Young Women on Workplace Culture and Making an Impact

·27 min read

The Panelists:

Savannah Sachs: The chief executive officer of Tula, Savannah Sachs is one of the most dynamic young executives in beauty. Since taking the helm in 2018, Sachs has transformed Tula into the fastest-growing skin care brand in the U.S., positioning it as a leader in the clean, clinical space. Prior to Tula, Sachs held positions as chief operating officer and U.K. general manager at Birchbox.

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Savannah Sachs - Credit: Andrei Luca andrei-photography.c
Savannah Sachs - Credit: Andrei Luca andrei-photography.c

Andrei Luca andrei-photography.c

Tiara Kawser, 28

Tiara Kawswer is the digital marketing senior manager of Dr. Jart+ North America, who leads consumer engagement for the brand’s go-to market strategy. She joined the Estée Lauder Cos. in the Presidential Associates program, and previously was based in London where she oversaw consumer engagement for Becca Cosmetics.

Tiara Kawser
Tiara Kawser

Tina Liu, 29

Tina Liu is the director of marketing for the mascara category at Maybelline New York. She began her career at L’Oréal, starting as a junior management trainee and working on the L’Oréal Paris lipstick business in the company’s French headquarters before moving to her current role.

Tina Liu
Tina Liu

Jenny Schnell, 29

Jenny Schnell is the e-commerce brand director for North America Hair Care at P&G. She started her career in purchasing at P&G, before moving into brand management, where she was instrumental in helping make Aussie one of the fastest-growing brands in hair.

Jenny Schnell
Jenny Schnell

Tendo Sekiwala, 29

Tendo Sekiwala is the Community Commerce Associate Program Manager at SheaMoisture who creates purpose campaigns, strategic brand partnerships and grant programs that build sustainable economic impact for underserved communities. Her work spans across the U.S., Africa and the U.K in beauty, consumer goods, supply chain, and creative arts.

The last 18 months have upended the traditional mores of the workplace, ushering in not only a new way of working but also a new why. For younger people this holds especially true. In a sociocultural milieu where the need for transformational change — whether in the realm of equity and inclusivity, sustainability or even just personal wellness — Gen Z and young Millennials have made it clear that their life’s work is driven by the greater good, not just personal gain.

As the world starts to reopen and the “new normal” emerges, we wanted to assess how young women in corporate America are thinking about their lives and their jobs. Why beauty? What kind of company, environment, culture do they want to belong to? How do they make their impact felt as a young person in a large organization and how do they envision their future?

To drill down to these issues and more, we asked Savannah Sachs, the CEO of Tula, to sit down with a group of rising stars at beauty’s biggest companies to understand what’s most motivating to young women today.

Savannah Sachs: Why did you choose beauty — what is it about this industry that interested you?

Jenny Schnell: I was a dancer growing up. Beauty always played a very integral role in my upbringing and it shaped how I grew up in terms of building my confidence and how I presented myself. It was a positive part of my life. I was really excited to work in an industry that played such a big role in my life and have an influence on the role it plays for others. Beauty can have a positive impact and also bring a lot of self-consciousness, but luckily for me, it was positive. I wanted to bring that to more people.

Savannah: I’m sure that concept of inspiring confidence is really critical and determines what kind of purpose-driven brand you’re joining as well.

Tina Liu: I’ve loved makeup my entire life and I’ve always been in the realm of play and self-expression. When I was 12, I taught myself HTML and CSS and built my own beauty website with tips and tricks. So, no one would be surprised if you told them I ended up in the beauty industry. Everything you want to learn is on the internet with our generation.

Tendo Sekiwala: I used to work in the finance industry and I’ve always wanted to work for a brand that makes products I use. I used SheaMoisture products when I transitioned from a perm to natural hair, and when I got to the brand I learned ingredients are sourced from Ghana. That was a beautiful moment for me, because my family is from Africa. Ultimately, I chose this industry because it’s important for me to see myself, and I want to make sure those who come after me have that opportunity to continue those traditions and rituals.

Tiara Kawser: The number-one thing that attracted me is the creativity that lives and breathes in all of the different brands. I remember a distinct moment when I discovered beauty in more of a business capacity. My freshman year at college, I had just attended some career forums and it was only investment banking and consulting and I thought, there is nothing inspiring me from a creative aspect. I was at a crossroads, because I went to business school but I was also a visual artist who loved painting and design. I worked on a project in which we were looking at Estée Lauder in emerging markets and I learned about the incredible brands under the portfolio and I was so taken by the creative spirit that lives in all these brands — you don’t even realize they are all owned by the same company. There are so many ways you can see yourself represented — there’s an incredible storytelling craft. I was hooked by that angle and it continues to be a main driving force.

Savannah: One of the most powerful elements of beauty is how it is continually innovating and reinventing itself. I’d love to understand for each of you and your generation — how do you think people are defining beauty and self-care, and how is it different?

Tina: In the past, it has been about enhancing your natural beauty and making yourself your most appealing self that you can be. But we have shifted toward expressing yourself. Once upon a time, taking risks wasn’t accepted in professional environments, but now there is this more newfound encouragement to embrace your difference. Your work speaks for itself at L’Oréal. Because of this evolution, there’s a shift toward boundary-less beauty. At one point, I had mermaid hair and felt accepted. Rather than doing it externally and making you more appealing, the shift is toward doing it for yourself.

Tiara: I echo that. Compared to previous generations, we are seeing this shift toward embracing your most authentic self, and that doesn’t have to be one image. Where the beauty industry is going is people rejoicing and celebrating different facets of themselves, seeing a greater shift to better representation. Comparing middle school to now — I am happy to see images and campaigns where I feel represented, I feel this is me, this is not something that is unattainable or unachievable. It’s trying to carve out the message of own your confidence — it’s not about the stereotypical idea of beauty.

Tendo: I agree — beauty is about expressing yourself. It really is about telling the story of who you are and how you want to express yourself. We have seen how the beauty industry has transformed over time. I grew up in the South Bronx and was raised by immigrant parents. I grew up seeing beauty in many different ways, not all of which were accepted by mainstream America at that time. Now we’re seeing different models and products and the industry is being expanded in leadership and it is reflecting people who want to express themselves and show up as their authentic selves.

Jenny: The individuality is so different than previous generations. My hair is curly — I am the first of my family to have curly hair. I grew up in a Mexican household where you had straightened slick hair. Today, it is so common to see all different types of hair in the industry reflected. I’m really focused on the individuality and authenticity that everyone brings to the table.

Savannah: With that backdrop about why you got into beauty — shifting gears, what appeals to you in where you decide to work? What’s most important to you with respect to the team culture that you’re a part of and helping to shape?

Tina: We all work for such big companies that I think it is important to be recognized as individuals and having a sense of belonging and having an open dialogue. At L’Oréal, we have think tanks and innovation squads that you can join and participate in with your community and create these connections and collaborations, so even though you might not meet someone in a typical setting because you don’t work for them, there is opportunity to. For example, with the AAPI hate that’s been going on in NYC, there was a huge forum where people could have a powerful open dialogue about their challenges as AAPI, not only with each other but the company. That felt powerful, knowing a big part of the struggle is invisibility, so just having it acknowledged is powerful and made me feel connected and recognized, beyond an employee but as a person. Definitely having a safe space for discussion is key.

Jenny: The other thing I’ve noticed, when I first started at P&G, what I loved is we got so much ownership in our work, end to end, and the ability to drive your projects forward. I felt like I was doing that from the beginning of my career and I continue to look for that. Something that I learned also as I continue to benchmark with friends in different industries and companies is being able to bring your full self. Being able to have fun at work — we spend so much time with these people and giving ourselves to these companies it is good to know you can be your true authentic self at work.

Tendo: Workplace culture is very important to me. A supportive and collaborative environment is huge. I have been in different jobs where I didn’t see anyone who looks like me. Now, I see women who look like me in executive leadership and it gives me inspiration in how I can grow. At Sundial, we are led by a Black woman CEO. I love it. My direct manager is a Black woman leader and her boss’ boss is also a Black woman, and her boss’ boss is a Black woman. Representation matters. I can see myself in these women and am able to see how I can grow in this industry.

Tiara: The biggest thing is the opportunity to be heard, the safe space to feel like you and share ideas and know they are not going to be shot down. It’s all about a constructive work environment. Even though The Estée Lauder Cos. is such a big corporation, there are a lot of opportunities to learn more beyond your role. You are not just in your little box of your brand, your department, your function. There are programs where you can learn about what others are doing — our global reverse mentor program allows Gen Z and Millennials to see leadership. I was paired with our group international president Cedric Prouvé, and it was incredible to be at such a junior level and have senior exposure. It was empowering.

In my organization, we say exercise leadership in every chair, regardless of what role, you have to have confidence and empowerment to speak up.

Savannah: Sense of belonging and bringing your whole self to work, ownership and representation is critical and there’s more work to be done there and visibility across the business. Tiara — I love the thread around the idea of being heard. What advice would you have for other young leaders to ensure their voices are heard in the right ways?

Tiara: There are three key things I would say. First, always raise your hand for opportunities, even if it seems scary and beyond your comfort zone. That is how you learn — saying yes to being part of a group or special project. Number two is not be afraid to ask questions. We live in a world where we have everything at our fingertips in terms of the internet and we think we should know the answers. But it’s important to ask questions, to put yourself out there and rejoice in learning the answer. Last — be solution-oriented. Sometimes when you first join, you’re so excited and full of ideas. But there are realistic boundaries for actionizing them. You should think — why is this not achievable, what can I do to make it achievable, what are solutions to bring to the team? That is a great mind-set and you can become the go person to your team by having that shift in mind-set.

Tendo: It’s important to have your voice heard, ask questions, be present, present ideas. My work is around creating impact for our community, so when I bring my voice I also bring my community. It’s important to know that I have that huge responsibility in helping our community be heard in rooms where we are discussing funding, where there are projects we’re thinking about and thinking about our end consumers and community. Knowing that — keeping in mind why I am here, what am I supposed to be doing — allows me to think about how I can be a better advocate in this space.

Jenny: The other thing I’ve found really helpful is getting mentors. Sometimes we get so into the day-to-day, but making sure you establish mentorships very early in your career is so helpful and making sure you continue those relationships throughout your career. Early on — if I saw someone do something that I admired, I would ask them about that specific thing so I could home in on that skill set for myself. The other thing that I always try to do is when you take on a new role, define what you want your legacy to be so you are super clear on how you are thinking about the end, what do you want to be known for. It helps to keep you to be motivated in making a mark.

Tina: Being solution-oriented and finding mentors is so important. I turned my mentor into an advocate if they are close enough to my work life. As a young professional, it’s super important to have a leader, a person who can advocate on your behalf and drive awareness to you as a professional, especially in larger meetings, where not everyone may know you. So, having someone invested in you — that person becomes a champion of your success.

Savannah: What accelerated your career trajectory in a surprising way? Hindsight is 20/20, so whether it’s a moment, an opportunity, a risk, a mentor — what has accelerated your career?

Jenny: The work I did on Aussie. It was also the funnest time in my career. When I came, there was huge opportunity for the brand. We had been struggling to figure out how to grow the business. We found we could retarget different consumers and shifted the focus to Gen Z. We saw on social listening that they loved the product, but we weren’t talking to them directly. We changed our creative strategy, our community and media strategy, our packaging, thinking through how it would influence the products in the pipeline. I became the face of Aussie in my time on the brand and became an influencer. It was taking a vested interest in the brand and learning everything I could. Raising your hand and taking on any challenge. That really accelerated my career to come into e-commerce — such a dynamic space, especially over the course of the last few years — and I’ve been able to apply what I’ve learned at my time in Aussie to bring new solutions to this business.

Tiara: There are two distinct moments that changed my career. One was my rotation with the global management strategy team and helping to build our reverse mentor program. Typically, you’re in a very clear brand and function — but this was an incredible way to build something from scratch. I supported my manager and we crafted a program that now touches over 600 employees. That’s where I learned what it takes to make something happen, to touch people. How do you engage people, build a structure, make it valuable? Those are skills that were really valuable to me.

Number two was when I moved to the U.K. and helped launch Becca. I was in a market I wasn’t a native to. I had to absorb everything about what was trending, the different cultural regions in the demographic and how to launch a brand. It was 360-degree immersion — how are we going to launch visual merchandising, what are our social tactics, how we’re going to win with the U.K. consumer. It was incredible for my personal development and a really exciting period that helped me to understand what it takes to run and launch a brand.

Tendo: We have a small team, and last year during shutdowns we went into overdrive in response to COVID-19. We were able to put together the $1 million fund program to address disparities happening in Black and minority communities, especially around entrepreneurs. We noticed a lot of entrepreneurs weren’t receiving the funding they needed. We quickly put something together and launched 10 programs that enabled us to bring in over 100 businesses with our SheaMoisture community. That alone accelerated my career because it forced me to really put myself in a leadership position and drive something from the ground up and on a small, lean team.

Tina: My experience was similar to Tiara. I was working on a launch of semipermanent hair color for L’Oréal Paris. When I dyed my hair mermaid, it was a turning point in my career — it seems totally counterintuitive to do that in a corporate environment, and early in my career I was afraid to speak up and seem unintelligent when everyone else had a lot of experience. When I dyed my hair mermaid colors, I was putting myself in consumers’ shoes and became the direct link to the target market. My team was extremely supportive of the transition and it developed my potential. I started to speak up more and assumed authority on the topic to the point that management was asking my opinion and encouraging me to join conversations. You can’t go wrong in being true to who you are. The right employer will celebrate that and help you get to your true potential.

Savannah: Amazing stories! What have the last 18 months been like for each of you and how did it impact how you are thinking about goals and aspiration?

Tiara: The last 18 months have been completely unconventional. The number-one thing I got out of it was how important it is to be agile, and how can you flex and be adaptable. More than ever, I learned the importance of work-life harmonization. We’re always on a constant grind. We have to reflect and when you have more time to yourself, you have to ask what is important to you and how can you align your personal and professional ambitions. Also, it was also interesting because you don’t have clear lines of when to turn on and off. You are sitting in the same place for months and it’s hard to click off. I learned how important it is to carve out “me” time and make time for people who are important. I have never had more time to think than in 2020. Both personally and professionally, I found myself working away at how can I make my life something I’m proud of. Despite it being a difficult time, it was also a beautiful time to have that reflection.

Jenny: For me, the first 12 months of the last 18 were really heard. I had just moved to a new city with my boyfriend. It was tough. We were completely locked down. For nine months, it was just me and my fiancé. I learned I had taken for granted how much energy I got from seeing my coworkers every day. I had to reflect on how to motivate myself and get energy from other things, and keep the connection with my coworkers and get energy virtually, so that we could go through this together, checking in on each other personally but keeping the business running. Now we keep the business running and keep the motivation going for each other, but on a way more personal level.

We also got to spend more time with our families. I have learned how much I do get energy and support from my family. It’s been really nice to have that quality time. It had been almost a decade since I had lived in the same city with my sisters. I really now value the extra quality time I have with them and understand how to intentionally bring that into my career.

Tina: I want to double-click into close the laptop. I was living in France in the beginning of the pandemic and I struggled with defining those boundaries when home life and work life are blurred. Especially without family — work was a lot of what I had. Burnout is real and no one does their best work when they are mentally and physically exhausted. There are things you can do on your own, but you also want support from your company. L’Oréal did yoga classes, webinars on mental health, talking circles — it was great to be reminded you are not going through this alone, and building a sense of camaraderie with your team even though it is over video chat. It definitely impacted how I think about goals in career versus personal life. I plan on having a healthy relationship with the industry, constantly rejiggering to make sure the relationship stays positive and taking that me time.

Tendo: Twenty-twenty was challenging. I focused on the community we serve and it felt good to feel like I was part of something bigger than myself, to shift myself from the anxiety of the pandemic and focus on work. In a sense it’s kind of like an escape. I was able to find that balance by knowing when to switch on and off. Getting lost in books has helped me to use the time in a way that was good for me and I also deep-dived into my beauty routine.

Savannah: How do you feel about going back to an office? What does an ideal environment/schedule look like to you once we return to the new normal?

Tina: I’m definitely excited to go back to the office. It was hard to shut off while at home, so it helps to clean up those boundaries. We’re transitioning to a permanent hybrid work model. There will be some days at home and some in the office. I’m eager to see my team and connect again in person. It’s been a year since we’ve had a happy hour. It can be challenging to feel connected. We’re all guilty of off-camera meetings. I joined the team during the pandemic, so it was difficult to join in off-camera when I was trying to connect and build those relationships, so definitely wanting the team to feel comfortable with each other and understand each other on a deeper level than what the webcam can do.

Tiara: I also started in a purely virtual environment. It takes a lot more work to create those interpersonal relationships over the webcam. Also, from a productivity standpoint — sometimes you just need one question answered and it doesn’t require a Teams meeting. ELC has been really good about creating an open forum and listening. There is new news every day on how the situation is panning out and I appreciate how they are listening, putting out surveys to see how comfortable we are about going in. We are moving into a hybrid model — I’m excited to see people in person, but I really enjoy the flexibility. My family is in Australia and it takes 24 hours to get there. Now that we have mastered the art of being productive virtually, it’s incredible to be able, for personal reasons, to balance between the two models of working.

Tendo: I am in favor of both. I really do enjoy the flexibility of working from home, primarily because there is no commute. The commute shaves years off of your life! But I do miss the interactive bit of being in an office. The pandemic showed me how important some of these water-cooler conversations are. They seem very small, but they are actually pretty huge. Sometimes it doesn’t need to be a huge phone call, but because I can’t walk to your desk and brainstorm with you — it needs to be a meeting and that is the biggest piece about what I miss working in the office. I look forward to a hybrid model. We’re not expected back in the office until next year.

Jenny: This role is remote — now I’ve navigated how to manage it. From a commute point of view, it’s nice to have flexibility. I’m excited once we can travel to see coworkers on a regular cadence. From an office point of view, I love being able to continue to be remote, and we have figured out how to be productive in this role.

Savannah: What is the biggest challenge or opportunity in today’s corporate environment with respect to attracting, retaining or developing top talent, especially with the backdrop of evaluating what is important to you and raising the bar of what a great work environment should look like?

Tina: There is a perception amongst the younger generations that corporations have a stale environment. A lot of people interpret it as 9 to 5, where you lack growth opportunities, passion and excitement, but it’s about finding the right place for you. In interviews, you’re not only being interviewed for the role, you also want to interview the company to find out if it is the right place for you. Ask about what kind of internal programming and employee engagement programs they have. L’Oréal invested in me with tons of different opportunities — I was able to move to a new country and learn a new language, and because of that, I’m able to learn and I feel empowered to stay and make my mark.

Tiara: It’s the opportunity to really grow and develop in your role that is appealing. Beyond that — what new experiences can you gain? We are always seeking new ways to be motivated and the company that can help deliver that and share opportunities is incredibly appealing. At ELC, the global presence and all the opportunity with the company is super exciting. Similar to Tina — I had the opportunity to live in the U.K. It’s exciting to know there are new opportunities out there and there is such a global, multicultural expanse that you can tap into. Being vocal and having that accessible is incredible to retain talent. Driving those connections — we have programs where you can connect with other young employees, events where you can talk to employees like you — you can feel still connected despite being big company, there’s never a moment where you feel alienated or just like a small piece of the puzzle. That is incredibly appealing.

Tendo: Opportunities to grow and working on challenging projects are really important — it’s important to feel like you are being challenged and can think outside of the box and feel like your career is reflective of your own personal values. Career development is personal for everyone — each person has to decide for themselves how they want their career to grow, but feeling challenged every day and feeling like you are able to think outside of the box and you can decide who you want to be is key to career growth. Who is it that I want to be? What problems am I solving? What solutions do I want to offer? Being in an environment where you have the space to do that is important.

Jenny: Continuing to highlight the different opportunities the companies provide. Externally, people assume these big companies are stale and it is a 9-to-5 job but there are truly so many opportunities. Younger generations will find their way to these companies and continue to value and then capitalize on the opportunities we’re given.

Savannah: Growth is the word that summarizes that. In closing — what excites you most as you look to the future?

Jenny: Two things — one is just continuing to identify and lead businesses in this changing environment. E-commerce being a much bigger priority — how do we continue to navigate and set the right strategy to lead. We are at a pivotal moment. Personally, I’m getting to the moment where I’m starting to build and lead teams of quite a few employees. I’ve always been influenced and inspired by my managers and getting to a point in my career where I can be a manager and apply what I’ve learned is really exciting.

Tiara: Seeing where this digital landscape is going. Seeing it evolve and how priorities shift has been interesting from a brand-building perspective. I’m excited to see where new influencers/creators will be — TikTok is on everyone’s radars, with resurgences of opinions and beauty hacks on this platform. But the main driver is having voices heard and more opportunity for young creators to share their ideas and embrace their beautiful selves and share with the world. Our challenge is how our brands are pivoting strategy to make sure we are part of the conversation and part of the consumer journey in a space that is accelerating every second. I’m really excited to see where that goes and to go back to the new normal — we have mastered this way of working digitally, and as much as it is going to be incredible to go back to work, it will be amazing to see what we can achieve with more flexibility.

Tendo: I’m excited to continue to be challenged every day, and to build and scale social impact programs across Unilever. Also, I’m excited to see how storytelling and content creation will grow. That is a huge part of what I do around social impact — how are we hoping to tell our story in a way that evolves with the platforms and the content creators. Also, what does a hybrid space look like? How will that affect the way we work? There is a lot to be excited about and a lot to look forward to — a lot of unknowns and a lot of new and I am embracing it all.

Tina: A lot of what I’m excited about is rooted in the digital revolution — knowing the world is changing so quickly. We have been watching TV for several decades and now, new apps are popping up every single day. The world is evolving so fast — I’m super excited to feed the curiosity I have about winning on these platforms and how we build the best consumer journey knowing that we are exposed to so many new platforms every day. Figuring out that journey excites me and knowing that it changes so frequently means it will never get stale for me.

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