Meet Alison Rice, a Digital Leader and Architect of Her Own Success
What does it take to be the first? From the numerous interviews we’ve conducted with successful disruptors, there seems to be a formula of attributes, personality traits, and, yes, failures that pave the way for female pioneers, or as we like to call them,Womaneers. By definition, she’s a woman who defies societal norms with heroism and tenacity to become a pioneering voice in her field. Each month, we will share a new Womaneer’s story to uncover their vision, grit, persistence, grace, and drive to keep going despite the odds. The time of the Womaneer is now.
Deciding to move on from what could only be described as a dream job in the publishing world isn’t something many would be brave enough to act on. But then again, not everyone is Alison Rice. You know Alison from her monthly MyDomaine Australia column #AskOurBoss, but now it’s time to get to know her away from the ‘shiny’ title and discover why she’s an authentic and pioneering voice in her field.
As the group publisher of Women’s Lifestyle at Allure Media, Alison has spent the past seven years leading one of Australia’s most sophisticated digital brands—POPSUGAR. In 2015, Alison was responsible for the highly successful launch of Who What Wear, Byrdie, and MyDomaine in Australia. Did I mention she’s only 33?
Two weeks ago Alison pulled me aside and turned my world upside down. The woman that I’ve shown up for every day for the last three years decided it was time for her next chapter. This month Alison moves on from Allure Media and this week marks the launch of her podcast, Offline (which you’ll hear more about below in her own words).
Like all great partnerships, this isn’t the end for Alison and I. We have a few collaborations underway, but in the meantime, keep a look out for her new MyDomaine Australia column launching in October, #AskAlison. You’re invited to slide into her DMs with a mentorship or spirituality question or post it on social using the hashtag.
As for what Alison’s next chapter holds? You’ll have to read on for our very honest and open chat.
James Evans for Kacey Devlin
Tell us everything we need to know about Offline – your new project.
I am so excited to share Offline! With you, MyDomaine Australia and women everywhere. It’s a podcast. I sense it might be more but right now, it is a 12-episode podcast.
What was the initial concept/idea behind Offline? When did you first realise that this idea could translate beyond just that—an idea.
You know I’m a pretty spiritual, and that’s actually the part of myself I’ve focused on developing these past couple of years. I’ve become kind of obsessed with how energy, manifestation, healing and otherness intersects with leadership, my ability to grow a brand and run a business unit.
About a year ago, I started to feel a real duty of care as a leader in women’s lifestyle publishing to show more—struggle, pain, mistakes. I’ve been genuinely worried we have an incapacity to show anything less than perfection because so much of what we consume is highly stylised and over-produced. But it is a fake reality and young women trying to find their way in a world lived almost exclusively online need to know that.
My most recent role gave me the opportunity and platform to build some really special relationships with influencers and I guess ‘women of influence’ (who I now proudly call my friends!), which got me thinking; in the right setting with the right intention, could they help me support young women by sharing more of their stories?
And not their business stories—there is no lady boss stuff here—but their ‘true self’ stories. What experiences have shaped their morals, ethics, opinions, values and character? What does the person behind the massive following and curated feed stand for? These women are intelligent, strategic, unbelievably kind and extremely hard-working, so I also wanted to highlight those traits. It is one thing to amass a following, but it is another to hone it and develop it.
So, Offline was born! It is a series of honest conversations with the women behind some of Australia’s most popular fashion, beauty and lifestyle Instagram accounts. Together we get real about life on the other side of the filter and explore the concept of true self.
My goal isn’t to go viral, but for Offline to be a resource for women who are ready to look past social media’s highlight reel and develop what I am calling our unique female codes. The conversations are raw and imperfect. I haven’t produced a glossy product—I’ve let it have light and shade. I’ve cried in a few episodes as well, so there’s that!
Can you let us in on who we can expect to hear from on Offline?
I am so honoured to have my healer Jeannie Bourke—owner of Venustus beauty lab—kick us off in episode one. She defines self for Offline listeners, then I explore the concept with my special guests in the episodes to follow. I won’t share all the names and ruin the surprise, but you can expect to hear from Elle Ferguson, Carmen Hamilton, Zoe Marshall and more. It was important to me that I had an existing relationship with the women I interviewed but if Offline continues beyond 12 episodes, I’ll evolve that thinking.
Can you recall a lightbulb moment that motivated you to pursue your next path?
No lightbulb moment, but a growing sense that I have a higher purpose—we all do—and that I would need to stay alert to the signals directing me to what it is. I’m not saying I’m there, but I feel closer than ever before. I am extremely passionate about advocating for young women and creating community. I think Offline is one way I can do that but I know there will be others. I just need to pay attention!
Did you face any immediate challenges? What was the biggest barrier you had to overcome?
The biggest barrier I had to overcome was deciding to move on from where I was professionally in order to continue growing. Giving up status and security was hard and I’ll admit it took me a long time to decide. What I also realised in that process was we don’t have many senior role models in women’s lifestyle publishing that champion the idea of being an architect of your own success. So the barrier I had to overcome was leaving the shiny job everyone else respected in order to pursue a path that would allow me to grow creatively, explore and give back. In a lot of ways Offline is a discussion about our growing reliance on labels to define who we are.
How did you shake off the fear and doubt to pursue your own idea?
All the self-work I’ve done over the last two years—energy healing, therapy, hypnosis (that was an interesting few months!), crystal work, dealing with my pain and trauma—got me to a point where I could move past fear and into purpose.
Talk us through what you were doing before you launched Offline? What are some of the roles you held, and how did that help prepare you for your own creative project?
Most recently I worked with you—my superb successor—and our talented teams across Who What Wear, Byrdie, MyDomaine and POPSUGAR Australia. My role as Group Publisher helped me develop strategic thinking but also how to ensure my ideas are commercially viable. I think as creatives we just want to launch things but there’s a science to it. We spoke a lot about that concept in our business—the art and science of digital publishing. I took a lot from that.
Before my time on these beautiful brands, I worked as a freelance features writer. Looking back, I always leant in to subjects that supported the mental and physical wellbeing of young women. I covered everything from taxi rape cases to homelessness, public housing and high school bullying. Covering those perhaps difficult topics definitely ignited my passion for creating content that seeks to empower women through education.
Then before that, I had a wonderful time at a media union and journalism foundation. A place I made some of my closest friends and met my first mentor. I got the opportunity to help run a professional program, a student program and a monthly magazine. I worked on the reception desk for a couple of years before moving into a program manager role, and that experience helped me understand how to read and negotiate contracts, find common ground with people from all walks of life and give advice. It was great training and most of it I still use today.
What are some of your biggest achievements to date?
Mentoring you into the exciting young leader you are today, creating a team culture I am proud of, helping people who couldn’t help me, building exceptional relationships, growing POPSUGAR Australia into a category leader, launching the Who What Wear Network in Australia! So many things I’ll always be proud of. And on a personal note, maintaining a happy marriage while leading a big team and running four websites. That’s an achievement for sure. I did marry a good one though, he is my biggest champion.
Do you think it is harder for female entrepreneurs to start a business today?
Not at all. If anything a lot of investors are looking for strong, female-founded businesses. I say let’s milk that and take the monopoly. This is our time and we need to call it in—the favours, what we are owed, draw down on our networks, ask for help and introductions, seek advice at every turn.
How have you built your voice of authority within your industry?
Not purposely, if I can say that. I didn’t set out to be an authority but I did set out to be authentic and operate from a place of integrity and high moral code. Again, the lack of modern and positive senior role models in women’s lifestyle publishing meant I had to navigate it on my own. For the first few years I wasn’t taken seriously, barely got “invited” to anything, always had the worst seat at events and the like. Our industry hadn’t yet acknowledged the opportunities digital would bring, and no one was creating content that was particularly innovative or additive. It is hard to believe that just seven years ago, mastheads were still telling women what they were doing wrong or how to get skinny. Being a young publisher I didn’t identify with any of it, so I started sharing how I saw the world. I decided to be an ‘educator’ not a ‘convincer’ wherever I went. Ultimately I hope I am just one of many examples that if you stay true to your values and beliefs, you can make a difference. Consistency is key.
What mistakes have you learned from, and even benefited from in your life?
I’ve learned the hard way to only let people in who share my level of integrity. I’ve been used a lot, my ideas stolen and I’ve introduced the wrong type of people to important people in my network.
As a leader, I’ve learned that no matter how badly you want success and advancement for someone, they need to have the core skills. Lesson there is don’t promote people based on anything else other than capability to do the job. Otherwise you are setting them up to fail and that is deeply unfair.
I’ve also learned that you can’t lead to be liked, all you actually need is your team’s respect. I found this particularly hard leading teams of young women. You want to be everyone’s friend but you also have a bottom line to manage and in my case, an audience target to deliver. If you’re nice but not particularly well-respected, it can come crashing down pretty quickly when you have to make a hard decision. I think that is where the consistency comes in—be the example, always. Even when you want to kick and scream, show your team why you are the leader.
I also made the mistake early on thinking that just because I was trustworthy, everyone was. I can still be a bit naïve to how people behave in business to be honest. We’re making such amazing progress rewriting the “bitches at work” narrative, but there’s still a lot of women bringing their personal trauma in and that can manifest itself in really ugly ways. Even in my deepest times of need, I have not been exempt from that behaviour. Through those experiences I learnt it was my job to lead them to higher ground.
What is the one thing you think every woman needs to become a pioneer in her own field?
Enough resilience to keep going even when no one is singing your praises.
What’s next for you in 2018/2019?
Your guess is as good as mine! But no really, right now I am wholly focused on my podcast, my new mentoring column (plug: #AskAlison!) and professional growth. I am ready for an exciting new challenge. Beyond that, I think our industry is ready for some new models and I am exploring. If I gaze off into the future I hope I am leading happy teams, launching things that bring meaning to women’s lives and writing strategy that makes you and I want to high five. We’ve certainly done that a lot these past few years—I’ll really miss it.