DEI Changemakers: Breaking Barriers with Rochelle Weitzner, CEO and Founder of Pause Well-Aging

June 26, 2022
10 min read

Rochelle Weitzner is a seasoned C-Suite executive and beauty industry veteran. She is the founder and CEO of Pause Well-Aging, a barrier-busting skincare brand that has provided effective solutions for women experiencing pain points associated with Menopause.  In addition to changing the beauty language from “anti-aging” to Pause’s trademarked “Well-Aging”, women are now more comfortable sharing their menopause stories and breaking the overall taboo surrounding this life stage. 

During this month’s DEI Changemakers interview, we had the opportunity to speak with Rochelle about her impact and advocacy, as well as how she’s breaking barriers in the beauty industry with Pause Well-Aging.

You have quite the story. Before we dive into all the awesome work you’re doing, tell us a bit about how you got to where you are today.

It's definitely a unique story. My first 19 years were spent at a company called International Paper Company, which is the world's largest paper and forest products company. I was there for 19 years, believe it or not. Part of my time there, I was located in Paris which was amazing, and while living in Paris, I worked in France, Italy, Spain, UK, Ireland, and Turkey. Eventually it was time for me to head back to the US, and I got back and decided that after spending all that time in Paris and being around so much fashion and beauty that I really needed to make a change.

So, I left IP and became the CFO of Laura Mercier and RéVive Skincare. I did that for a while and then went on to become the CEO of Erno Laszlo– the 90-plus-year-old skincare company. After that I did some consulting and spent time trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. That was when the inspiration hit me to create my company, Pause Well-Aging, which was launched in June of 2019. 

Congratulations again on taking that leap! How did you know it was actually time to branch out on your own?

Well, it's funny because I've never thought of myself as an entrepreneur and never really thought about branching out on my own, but it was more about the need to bring this brand to life and to fill the white space that actually was out there. 

You're the first skincare company of your kind, focusing on the skincare needs of individuals who are going through menopause. How does it feel to be at the forefront of this movement?

It's very exciting, obviously. It's also overwhelming. It's daunting. It's exhausting. It's inspiring. It's like I could think of so many different adjectives to probably put around it. Everyday is a roller coaster of great things. I hear from our customers that our products have really helped change their lives, have given them back a sense of self and who they were.

But then it's also the roller coaster that goes down as well which is when we deal with some terrible things: supply chain issues, cash flow issues. As a startup, thinking about cash is something I have to focus on every single day.

You are at the forefront of not just building your own brand and serving this niche population, but this is about more than skin–it's about inclusivity. How has the beauty industry evolved to be more inclusive over time?

I think one of the most exciting things is that just a few weeks ago I was awarded female founder of the year from CEW, which is Cosmetic Executive Women, which is like winning the Oscars of the beauty world. It’s uper exciting that an organization like that, and the industry, has really embraced what I set out to do, which was really to break this taboo that surrounds this life stage known as menopause.

The reality is anyone born with ovaries is going to go through this life stage if we're lucky enough to live long enough. The fact that it's something that was never addressed, never talked about openly didn't sit well with me. I needed to do something about that and I'm just really happy that the industry really has sort of woken up. It hasn't been without a ton of effort. Initially when I launched the brand, I sat down with every single beauty editor that was out there and told them what I was doing. They all said, “well, that's great and wonderful that you're launching this line, but we don't write about menopause and we don't write about menopause and beauty together because we don't want our readers to feel bad about themselves.” 

We’ve made great strides. We get written about daily. Just the other day, a magazine was talking about the new TikTok trend of Jell-O skin, which is having extra collagen so that when you touch the skin, it bounces back rather than grouping or staying. It's all about collagen and elastin, which is something that I focus on very, very much. So, our collagen boosting moisturizer was called out by Glamour as the key product you need if you want this Jello-O skin. Now I'm thinking about making my own TikTok video.  

A key part of what you do is education and helping people understand what menopause is. Can you walk me through some of the myths you'd like to debunk about menopause? 

I would love to. First and foremost, menopause is not a medical condition. It's a life stage.

The other thing is that age doesn't matter. I think that we have a tendency when we hear the word menopause to think about our grandmothers or think about the Golden Girls, right? Those are the women in menopause. The reality is that what we're thinking about is postmenopause. Menopause actually has three stages to it, and the first one is perimenopause. What's happened is that recently the average age for perimenopause has dropped down to about age thirty-eight. Yes, thirty-eight. So the fact that we don't talk about menopause, we don't know about it. Millennials now who are in their forties, are going through perimenopause. I'm actually calling it millennial-pause right now.

The best thing that we can do is be educated about what is involved with menopause. Menopause is not the end of our lives. I actually like to call it our passage to power–the time in life when we have the most freedoms that we've ever had, we have the most wisdom we've ever had, and we really don't give a crap what anybody else thinks about us.

You're an advocate for menopause, but you're no stranger to advocacy. You actually became an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights by accident. Can you tell us about that?

I became the accidental advocate for sure. I was in my late twenties and I was very private about my personal life. I felt like my personal life was mine and it wasn't anybody else's. I was, you know, pretty closeted at work.

As I mentioned, my first career was with International Paper Company. Paper and forest products–a pretty conservative industry. There weren't a whole lot of women in the industry either. I was offered a position (the Paris job I mentioned), to be the CFO of a billion-dollar container business located and headquartered in Paris. It was an incredible opportunity, one that I was very interested in taking. However, I had a partner that I had been with for quite a long time. For her to accompany me, she was going to have to quit her highly successful job because of the work visa laws in France. She was happy to do that, but IP at the time did not offer domestic partner benefits.

We didn't have same-sex marriage back then. It definitely wasn't a thing yet, but domestic partner benefits were starting to come about. This was about the year 2000 and so I had to make a decision: do I just turn down the job or do I step out of the closet and maybe start to do some advocacy? I chose to do just that.

I met with the CFO of International Paper who was suggesting this position for me. He was wonderful and he said, “you know, look, I need you to go and speak to the head of human resources and tell him your situation. Tell him that I said to speak to you and we need to make this work.”

Well, our Head of Human Resources was a former military general. It was a little daunting–I really was not a senior person. I was 29, for God's sake, but offered this incredible opportunity.

I met with him. I explained the situation to him and my feeling was, what do I have to lose by speaking up? Nothing. What I have to lose if I don't speak up is that I'm not going to be able to take this job. His response to me was: “Our board is always looking for the business case to be able to introduce domestic partner benefits to the hundred thousand employees that at the time worked for International Paper, but we haven't had one and you are the first to come forward. Would you be okay if I use you as the business case to the board of directors?” I think I was shaking through all of this. I was like, “sure”. At this point I have flung myself right out of the closet and there's no going back. 

What ended up happening was that I was granted domestic partner benefits so that I could immediately accept the job. More importantly, six months later, domestic partner benefits were offered to the entire company. All hundred thousand employees could benefit. And you know, that to me was just a remarkable day. 

That’s an incredible story that you should be proud of. Relatedly, we’re now in the midst of The Mixx’s favorite time of year: Pride Month. How do we take this time of representation and awareness and make it more than just a month of the year or a moment in time?

It's really just about living, practicing our beliefs and values every day and living that everyday–not just during a certain month of the year, but, really everyday.

You've seen a lot being CEO running all these different aspects of your business and businesses prior. I’m sure that you've seen that sometimes campaigns centered around cultural movements, underrepresented communities and heritage months can sometimes come off as performative. How can brands actually get it?

It just goes back to those beliefs and values that we live and practice every single day. We just need to be authentic to that and not only speak up around Pride month. For me, I'm living out loud every single day.

I speak about my wife quite often. As a matter of fact, my wife is peripherally involved in my company. She helped me develop one of our hero products. She's very visible. I don't shy away from speaking about her and our life, but at the same time, that's not the focus of the company. I might do some things like doing Pride Month promotions, just as I would any other special time of year promotion.

I know sometimes it can really be difficult to ride that line of authenticity and self-expression while navigating the professional setting. Is this something that you've had to grapple with?

Well, it's interesting. Yes, particularly around self-expression and authenticity and this kind of goes back to my younger days, again, working for International Paper. I can remember coming to work one day, definitely looking professional, but also edgy. I've always been a bit edgy; I'm sure you can tell by my hair. I was in leather pants and I remember that a senior employee–the person I reported to at the time–said to me that I was never gonna make it to the corporate headquarters (which was my dream) looking the way that I did.

I will never forget that day because it just felt so demoralizing. The great thing was that not only did I go on to reach the corporate office and the executive office, I never compromised who I was and my self expression along the way.

If you had to say something to your younger self, what would it be?

Focus on your end game and just keep at it, whatever it is. Keep at it. Persevere.

As we wrap this DEI Changemakers interview with The Mixx, are there any other kind of tidbits of knowledge or words of encouragement that you'd like to share?

I think the main thing is just always be true to who you are. Don't compromise who you are for anyone, and if you don't find your right tribe right away, you will.


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