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Jen Baron of Girls Rock: “Let’s start a performing arts boarding high school for girls that operates under the tenets of safe inclusive spaces and lifting each other up”

I have a very BIG dream to start a performing arts boarding high school for girls that operates under the Girls Rock tenants of safe, inclusive spaces and lifting each other up. I’d love to run the non-profit at the school, after school and during the Summer and I’d love to have a student run […]


I have a very BIG dream to start a performing arts boarding high school for girls that operates under the Girls Rock tenants of safe, inclusive spaces and lifting each other up. I’d love to run the non-profit at the school, after school and during the Summer and I’d love to have a student run recording studio, record label, magazine and more.


As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jen Baron, Founder and Executive Director of Girls Rock Santa Barbara. Jen is a Community builder, visionary and risk taker. 


Thank you so much for doing this with us Jen! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have been playing music since I was four years old and writing songs since I was nine. I come from a very musical family and music has always been a way for me to connect back to myself and to the world around me. Growing up, I struggled, like many young women, with feeling confidant. In my teens I suffered from an eating disorder and I started self-harming when I was only eleven years old. I was lucky to find really incredible female mentors growing up who helped me see a future where I could dream and be successful. When I was going back to college at Antioch University as an adult learner in my early thirties I was asked in one of my classes to present an end-of-term final project detailing a dream job. I ended up writing the blue prints for what is now Girls Rock Santa Barbara. Everyone in my cohort was so excited by the idea. My professor encouraged me to pursue this idea and the college allowed me to spend my senior year in independent studies learning all about how to run a non-profit. We were running our first program before I even graduated.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

There have been so many interesting things that have happened, but one of them is the story of how I met our board Vice President, Marla McNally Phillips. I was having breakfast one morning and saw this woman in a skipper hat with a bunch of other women playing a card game. She was laughing loudly and so charismatic, that I was just drawn to walk up to her and introduce myself. I just said, “You seem like the coolest woman and I just had to come and meet you.” It turned out she knew all about me and Girls Rock and we met for breakfast a few weeks later and connected in such a meaningful way. She has done so much to help our organization grow and is truly one of the best people I have ever met. The kind of person who offers her home for your rummage sale, lets you put a big storage pod on her front lawn, and then gets all her closest friends to work said rummage sale in the pouring rain and smiles the whole way through. I’d never be where I am without the smart and incredible women who helped bring me up. I’m all about the gratitude.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I once was invited to a formal event as someone’s guest. I can’t remember if they gave me the dress code. Now I know to ask that question and I also know instinctively what to wear to an event like this, but it ended up being a fancy black tie event and I showed up in jeans and flip flops. There was a red carpet and everything. I was so mortified that I couldn’t even go in, but I didn’t want to flake on the person who invited me. I went to the bathroom at the fancy hotel and locked myself in the bathroom stall and started to sob. There was an older lady in the bathroom stall next to me and as it turns out she was waiting for someone to come in because her door was stuck and she was locked in the stall. I crawled under the door and was able to get her door unlocked. She then told me I was going to walk into the event with her and she would introduce me to everyone and she did. Ha! I learned to always ask what the attire is and to error on the side of business just to be safe. Really I learned that there is room for mistakes. My heart was in the right place.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think one of the biggest things that make us stand out is that we have an all-female staff from around the world. Last year we had 65 women from 9 different countries teaching with us. I can’t say enough how important it is for young women to be able to see adult women who look like them to help them believe that they can do anything they want to. This past summer we had a camper and a staff member both from Brazil. They were able to both speak Portuguese and bond over music together.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are; but they are kind of in the “Top Secret” stage right now. Keep checking in on our website for new and exciting announcements — www.girlsrocksb.org

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Lift each other up. Allow for growth. Help develop newer team members and give them lots of support to succeed. Value the people who are on your team, treat them with respect, amplify their voice.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Be a role model. Be someone who empowers the team and sets them up for success. Show your gratitude. Communicate kindly. Also…there is lots of room at the top, that’s my mindset. I hope my team members are so strong that one day, they will out-perform me. Then, I’ll know I did a really good job.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My advisor at Antioch, Dawn Murray. I can’t even tell you how many times I wanted to quit when I was first starting out and I’d go cry in her office (even after I had graduated). She would just lift me up and tell me how smart I was and remind me that I was capable of doing hard things. She went above and beyond. I still go to her office when I’m struggling and she still says the same things to me. I always leave feeling like everything is going to be ok.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I sure try. It’s my ultimate goal, to make a small dent in bringing goodness to the world.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Be grateful: I am grateful for every experience and person who has come into my life. Even the harder lessons… those taught me the most I think.
  2. Take risks: From the beginning I think I have been successful because I am willing to take calculated risks over and over again. I am a very out of the box thinker and am rarely afraid to try new things.
  3. Own Up to your mistakes: I have made many, how could I not, I learned nearly all I know on my feet running 100 miles an hour. I’m the first to say when I’ve made a mistake.
  4. Surround yourself with a strong, smart team. We have a saying at camp,”Team work makes the dream work” and I am a big, big believer in this. From as young as I can remember it has been important to me to build community and be a part of a team.
  5. Take time for self-care. This has probably been my biggest lesson and the one I am still constantly working at the most. Running a non-profit with a very small team or just me for a very long time, left little room for self-care. I am now trying to take a step back and look at how I can do a good job in my work and also do a good job at living a balanced life.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I have a very BIG dream to start a performing arts boarding high school for girls that operates under the Girls Rock tenants of safe, inclusive spaces and lifting each other up. I’d love to run the non-profit at the school, after school and during the Summer and I’d love to have a student run recording studio, record label, magazine and more.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“One must always be prepared for riotous and endless waves of transformation” — Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) My best friend wrote this in a letter to me after the death of my dad. I’ve held it very close ever since. It’s a great reminder that life is transitory and we and the world around us are in constant transformation. I welcome it every day. I invite it in.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Cheryl Strayed. She is so crazy smart and such a beautiful thinker and writer. She keeps it real and I would love to take her to breakfast and talk about life… Also Brandi Carlile, the way she conveys her thoughts through music, is just absolutely flooring. She’s also killing it on every level and I feel like we would relate to each other so, so much.

Thank you for the opportunity.

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