Afro-Caribbean Barbie doll with natural hair.”

Weiner concluded her remarks by encouraging audience members to “focus less on being right, and more on trying to get it right,” as our culture continues moving toward greater inclusivity and equity.

“One of the things I do in my work I is bring in people to the room, and if there’s not enough room then we build a bigger table,” Weiner said.

Last Updated October 15, 2019