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I Was Told I Was “Too Nice” To Succeed in Business

#SWAAYthenarrative

Fran Hauser, 46


Startup investor, Former President of Digital at Time Inc. and Author of the Forthcoming Book, The Myth of the Nice Girl

Startup investor, media executive and author, Fran Hauser, has a knack for building things. Instructed early on in her career to be tough in business in order to be successful, Hauser instead took on a leadership style that was both approachable and assertive. After a series of career milestones, including the acquisition of Moviefone by AOL, and helping to build people.com into one of the most profitable businesses at Time Inc., Hauser has proven that you can kill it in the business world by being both kind and strong, and her forthcoming book, The Myth of the Nice Girl: Achieving a Career You Love Without Becoming a Person You Hate, explains exactly how.

1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?

I’ve worked across several industries, but have consistently gravitated toward roles that allow me to do what I love most: build things. At Time Inc., I was passionate about collaborating with startups and building digital extensions for iconic brands like People and InStyle. As an investor, I help smart entrepreneurs build successful businesses and introduce creative products and services into the marketplace. My greatest achievement has been my ability to reinvent myself throughout my career, most recently transitioning from digital media to investing. Leaping into the unknown can be scary, but it’s how I got to where I am today.

"I’ve learned over the years that the best female leaders are confident and authentic..."
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?

I was told throughout my early career that I was “too nice” to succeed in the business world. I got the advice that I needed to behave like a man if I ever wanted a corner office of my own.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Mullowney

3. Do you find this is a common stereotype in the media industry, or in the business world at large?

A lot of women, including myself, face the same Catch 22: if you’re too nice, you’re labeled a pushover or ineffective. If you’re not nice enough, then you’re a bitch. These stereotypes are harmful and divisive. I’ve learned over the years that the best female leaders are confident and authentic – whether they’re tough, nice, or some combination of the two.

4. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?

I swaayed the narrative by focusing on delivering results while staying true to myself. I played a central role in the acquisition of Moviefone by AOL, helped build people.com into one of the most profitable businesses at Time Inc., and developed a robust investment portfolio focused on female-led startups – all without sacrificing who I am​.​ I showed the doubters that you can be kind and strong and still kill it in the business world.

"If it doesn't feel authentic to who you are, don't do it."

I was sick of feeling powerless and not honoring the tiger within me. But I was also afraid to write about my inner most feelings about sex, power dynamics, social status, money and all the issues I felt compelled to unravel. I was afraid to show my anger. I was afraid people wouldn’t like me anymore and that I'd shatter that passive, sweet girl image I had cloaked myself in. Well, I think I shattered that and thank God!

5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?

If it doesn’t feel authentic to who you are, don’t do it. Trying to be someone you’re not usually doesn’t end well, and it can leave you feeling unfulfilled. Being genuine and confident will lead you to opportunities that bring out your best self. You have the power to create your own reality.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Mullowney

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Career

Momtors: The New Wave of Mentors Helping New Moms Transition Back Into Careers

New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.


Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.

Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:

"I didn't think you'd come back."

"You must feel so guilty."

"You missed a lot while you were out."

To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.

There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.

Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.

Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.

It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.

Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship

How to be a good Momtor?

Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.

Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.

Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.

Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.