WE panelists say advocates, not just mentors, needed

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NEW YORK — The role of advocates in championing women and amplifying female voices within the consumer packaged goods industry was the theme of a recent panel convened virtually by WE, a professional organization dedicated to empowering women to advance wellness.

“Our goal is to expand women’s voices and roles in the industry. We create environments that promote networking, mentoring and fostering relationships as a collective,” Roslyn Chapman, a WE board member and the founder and chief executive officer of Chicago-based sales consulting firm The Chapman Edge, said in introducing the panel. “This is the second in our series of discussions with industry leaders about championing representation and providing mentorship and support for African American women, our greater community at large, and all women and men who want to stand as advocates for racial justice and equity.”

The panel’s hour-long discussion was hosted by Wendy Liebman, founder, CEO and chief shopper at WSL Strategic Retail.

Panel participants also included Maisha Webster, vice president of sales at consumer packaged goods giant Procter & Gamble Co.; Cara Sylvester, senior vice president for home at Target Corp.; and Chris Skyers, vice president of private label and own brands at Wakefern Food Corp.

Panelists grappled with the distinction between mentoring — a central function of organizations like WE — and advocacy, which, Skyers noted, requires a higher level of personal commitment.

“I consider myself a really good mentor to a lot of African Americans in my organization, but was I truly an advocate?” he asked. “All of what we’ve seen in our communities in recent months has forced me to rethink that. Am I doing enough? I’ve gone back to my organization as a leader and demanded change from an advocacy level to say, ‘No, we are the largest employer in the state of New Jersey. Why is it that we do not have a DNI [diversity and inclusion] leader in the organization? I demanded that. … So it’s not just directly growing someone, it’s championing a cause.”

Said Sylvester, “One thing that I’ve recently been facing as a sponsor is making sure that my sponsees set bold enough ambitions for themselves in their careers, especially when our Black talent looks up and does not see nearly enough people that look like them in our senior leadership ranks. And so as a sponsor I’m helping them see the potential, but then I’m actually taking action and putting my own personal reputation on the line in order to help them get there. And that is very different. It is very personal. I think it’s a lot harder to be a good sponsor than it is to be a good mentor.”


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