People 12 October 2017
You probably recognize actress and entrepreneur, Sarah Lancaster, from Saved By The Bell: The New Class, and you would be spot on.
We tend to look at people in the spotlight, especially ones able to get up in a room full of people as act their heart out, like Lancaster, and think that they are fearless in every avenue of their life - but that's not always the case. After growing up and having children of her own, she credits becoming a mother to be what drove her to write a screenplay of her own and star in a new film, The Stray.
Photo Courtesy of The Stray
Her acting career literally began with Saved By The Bell, which is a huge accomplishment in itself. “SBTB was a great experience. I was 14 when I started that show... it was a dream come true for me at the time. As well as a tremendous learning experience, I had never stepped foot on a set before that," she shared with me.
Her acting career has taken her through many more notable experiences such as the Warner Bros. series, Everwood, and ABC's What About Brian, but becoming a mother was something even more magical to her. “When I became a mother I felt like a superhero. I felt so empowered like I could take on anything. I've always wanted to write and produce get on the other side of things."
"Becoming a mother really freed me of any doubt I had. So I went for it, approached the author of a book I've long loved and started the process of adapting my first screenplay," she says.
“Superhero" is indeed the word to describe that experience. It's incredible the drive that becoming a mom gives women. Taking care of these tiny human beings create a confidence that is pretty much unparalleled by anything else in the world.
"Last year I optioned a book I've long loved. It is a female-driven coming of age piece. I reached out to the author personally, we co-wrote the screenplay together. Long story short I secured financing and we are currently prepping a top of the year shoot in NYC. We're taking meetings with directors, specifically looking to attach a female. I've wanted to be on the other side of the camera for years and years… something about having my two children gave me the courage to step up and start taking risks. So far so good," she shared with us.
The screenplay is something that resonated with Lancaster on a really personal level. “The story of is about a brother and sister who are very isolated from the rest of the world, they are largely left to their own devices. I began my career at a very young age which could be quite isolating in itself. My friends back home had a completely different teenage experience then I did."
Taking these huge risks with being on the other side of the camera has been completely liberating for her, “When this project began taking shape, anytime I'm working on it... I'm on cloud nine. It's my baby. We still have a long way to go. But the fact that we've gotten financing and a prominent production company behind it... I'm ecstatic."
Balancing all her accolades and being a mom isn't always easy though. In fact, “balance" seems to be that thing that all parents and entrepreneurs are reaching for every day and is a juggling act we're all looking to play a bigger role in our lives. Lancaster gets it, too, “It's not easy. I fumble all three on a regular basis! What I'm trying to work on is not making myself to feel so guilty about it! Remind myself that I'm doing the best I can. It's a work in progress."
But of course, working on the screenplay isn't the only project that she's been up to. Her newly released film, The Stray, came out on October 6th and is something she's so excited and proud of as well. “The Stray is a true story about The Davis family. They're a young family with several small children and when we meet them they're really struggling. Mitch, the dad, is working overtime, disconnected from his wife and kids. A stray dog happens to find them and without giving anything away is the catalyst for bringing them back together."
If she can offer one piece of advice to all the moms out there that are trying to start businesses and get back to work after stopping to have kids, she says to “be that squeaky wheel. Be bold. Take risks. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I've heard "no" as an actress and now with my screenplay. Keep going!"
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.