If the Pandemic has taught us anything it is that the workplace in general was well overdue for some innovation. From focusing on the mental health of employees, to working from home without feeling guilty how you prioritize your time, we are all waking up to the unrealistic and frankly unhealthy demands we have been subject to.
Someone who recognizes this is Emmy Award-winning Hollywood executive and CEO of her own company, Jen Proctor. As the founder of Cultivated Entertainment, a Los Angeles based one-of-a-kind full service talent firm in the entertainment industry, Jen is a behind-the-scenes powerhouse that uses her creativity and innate talent to help legacy entertainment companies and studios, up and coming brands, and some of the biggest and most progressive platforms (YouTube, Facebook, etc.) execute their projects.
Recently, she became a mom during 2020, and this experience, along with a massive life-altering event as a teen, have shaped her perspective on what it means to cultivate a healthy workplace and value employees as human beings.
From working with the Obamas, talent-producing the 2020 Emmys, and implementing a fully paid monthly mental health day for her employees (OMG can we all have this?!), Jen has some powerful insights on what it means to be successful both personally and professionally. We had the opportunity to speak with Jen about all of the above in a refreshingly authentic and insightful interview below.
As an entrepreneur and a new mom, talk about the impact of COVID-19 and how you dealt with 2020?
The beginning of COVID-19 was very scary as a business owner. We had to literally walk off sets, leave our office empty for months and wake up each day without knowing how it was going to go. It was a time when I was forced to face the unknown in a way I never had before. The pandemic taught me so much about being a leader and staying strong in the face of adversity. I stayed grounded in my belief in myself and in the incredible team I have built, and 2020 ended up being our biggest year yet!
We utilized and maximized the time at home to invest in our clients and projects in a way that was never possible before. Of course, this in turn made the line between personal and business much more blurred. My days started much earlier and ended a lot later. If there is anything I am taking away from all of this, it’s the importance of balance and trying to achieve whatever that looks like, one day at a time.
As an expectant mother during the pandemic, every day I had all sorts of nerves, anxiety and wonder. I know this is a normal thing for any expecting mother, but beyond the usual worries I kept asking myself questions like- what will this world look like for my child? Will he know what people look like without masks? Will he know a world where he can run up to people and hug them without fear of getting sick? All I want for my child is for him to know a world that is beautiful and good, where people are not judged the color of their skin and where we can all live freely showing the love and affection that we have for one another.
Being a new mom in a pandemic meant that I was able to be home 24/7. There were absolute pluses and minuses to that, but I was and continue to be so grateful for a booming business and the most precious gift I could ever ask for, my son.
Can you tell us about some of the recent events that Cultivated Entertainment has been involved in and who you have worked with?
The last year has been the most rewarding year for us as a company thus far. We have had the privilege of working on a plethora of projects that enact change, stand for something bigger or have been a dream of mine since I was young. We had the honor of working with President Barack Obama & Michelle Obama on their “Dear Class of 2020”- a project that will forever hold a very special place in my heart. It was in the middle of a global pandemic and civil unrest in the United States. We also Talent Produced the 2020 Primetime Emmys, which was one of the highest acclaimed award shows in years. We poured our hearts and souls into making a show that was not only entertaining, but also powerful and meaningful in such an unprecedented time.
A few other recent projects to highlight include The Drew Barrymore Show, with our favorite lady in the game. Drew is the most authentic and genuine talent we have ever had the pleasure of working with. Her daily show, which also launched in the middle of the pandemic, just got picked up for a second season and we could not be more proud. Another to mention is YouTube’s Black History month special “Black Renaissance” with talent like President and Michelle Obama, Stacey Abrams, Anderson .Paak, H.E.R., Nicole Byer and many more.
There are so many celebrities attached to brands and companies, but sometimes this feels inauthentic. You are a master at bringing the two together. Can you explain the importance of authentically connecting talent with a brand’s mission?
The prevalence of celebrity and influencer is at an all time high. We are literally living the day to day with these people- seeing what they eat and where they shop, how they spend their weekends and who their friends are. The consumer is attracted to influencer and celebrity because they feel an authentic connection to them. This is why it is so important to intentionally connect a celebrity with a brand. Consumers are smart and more intune than ever. If the pairing doesn’t make sense, the consumer will know and thus not be interested in the brand. Authenticity is key!
As the industry is still very male-dominated (but thankfully slowly changing), can you share any experiences along the way where you may have experienced pushback because of your gender?
First off, I want to acknowledge my father, a single dad who always taught me that I was a 100% equal with any man, no matter what others and society showed me. I truly believe that how we are raised and what our parents instill in us has a massive impact on our view of the world. For that I am really grateful.
There have certainly been situations where ego-centric males have run right over my words. I have also walked out of a great paying and incredible job when one of these same males pushed me to my tipping point. I have seen a massive shift in the dynamics between men and women in this industry. It truly is becoming less and less about what is between your legs and so much more about what is between your ears.
I believe that women are the most incredible communicators. Our ability to empathize and relate to any other person and situation make us incredible assets to any team. My team of women is the most dynamic, talented and creative group and I learn so much from each and every one of them every day.
You are a master at turning scars into strength. Can you talk to us about the personal experience in your life as a teen that shaped your outlook on mental health and fostering a healthy work culture?
Life threw me a massive curve ball when I was 13 years old- my mother took her life and I was there to watch it happen. Rather than always use my mother’s death as an excuse for reasons why I couldn’t or shouldn’t do something, I used it as a fuel to know that I can do anything. I went through something horrific and I came out stronger on the other side of it. This horrible happening also made me realize the importance of people and relationships. I have learned over the years how important it is to share your story- be vulnerable! Often the things we are ashamed of or afraid to open up about are actually the very same things that will bring us closer to others. In sharing my story, I have learned how EVERYONE has stories and scars and things that they have been through- this is part of being human. Mental health is something that we all need to work on every single day.
As a leader, the health and happiness of my team is far more important than any project or deadline. I have worked to create an inclusive environment and am always striving to foster and promote mental health and wellness among my team.
Here are a few things that we do:
- We start each day with a meeting that has an open floor, where anyone is able to discuss whatever they are needing or wanting for any project- personal or professional.
- We work as a true team and family on every single project – collaboration is of the utmost importance.
- There is no task too big or small for any of us, and we always allow opportunity for growth at every stage.
- I encourage my team to raise their hand and share their thoughts -whether they are positive or negative. Feedback is the only way we learn what is working and what is not.
- We put together an end of the week newsletter where we shout out team members and client wins and we also share thoughts on things we are interested in at the moment- watching, reading, etc.
- I have personal relationships and continued conversations with everyone. I strive to help guide each person in the direction that they want to take their career and always cultivate a place where they can communicate what they want, love, hate, etc. As a leader I work hard to provide opportunities that are aligned with each person’s career goals.
- Each month, we have a fully paid day off for “Mental Health Friday”. I encourage the team to take the day to do whatever it is that they want or need. This day is theirs – no work allowed! 😉
More than anything I strive to make every day fun. We should look forward to going to work and I never want anyone to experience the “Sunday scaries” when working with me. Work should not be something that induces anxiety- we spend more hours with our colleagues than our own families at times.
What advice would you give to young women or new moms who may be thinking of starting their own business?
DO IT! If you believe in yourself, you can achieve anything. As trite as that sounds, it is so true. There is nothing you can’t accomplish if you really put your mind to it. There is no manual for how to “do it the right way” in starting a business. Set small achievable goals and keep yourself in check. When I started my business, I had just left a corporate position, opened escrow on my first home and truly had no idea where my first dollar was going to come from. All I knew was that I couldn’t fail, and here I am 5 years later with that same attitude. Each year I set new goals and milestones, all on my own timeline.