Do Nice Girls Finish Last? Fran Hauser Says No in “The Myth of the Nice Girl”


After 15 years of consistent growth in the media industry, digital executive Fran Hauser was writing a post-grad playbook of how to launch a successful career when she received an overwhelming response from a blog post she published on succeeding as a “nice" girl.

“It's not just about winning, it's about how you win," shares Hauser on her decision to pivot her book's message to shatter the nuances between the correlation of success and kindness with “The Myth of the Nice Girl."

“It became clear I had struck a chord; this was a topic women were thinking about and they were struggling with."

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The original idea came to Hauser in 2009 when she was serving as the President of Digital at Time Inc. and realized connections from earlier in her career were reappearing in her professional life, which she ultimately ties back to how she built her brand. “If you win in a way that is not aligned with your values and you are hurting people in the process, that's going to come back to bite you; people's memories are long."

For Hauser, these values were kindness and strength--defying the mentality that you need one or the other in order to be successful. This, therefore, became a key message in “The Myth of the Nice Girl" as Hauser highlights the potential to lead with both kindness and strength through a combination of personal stories and anecdotes from notable names in her personal circle. Among them are Mindy Grossman, Susan Canavari, and Blake Lively, who support Hauser's personal narrative with tips and techniques from topics in their relevant fields, addressing mentorship to evidence-based confidence. “They are all women that really 'walk the talk' in terms of bringing both kindness and strength into their professional lives," says Hauser. “I really wanted them to share something that would deeply and richly support one chapter."

“It's not just about winning, it's about how you win," shares Hauser on her decision to pivot her book's message to shatter the nuances between the correlation of success and kindness with “The Myth of the Nice Girl."

Hauser, herself, is seemingly a woman who “walks the talk" as she shares her experiences from building to advising consumer-facing companies, while remaining true to some of her strongest character attributes, which she defines as empathetic, collaborative and confident that there are enough opportunities to go around. “The last part is really important because it's this whole abundance attitude rather than a scarce mindset; when you have that [abundance], you're more generous."

Relating it to an experience in her early career at AOL, Hauser explained how she was promoted frequently but there was a coworker who viewed this growth as “overly ambitious." In one of the key messages of “The Myth of the Nice Girl," Hauser explores the idea that you can be ambitious and likable. “I didn't do it in a way where I was stepping on toes or being disrespectful. I was doing good work and, in that process, developing really great relationships with people."

She explains the ambitious-likeability factor as a double standard that you can take control of based on how you create “opportunities for yourself, while also elevating others." Along with describing this correlation, Hauser highlights the necessary balance between direct and kind feedback; firm and collaborative decisions; caring too much and setting boundaries; as well as strategic and empathetic negotiations.

“I'm not a pushover or a people pleaser. I'm direct," she says on the ability to depict the book's chapters on these coexisting qualities that are often overlooked.

She concludes with the take-home message, which is also the underlying theme throughout her book; finding the balance boils down to the interactions you have and relationships you develop. “Try to get into the other person's head, understand what's motivating them, what they value," she says, “because when you do that, it's empathy, and that will allow you to connect with anyone on a much deeper level."

“The Myth of the Nice Girl" is in bookstores now, and while Hauser first published it to encourage women in their early careers to excel with kindness, she's found a response from women of all ages as a transformative, learning experience.


A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.

Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.