With autoimmune illnesses and food sensitivities on the rise, GeeFree founder Susan Hougui set out to make great tasting gluten free food consumers can create right at home. Creating a line of delicious frozen foods items such as puff pastry, franks in a blanket, spanakopita, and chicken potpie, Hougui was first inspired to create her own unique pastry brand after a trip overseas.
After experimenting with gluten free pastry abroad, she knew that the United States needed such a product, and became a woman on a mission to perfect a truly delicious puff pastry. Partnering up with chef Steven Leyva, Susan’s GeeFree is now sold in approximately 800 grocery and health food stores, totally taking the frozen food world by storm. However, thanks to a recent infusion of capital from a food-conscious investor, Hougui believes that number will only triple by the year’s end.
“I was introduced to Billy Procida, founder of Procida Funding & Advisors, a year ago,” says Hougui. “Even though his company invests primarily in real estate, he believed in Geefree knowing that there is a growing concern regarding the foods we eat. He became a partner, and committed an infusion of one million dollars into the company for sales, marketing, distribution, and an e-commerce website.”
As GeeFree is ready to add more wheat-less products (hello sandwich pockets!) to their expanding line, Susan sees her brand becoming a household name in the gluten free industry in the next five years. And thanks to the newfound private equity, the brand is definitely on the right track, as GeeFree is even running a television ad, making it the first gluten free company to ever do so.
“We are currently running a commercial on broadcast television,” says Hougui. “This is the first time a gluten free company has ever run a television ad!”
But despite the success of her GeeFree business, Susan has faced some challenges along the way that have only made her stronger. Battling and surviving cancer for example, has given her unwavering gratitude for all her successes in life, encouraging her to move forward with purpose.
“Everything I do is never static, as everything is changing and is always possible,” says Hougui. “I have gratitude for what I have, and what I've accomplished, and that always gives me a sense of peace, no matter what happens in life.”
Being a woman in a male dominated company is another hurdle Hougui faces daily, but she views it more as a constant reminder of what women have achieved, and the never-ending necessity to continue to push forward.
“I see this more as a constant reminder how far women have come in the workforce and how far we have to go."
With gluten free food sales on the rise, it’s safe to say that we’ll be probably seeing more of GeeFree foods in the future. For more info on the company, follow them on Twitter and Instagram @GeeFreeFoods, or simply visit the company website here!
The Quick Ten
- What app do you most use?
The Google app on my phone
- What's the first thing you do in the morning?
Feed my cats!
- Name a business mogul you admire.
- What do you wish you invented?
- What is your spirit animal?
Seal or an otter!
- What is your life motto?
- Name your favorite workday snack!
A piece of cheese
- What's something that's always in your bag?
- What's the most inspiring place you've traveled to?
- Desert Island. Three things, go!
Fire starter, fishing gear, and another person of course
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.