Jenn Sides Leans In


Written by Joe O’Donnell  Photography by Liesa Cole

Jenn Sides has been “Leaning In” a lot lately.

The popular book by Sheryl Sandberg about “women, work and the will to lead” has been heating up a conversation that impacts all of our lives and has since the middle of the last century. Jenn Sides, president of the cosmeceutical company, Teach Me Beauty, has been living the “Lean In” dilemma for many years.

“It is at the core of where women are and the fight we are having with ourselves in having to make these choices,” Sides says. “I am in my 40s with a newborn. I have been building this business for 11 years and have been in the industry for more than 20 years. I don’t think it gets any more real than that.”

Sides finds in the phenomenon of women struggling through work and life a personal calling.

“People everywhere are talking about Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In, and what women can do to achieve their rightful places in organizations. She’s the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and her TED talk got over two million hits, so her words carry a lot of weight with women all over the world. She is pushing the conversation front and center.

“Unlike Sandberg, I don’t think there is anything ‘wrong’ with women or what they are doing; I think there is something wrong with our organizational culture that won’t adopt and adapt to modern day life.

“Some years ago, L’Oreal Cosmetics looked around their board room and saw a majority of men. They came to the (correct) realization that it would be a good idea to recruit more women to their board, especially since women purchase their products. So far, it’s worked for them. Every time a company increases the number of women to their decision making positions, their numbers increase. What a simple concept to implement!

“I claim myself a feminist even though others may think it has a negative connotation. I don’t.  I am proud to walk through the doors women have opened for me. Look at what the women who went before us accomplished. I would not be able to go to a bank and get a loan without a co-signer who was a man. I would not be able to sign the leases on the things that I have. I ride on their shoulders. I think it’s necessary for all of us to continue working on the problems women face. Besides, it makes good economic and social sense.”

Sides business and philosophy has evolved into a very clear core focus. “My passion and my mission in life is making people feel better about themselves by raising their self-esteem. Our clinical focus is to ‘reveal the simple beauty in you.’ Help them realize the beauty they already have and how to bring that out and make them feel better,” Sides says. “I have a talent for making women feel good.”

Jenn Sides  was smart enough at 14 years of age to recognize she had a passion that would evolve into a real talent in the cosmetic industry. She spent the next 16 years honing her craft and ended up working for a national cosmetic company as head of sales and operations. After traveling constantly and living in New York City and experiencing 9/11, Sides says she longed to return to her roots.

“I saw Birmingham as a highly respected medical community and this seemed a perfect fit for me because of the extensive training I received in paramedical cosmetics, working with burn patients. I moved home and set up a skin treatment center that would also serve as a training and research and development facility for my own exclusive cosmeceutical line. I was one of the first skin clinics to open in Birmingham, and we’ve had great success over the last 11 years, mostly by word of mouth and patient testimonials.”

In building her business, Sides like many women has found the hardest balance to strike has been the age-old tug between work and life.

“It’s no secret that the number one issue for women today is work–life balance. It’s super challenging. I struggle every single day. If all of us, both men and women, would share the workload at home, then that balance might be achieved. Imagine that?

“As for me, I was blessed with my partner Craig Stephens, who understands and actually shares the load. It’s been amazing. My company has been up and running for 11 years now, but when we had our son last year, I was in the midst of trying to lay the groundwork to take my cosmeceutical line nationally. It was crucial to share home duties. Otherwise, it would be almost impossible to achieve my life-long dream.

“Being a later in life mother has its own set of special challenges in our modern day world because our workplaces are still based on the old-fashioned 9–5 workday, with the father going to work and the mom staying home, because little junior is coming home from school at 3 p.m. It just doesn’t mesh now.

“We are the last industrialized country without a national child care system. The way I see it? Until a top company exec looks at his male manager and wonders what he is going to do when his baby is born, not much will change for women in business. We need to accommodate families in the workplace, or we’ll continue to experience brain drain from women—half of our population!”

Sometimes, Sides says, women are their own worst enemies. “I am in the beauty business but I think women are tearing themselves down. My business is in building women up and enhancing their self-esteem. Self- doubt becomes self-defense. You are putting yourself down before someone else has the chance to do it,” Sides says. There is also a great deal of jealousy and back-stabbing among women in the workplace.

“While working in the cosmetics industry in New York, I witnessed women not working together and at odds with each other, jealous of each other’s success. I vowed that no matter what, I would always support other women and elevate them to positions of power if I ever got the chance. Women don’t always support each other, but there is no valid reason for women to act this way. I agreed with Margaret Thatcher (who just died) when she said, ‘There is so much room at the top, women should have no fear of each other.’”

Since she has built a management team as her company moves into the national realm, Sides often has time to work these days in the clinical treatment rooms. “I see beauty in every woman. I ask them what their life is like. I think all women will rise to the occasion of their ability. There is nothing wrong with being a career mom who stays at home. I have CEOs of businesses, teachers as well as stay at home moms that I work with. Stay at home moms are one of the most unappreciated groups of women.

“Sadly, we are taught at an early age that we need to sacrifice our dreams to have it all. I don’t agree. I am 40 years old, with my new baby boy Magnum, the best gift God ever gave us! I am a true believer you are not given more than you can handle even if it feels like you are at your limits.

“I’ve worked very hard and found success, even when derailed, rejected, and poorly treated professionally. I always get back up. I am a fighter with a ton of drive, will and determination. No matter the daily obstacles, I continue to lean in and keep going, meeting challenges just like every woman I know.

“My best advice is to work hard, be true to who you are and be the best you can be regardless of what it is. And if raising your children is that choice go for it. That is the hardest job a woman can ever have and even though rewarding at times, still very under appreciated.

One Response to “Jenn Sides Leans In”

  1. Karen Allen says:

    Congrats!!

    Jenn,

    Great article and baby shot. You look great.

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