Women’s Leadership Awards: Elizabeth Fauerso

Elizabeth Fauerso is chief strategy and marketing officer of Pearl. She previously was vice president and executive director of strategic planning at Dieste, where she led strategic development for brands including AT&T, Levi’s, Proctor & Gamble, Southwest Airlines and Pepsi. Fauerso has worked as a management consultant leading initiatives in brand valuation, market exploration and product development with companies in the U.S., Europe and Latin America. She overseas all marketing, public relations and community affairs for Pearl and its brands and companies. She is a member of the leadership team responsible for all of Pearl’s future development. Fauerso is a San Antonio native and Trinity University graduate. What advice would you give to a young woman entering your industry? Be grounded everyday in who you are and how you work. There are still a lot of remnants of what “normal” looks like in the workplace, and I still catch myself apologizing for being a mother or expressing myself emotionally or expressing a viewpoint that is explicitly addressing a women’s perspective or concerns. These are habits that we need to break in ourselves and we need to break in our broader work culture, and the best way to do that is to be aware of it and each day work on developing new practices and habits to replace these behaviors. I always make a point of talking about my daughter, about being a mother, about other parts of my life outside of work when I meet new people and even in the company of people I see every day to create a context in which other women will feel comfortable doing the same. Language matters. Speak about yourself, your work, your team and your ideas positively, confidently, and with commitment and conviction. It seems like obvious advice, but when I really pay attention to my language throughout the day, I will notice how easy it is to fall into the habit of using language that diminishes your presence and contributions. Accept compliments — this is a really tough one. We deserve them. What’s the largest barrier to women attaining more leadership positions in your industry? Inertia, stasis and bad habits. Our culture is still conditioned to assign authority to men, to trust leadership in men and attribute characteristics of leadership to men. There is a ton of research about how companies, investment funds, universities, nonprofits led my women outperform those led by men. A friend of mine who is a very successful venture capitalist in Silicon Valley has created a series of funds exclusively for women-run startups and tech companies, not because he’s an activist, but because they outperform all of his other funds year over year. What are some things in your industry or company that have changed the most during your career for women in leadership positions? I have worked in management consulting, advertising, tech startups and now real estate. The most notable change I observe is the number of women in the room. When I started as a management consultant working in Latin America and Europe, I was often the only women in the room and would frequently field questions like “Wow. How did you get here?” In Mexico, I was more often than not mistaken for a receptionist and asked to fetch coffee for men who reported to me. In our company, our [chief information officer, chief marketing officer, chief financial officer and chief operating officer] are all women. In what was once a completely male-dominated industry, I see more and more women in top leadership, ownership, investor roles in real estate. And the presence of these women is changing the culture of our industry. We are taking stands on policies to support and accommodate working mothers and fathers, to create family-friendly offices, to mentor and engage women in our pipeline. We see the value, not just in principle, but in real world impact of having women, mothers, grandmothers at the table, bringing our powerful perspectives to the strategic process of what we design and build and for whom. What are some keys to being a successful executive in your chosen profession — regardless of gender? In my experience, the key to being successful in any chosen area is commitment and vulnerability. Finding that place in the world or that industry that inspires in you passion and engagement that leads to deep commitment is essential. When you are truly committed, there’s nothing you can’t access in terms of your energy, your intelligence and fortitude. Vulnerability is a topic we have spoken a lot about recently. Brene Brown gives a really beautiful presentation about the topic. For most of our lives, we work really hard to hide our vulnerability, feeling like it is a weakness, something to be treated with shame, especially for women. What I have found is that being vulnerable, admitting to mistakes, learning how to listen and apologize — not reflexively or out of habit, but truly admit if we have hurt someone, caused a breakdown — is very very powerful. I find this in my professional relationships as well as my personal relationships. As a mother, wife, daughter, CMO, the power of being comfortable with my imperfections, being able to listen without being defensive to feedback from the people closest to me, has been transformational to my entire life.