Learn more about Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories
Jennifer Turner is the executive vice president at TriStar
Television for Sony Pictures Television, where she manages the development and
production of new premium television series to be aired on cable and streaming
Jennifer, Doctor of Public Health Leadership (DrPH), is also
the CEO and founder of MAD COOL FITNESS and MAD COOL COMMUNITY, which leverages
behavioral science to help people—particularly women—feel better, look better
and be better.
In November, Jennifer was featured by Zonta International in
a Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories event, a leadership series hosted by Lynne
Foley OAM, chair of the Zonta Spirit Working Group.
Here are some of the top takeaways from their conversation:
The three parts of Jennifer Turner's journey
"I would describe my life sort of in three parts. Part one
was Jennifer Turner who played the violin. I grew up on the South Side of
Chicago. I was an overweight kid who thought gym and physical activity were
stupid. … If you met me, I always had a
violin with me. I was always going to or coming from a violin lesson."
"Unfortunately, I had bulimia. I struggled with that
basically from the time I was 13 until I was 24 years old. And so the second
part of my life, I became Jennifer who was really into fitness. So when I went
to business school at Stanford in California, I decided that it was really
important for me to not only get my MBA, but it was super important for me to
get my health together, because I knew that if I continued down this path of
struggling with this eating disorder, that I would be not only very sick, but
there was a good chance that I could die from it. … I went from somebody who
was struggling with this eating disorder to going to the gym every day, just to
develop that habit. I stopped weighing myself, I stopped worrying about counting
calories. I had support from some of my classmates in business school, and the
next thing you knew I felt better."
"Now, in part three of my life, I'm really focused on
teaching others and helping others to be healthy, helping others to develop a
sense of empowerment—a sense of self, a sense of purpose. I would call this
part 'the teaching part.' Coincidentally, this is also the period where I went
back to school. … So part three is really kind of a culmination of the previous
parts of my life, and it's really important to me to be able to teach what I
know and help other people, in particular women and girls, to achieve health
empowerment—and not just health empowerment, but overall life empowerment and a
sense of purpose and the belief that they can achieve whatever they want to
"My desire to leave the South Side of Chicago and to achieve
other things was first really motivated out of having an incredible mother. She
is an incredible visionary and a woman who really wanted the best for her
daughters. … She made sure that we went to the best private schools and had
violin lessons. I played with many orchestras and [they] would always travel to
Europe and Japan during the summer. So, my world expanded through music. When
we traveled to these different countries we not only played music, but we also
learned about different economies, and that's actually where I came up with the
idea that I wanted to work in international business."
"How I went about studying different things was through
exposure, and that exposure was created because of my mother. It's [about] having
opportunities, having exposure and also not being afraid to try things that are
different and unknown."
How to be a role model
"I am by no means perfect. I'm still learning and growing,
but I try to do the very best I can. I try to be the best version of myself
that I can, and if I can help—whether it's a peer, someone older or a girl to
learn from what I have learned. If there's any value in my knowledge, I'm happy to share it; and if I can keep someone
from either making the same mistakes I made or to excel farther [and] faster or
just listen sometimes and be supportive, I'm happy to do it."
"You know that you're smart. You know that you're capable.
You know that you're a good person. And you can hold on to that even when
people, or the world, or elements or forces are trying to pull you down or
playing a different direction."
"I've been through a lot of stuff over the years. This is
very cliché and everybody says this, but it's true. When you get knocked down,
you get back up. And what I have learned in life is that no matter how bad
something is, you have to hang in there long enough to get to the other side,
because the situation will change."
"The issue really is to persevere, and to understand that
you've just got to get over the top of that mountain, see what's waiting for
you on the other side. And no matter how bad things are, the situation will
change and there's usually a solution. I think that is the difference between
age and youth. I think when you're younger, you don't have experience to know
and pursue, to have perspective on issues. As you get older and you've got a
few battle scars, you've been knocked down a little bit. When you get knocked
down again, you're like, 'I've been knocked down before and I got through that,
so I can probably get through this.' "
"If you're in a place where you have failed or something
horrible has happened, and you're depressed and you're talking to yourself
about it and you're trying to solve your problem; that's sort of like a surgeon
doesn't perform surgery on himself. You go to a doctor. Even a surgeon goes to
a doctor, right? So, really being able to reach out to young people and give
them the support they need and give them the context and the perspective. They
need to be able to work through these issues, because no matter how bad things
seem, there's always a light in the situation. There's always hope in a
Biggest gifts as a leader
"Listening to people and … empathy—so, really being able to
hear where people are coming from, what their issues are, what they want, what
they're trying to achieve in life, what scares them, and then being able to put
yourself in their shoes and connect with people. Because you can't get anything
done in this world by yourself. You can't be a leader if nobody is going to
follow you, and you can't be a leader if people don't believe in you … your
message. … People can connect when they believe they're talking to the real
you. If they feel like you are being presentational and not forthcoming, they
are not going to trust you. They're not going to connect with you, and I don't
think they're going to work for you or work as hard for you, because at the end
of the day we're emotional creatures."
"I think we have made quite a few strides. There are more
women that are in leadership positions and companies. COVID was very
interesting in how it did seem to more negatively affect women in the workplace
than it did men, and a lot of the homeschooling and taking care of kids and all
that tended to fall more on women."
"There's such a high bar for women to meet in terms of truly
being super women. … The fact that women still feel like they have to make more
of a choice, versus some of our male counterparts, in terms of work or career;
I think that's something that still needs to be addressed."
"If women are going to lead the workforce … there should
be incredible opportunities for
entrepreneurship for women to create businesses and have more support for women
creating businesses so they can create businesses with work schedules that work
for them and work for their lifestyle, where they have ownership, have more
control over their financial destiny, and also can create workplace cultures
and environments that speak more to their values."
Changing beauty standards
"I grew up in the era of the supermodel, in the '80s, where
the images of beauty that we saw in the media were tall, and usually white, not
diverse women—and so there were not representations of beauty, girls that
really looked like me and it wasn't an inclusive society. Now, at least in the
media, we do have more images in a world that is more welcoming of different
types of beauty."
"In some ways there have been advances with girls around
sense of self and empowerment. And in some ways, I think there's been a
reversal. … We've come far but there's actually still quite a bit of work to do
around girls having a sense of self, a sense of empowerment, understanding. First
and foremost, that there's so much more than what they look like in our
society, there still is a tendency to grade women more so than men based on
looks and attributes of attractiveness versus men in general."
"It's very important for girls to feel like a total,
complete, capable, smart person. It's not just what you look like; it's your
thoughts, it's how you treat people, it's how you give back to your community,
it's living in your purpose."
Influential women in her life
"My mom and my aunt were such an incredible force. With them
in my corner there was simply no way that I could lose in life. They were
always there for me. … My mother was a college professor [and] my aunt taught
biology at a high school in Chicago."
"When my aunt passed away, I founded a scholarship at
Rutgers School of Public Health, where I did my doctorate, because we believe
that education is the great equalizer and is a great way to give people,
especially women and girls, opportunity. My aunty was really into travel, so I
established a scholarship for some of the master's of nutrition students to be
able to study abroad. Similarly, I established a scholarship for my mom, who's
still living thankfully, at my former music school to give other students an
opportunity for private lessons to give them opportunities the way my mother
gave me opportunities."
"I would love to find a way to better connect my two worlds
of being a media executive and somebody who helps to tell stories and produce
stories every day, and to connect that power to the power of narrative, to
helping people to live better every day and be better every day and feel better
every day. When there's a part four, I think it will focus on bringing these
two parts of my professional life together and having those things align more
with my personal values and mission."
"Be kind to yourself, be gracious, don't beat yourself up.
This idea of not being enough…we have to throw that out the window. We are
enough. You are. You are a constantly evolving, growing, complete person.
You're not just one thing. You're many things, and to really view yourself
through your own standard. You cannot constantly live for other people and live
for other people's expectations and live up to their standard. The only person
that you need to care about is you. If you can wake up every day and feel good
about you and look in a mirror and be happy with the woman, the girl that's
staring back at you, then that's what really matters."
Learn more about and get in touch with Jennifer at www.drjenniferturner.com.
Watch Jennifer's Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories video
9 JANUARY 2023