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
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.