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Own Your Voice

Interview with Justin Baldoni, Actor, Filmmaker and Social Entrepreneur

In 2017, I had the honor of attending TEDWomen, which was a life changing event for me. I was so inspired by the women there and their encouragement of the WeInspireWe platform. Everywhere I turned, there was another woman asking me how they could help.

My mind was blown.

I did not grow up professionally in a world where women supported each other in that way and without the competition between.

At the end of the day two sessions, Justin Baldoni, actor on the hit TV show, Jane the Virgin, took the stage to share his story “Why I’m Done Trying to Be “Man Enough.”

So, here is this man, on stage, talking about how embracing femininity could actually be a good thing, and how men need to start supporting women vs the other way around.

Mind blown again.

So rather than just my mind being blow, I'd love to introduce you to Justin for your own mind blown experience.

WeInspireWe: Hi Justin, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Justin Baldon: Hi Tami. I am an actor, filmmaker, and social entrepreneur and have been doing that for over 10 years in Los Angeles.

One of my personal passions is to create art that makes people think, that tackles topics that are taboo, and inspires people to embrace what feels uncomfortable for the sake of what is real. And hopefully art that creates positive, lasting change.

I am passionate about spending intentional time and resources with people who are experiencing homelessness. I am connected to a number of organizations that do incredible work for the population of people who are too often overlooked.

I also love being with my family -- my kids and my wife are my world.

And finally, I spend a lot of my time in prayer and meditation. Working in the fast-paced industry that I do, it’s so necessary for me to have the balance of the quiet, prayerful moments. Even if they are just moments.

WIW: Love it! Sounds very dedicated and mission focused. What is the path that got you to where you are today?

JB: Without oversimplifying too much, I’d say that the path was full of changed plans, closed doors, feeling lost, and finding my way and myself, over and over again.

I went to college as an athlete but suffered an injury that derailed that path and forced me onto another one - acting. After a run at that, and a few doses of personal heartbreak, I stepped away from acting and began pursuing creating content that was disruptively inspirational. I volunteered. I started focusing more on my spirituality and faith. I met the woman who is now my wife.

And a few years later the opportunity to act came back around, and on my first audition I booked the role I currently play of Rafael on Jane the Virgin. It’s like this wildly messy, beautiful, full circle.

WIW: And through that path of finding your way to where you are today, I am guessing some opportunities to really lead arose. Tell us your thoughts on your leadership style.

JB: I think at the foundation, my leadership style is the belief that every one of us is a leader. That our roles may be different, but our worth is not. We need each other.

As a leader, and really just as a human, I desire to create space for vulnerability and growth by being authentic and transparent with who I am, how I feel, what I think, etc. I have learned that if I risk opening up, then it invites others to do the same. My leadership style comes from that belief. I am going to participate, I try not to simply dictate, and I want my interactions to be transformational, never transactional.

WIW: That insight on vulnerability going both ways is really key to developing strong relationships and leadership opportunities. As you grew into that belief and approach, what were some of your biggest learnings along the way?

JB: I’d say one of the biggest learnings is kind of this strange paradox – where on one hand I am learning that I am enough, just as I am here and now.

And at the same time, I know that I have so much to learn and other people have so much to teach. It’s like we have to be aware enough and kind enough to love and accept ourselves and out of that same truth means that we can’t do this alone. We need community. We need each other.

WIW: WeInspireWe is also deeply grounded in that belief that we need community to truly rise up. Let’s shift a little and talk about women's leadership. What does that mean to you?

JB: Immediately I think of balance, innovation, empathy, intelligence, humanity, compassion and service. I think we are in a time in our society where we are seeing, more clearly, the effects of not having women in leadership. It feels like we are missing each other’s humanity. We are missing each other’s stories. And while that has been a long-standing narrative in our country’s history, I hope that people are realizing how much women bring those elements to the table.

As we experience this cultural shift where people – where men in particular – are more willing to listen, believe, hear, and value women, then more opportunity will open up for women leaders. At the same time, that’s the greatest challenge, too. Women have voices, they’ve always had voices, they just have never been handed the microphone like men have. They’ve never been given a seat at the table like men have.

So, the challenge for women leaders is getting the microphone, getting the seat. Which means that the challenge for male leaders is being willing to hand over their microphone or get up from their seat.

It’s crazy that on one hand, we are taught that a gentlemanly thing to do is to open doors for women and hold her chair while she sits at the dinner table. These are all kind things to do in a relationship. And yet in leadership, we have this history of closing doors in women’s faces and not even giving them a seat at the table. It doesn’t make sense. And I think we are seeing that it just doesn’t work either.

WIW: What are you actively doing to support women’s leadership in your world?

JB: This is one I am constantly working on. Recently, I had been looking for a woman to run my media company, Wayfarer Entertainment, as well as a few different women to join our board. I hired a woman who may have not had the “on paper” experience but definitely had the drive, passion and ambition to run my foundation.

I’m trying to be more aware when I notice that only men have a seat at the table in various areas of my work. I brought on a woman to be my partner and produce my 1st feature film this year and in general I just look a little harder or more thoughtfully on new staff or hires to make sure it’s as inclusive and diverse as possible. However, we have a long way to go on both.

WIW: How would you like to see support for women evolve in the future?

JB: You know the goal is that these thoughts and ideas and movements become actualized. That women are in charge, and taking charge, without being questioned or disenfranchised solely because they are women. The goal is that the playing field is level in every profession – science, arts, politics, all of it – and men are encouraging, supporting and uplifting the women around them locally, nationally and globally.

I think I was raised with this mentality and it’s clearly defined in my faith. However, I think hearing from the women in my life first hand, being a part of Jane the Virgin which so intentionally puts women in positions of power, as well as just looking at the world and realizing how different it could look with a balance of women and men in positions of power has really caused me to double down on taking action.

WIW: And we are grateful! What words of wisdom would you want to share to young women working to build their leadership presence?

JB: I want young women who are wanting to build their leadership presence to know one simple thing – that they already have it. It’s not so much about building it as it is about trusting it and trusting yourself.

You have a voice; you have a story that is uniquely yours, while also being a story that so many others share. Own it. Don’t worry about fitting into the mold or into the narrative that society prescribes. Shatter the mold. Write your own narrative.

WIW: And to flip that around, what words of wisdom would you then want to share with men to support growth and leadership opportunities for women?

JB: I don’t know if I have any words of wisdom because I feel like I am very much on this journey myself, but I want us men to challenge ourselves to use the leadership qualities that we have, the leadership space that we are given, to ask ourselves if we are man enough to lift up women?

Are we man enough to vacate spaces so another capable, smart, innovative leader can have our seat? Are we man enough to hand over the microphone so that another voice can be heard? Women have been and always will be ready to step up to the plate. So, the challenge for us men becomes if we are ready to share the plate in this way.

WIW: Awesome – thank you Justin! Any last words to share with the WeInspireWe community?

JB: Yes! Ladies, you are enough. But you already knew that… you don’t need a man telling you.

Thank you, Justin, for your inspiration and support. We are grateful to have men like you in the world, supporting women and appreciating who we are and what we do. Please keep doing what you are doing!

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