Pull Out a Chair and Be Part of the Change
By Keech Combe Shetty, PCPC Board Chair, and Lezlee Westine, PCPC President & CEO
Madam C.J. Walker was an extraordinary woman – a pioneer who started her business at the turn of the century, during a time when women of color had few rights and little opportunity. Today, she serves as a role model for many of us in the cosmetics and personal care industry.
Madam Walker was born to parents who had been enslaved. A talented entrepreneur with a knack for self-promotion, she built a business empire and employed Black women as “beauty culturalists,” providing them a unique opportunity for economic freedom. Her successful line of hair care products for Black women made her the first self-made American woman millionaire. Harnessing her fortune for good, she funded scholarships for women at the Tuskegee Institute and donated large parts of her wealth to charities, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and YMCA.
Madam C.J. Walker was ahead of her time. She inspired many women to follow in her footsteps, deepening her legacy and impact and driving our industry – and our nation – forward.
One such woman is Latriece Watkins, executive vice president, Consumables, Walmart U.S. The Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) recently presented Latriece with the first Madam C.J. Walker Award for Excellence in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) at the 2021 PCPC Virtual Summit. The award recognizes individuals in the beauty and personal care industry who demonstrate an outstanding commitment to DEI through strong leadership and sustained efforts focusing on workplace culture, programs and policies, or through external engagement with consumers and communities. This award will be an annual recognition.
Latriece is broadly recognized and admired as someone who leads with respect and lifts others. She champions DEI programs that create sustained, consistent and significant impact within her company and community. Like Madam Walker, Latriece is a true role model.
In accepting the award, Latriece spoke about the past year and how it changed us: “Corporate transformations, the pandemic, racial equity, hate. It was a lot. Our teams, our companies and our country – they need us to do more. They need us to be multidimensional.”
Madam C.J. Walker spoke of a duty to humanity and an obligation to care, not just about ourselves, but about others. “This duty calls me to do more,” Latriece said. “Delivering business results is not enough. Diversity and equity have to be a space where we seek, where we tell and where we believe in the truth. It cannot be a space that’s just about metrics. It has to be the conscience of the organization. And that means it takes each one of us.”
Beauty and personal care products companies are committed to helping shape a more diverse, equitable and inclusive world. We know there is more work to be done, and we don’t have all the answers. It all must begin with an honest assessment of our shortcomings, a strategy to address them and a willingness to keep working toward meaningful change. We know small steps can achieve extraordinary results when taken by many who are committed to the same goal.
Latriece shared a wonderful story: “An individual came to present at a Board meeting – someone who was not a regular face at this meeting and who likely epitomizes many of the people who are not represented in many Board rooms. As the presenter came into the room, a Board member pulled out a seat for this person. That simple gesture says so much: You are welcome here, you belong here, you have an equal seat at the table.”
Latriece urged each of us to pull out a seat at the table for someone – anywhere you work or live. We need to recognize more opportunities to lift others, broaden the conversation, deepen our awareness and ultimately change our outlook and actions.
Pull out a chair. Make the table bigger. Welcome others to the conversation. Do whatever it takes to be part of meaningful change, part of building a more equitable world. We applaud Latriece Watkins for her tireless work to infuse our companies, communities and country with more humanity. She follows in the footsteps of the extraordinary Madam C.J. Walker and, in doing so, inspires all of us to do more.