Lauren Maillian, 32
Marketing Maven and Brand Strategist, Founder and CEO, LMB Group
Having begun her entrepreneurial crusade at 19, it was inevitable that Lauren Maillian would become a marketing and branding powerhouse if only because she was able to begin a successful business while simultaneously tackling her first year of undergraduate studies. "Sometimes you have to crouch before you conquer," says Maillian, who went on to build an enviable empire. Now, not only is she a go-to branding consultant, TV star and author, but she’s also a rockstar mom of two, proving how symbiotic the relationship can be between entrepreneurship and motherhood.
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
I like to think that this career path chose me. I have always been a connector of people and ever since I was a child I was incredibly inquisitive. My curiosity and empathy has been the hallmark of my ability to story-tell so masterfully. Getting people's attention and keeping them engaged is the cornerstone of a great marketer and that has always been me. Personally, my greatest achievement is my two children. Professionally, my greatest achievement has been my bestselling book, The Path Redefined because I know that I've positively impacted countless women around the world who are trying to find their purpose amidst building a career and often a family.
"Personally, my greatest achievement is my two children."
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
Although I’ve never actually been told to my face that I couldn't do or achieve something because of X, Y or Z, I’ve always been doubted. I almost wish that someone would have explicitly told me why they thought I wouldn't achieve something so I could prove them wrong!
I know that as a black woman, the bar is always higher, the scrutiny even more intense, the microscope amplified on your every move. It's always been an implied bias that I've had to work against everyday, and it's just par for the course.
3. What was the hardest part of overcoming this negativity? Do you have an anecdote you can share?
I've achieved a great deal of success at an early age, so being young, more specifically, too young to accomplish X has always been the background music to my life's playlist. Best piece of advice I can share with other young ambitious women is a quote from my book, The Path Redefined, "sometimes you have to crouch before you conquer."
"I know that as a black woman, the bar is always higher, the scrutiny even more intense, the microscope amplified on your every move. It’s always been an implied bias that I’ve had to work against everyday."
4. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
I #SWAAYthenarrative everyday just by being present in the world and by fully showing up as who I genuinely am. I feel that my inclusion at the table--through board meetings, companies, campaigns, press, and keynote speeches--was my way to change the minds of those around me. By merely showing up and doing the work, I was swaaying the narrative and defying stereotypes.
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
Don't be discouraged! There has never been a better time to be a woman determined to succeed. We all need to keep fighting and earning our way to the top so that we can open all the doors that have been closed for other women to come join us at the top because they've earned it!
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.