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Making Connections, with Cecilia Nelson

Making Connections, with Cecilia Nelson

Episode 63: Making Connections, with Cecilia Nelson

Cecilia Nelson is the Assistant Vice President of Diversity at L’Oreal. Whether personally or professionally, she makes an impact on people’s lives through forming deep, authentic connections with everyone she meets -- including our very own Kristy Wallace. Cecilia tells us about the importance of appreciating the day to day and explains how we can celebrate our accomplishments through vision boards, Passion Planners, and more. She lays down the facts and statistics for us about the increased financial performance of companies with diversity and inclusion. She reminds us that it’s not enough to just be diverse, you need to be inclusive, and shares some advice on how to get that coveted promotion.

Episode Transcript


00:00 Rachel Griesinger: Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast, conversations with women changing the face of business. And now your hosts, Kristy Wallace and Maricella Herrera.


00:13 Kristy Wallace: Hi, and welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. This is Kristy Wallace, here with Maricella, and we are about to fall asleep at the mic because we've been non-stop getting ready for our action summit.

00:28 Maricella Herrera: It's so exciting, but I'm so exhausted.


00:31 KW: We're giddy, we're getting giddy. But you should be getting giddy, too, 'cause we have just a powerhouse event happening tomorrow, the Ellevate Network: Mobilizing the Power of Women Action Summit, happening live in New York City, June 21st. We've got a stellar lineup of speakers, from action speakers to fireside chats, to panels, just gonna be amazing. If you can't join us in person and if you want more information on that, check out You can join us on the livestream. However you choose to join, we want you a part of that conversation because tomorrow is about creating real change in gender diversity and how we can close some of these statistics, get more than 20% female representation in politics, on boards, 3.4% representation in senior leadership of Fortune 500 companies. The numbers go on and on, through to women in middle management and funding that's directed to female founders. We're changing all of this, and we're gonna start with that action tomorrow, so we hope you can join us. And, Maricella, you ready to go? You excited?

01:44 MH: I'm very excited. The fun starts tonight with our pre-reception, and then full day lineup. I was trying to think who am I the most excited to see, and I can't.

01:57 KW: Well, Wade Davis Jr., and Zainab Salbi, who were just our two most recent podcast guests, will be there, so I'm excited about them. I loved "Feminist Fight Club." I totally loved reading that book, so Jessica Bennett is gonna be a lot of fun.

02:10 MH: It's especially gonna be a lot of fun 'cause she's gonna be in a conversation with Sally.

02:13 KW: Yeah.

02:14 MH: You should expect some zingers from that one.

02:18 KW: I'm especially excited for the "Best Panel of the Day," which will be my panel, of course.


02:26 MH: Hashtag bias.


02:28 KW: It's gonna be awesome. But, no, we just... There's some unbelievable speakers and I can't wait. We're gonna be glued to the stage, and if you are joining us via livestream, I'm sure you'll be glued to the livestream. But also share it with your friends. We're big on cheering here and we love your support, so follow us on social media, if you're not already, EllevateNtwk on Twitter and Ellevate Network on Facebook. We're also on Instagram. You'll see tons of Facebook live videos. We'll have pictures from the event, links to the livestream, quotes, and insights and facts. There's lots of great stuff going on, so we hope that you can join us in that conversation and help support elevating the conversation as well.

03:13 MH: Yeah. And you know what I'm mostly excited about?

03:16 KW: What?

03:16 MH: That the next day I'm going to Greece.

03:18 KW: Yay. I know, and I'm so... [chuckle] I'm terrible 'cause we planned like work barbecues and stuff right after the summit and you won't be there, but we will FaceTime you a lot.

03:31 MH: That's okay.


03:31 KW: Yeah. I don't think you're not... I mean, barbecue in Jersey versus Greece, I would totally go to Greece, too.


03:38 MH: Not that I don't love you, guys, but we've been spending really late nights working on this summit so... It's good.


03:48 KW: Gosh. Well, so today's guest is Cecilia Nelson, who is AVP for Diversity and Inclusion at L'Oréal. She actually is a close personal friend of mine from way, way, way back in the day. And Cecilia is just... She's great. She's inspirational. She is incredibly passionate about diversity and inclusion. She's incredibly passionate about living her life to the fullest. She's just a really positive force that I just love being around, and I think that's why our friendship has kept going and gotten stronger over the years. She also taught me how to knit, so that's always fun. I don't do it now. I should, because she spent a lot of time trying to teach me. But my conversation with her on the podcast was just... I learned a lot of things I didn't know and was just really inspired once again all over by Cecilia and all that she's been able to do.

04:51 MH: She is. She's great. She's a big supporter of ours, too, due to your friendship and her passion for diversity, but she is, she's really cool.

05:00 KW: Yeah. So, I know that you will love my conversation with her. If you will have questions for us at the Ellevate Podcast, we want to hear them.

05:09 MH: Email us at or send your questions via Twitter, EllevateNtwk hashtag ellevate pod. And tomorrow, don't forget to tune in to the livestream, come to the conference and/or follow the conversation on social media using hashtag mobilize women.

05:30 KW: Awesome.


05:45 KW: I'm overjoyed that you're here. I've been trying to get you on the podcast for a while. And you and I have known each other, if I were to guess, 15 years?

05:55 Cecilia Nelson: Oh, my God, it has to be at least 2003, 2002?

06:00 KW: Yeah. I was at Vault and you were at JPMorgan.

06:02 CN: Absolutely, yes.

06:04 KW: And one of the things... We were a client relationship that turned into a friendship, and I remember you taught me how to knit.

06:15 CN: Yes. Oh, my goodness. I love the fact that my passion for knitting, that I've been able to give it to so many of my friends. And it really warms my heart now with this era where people post things, where I see a friend of mine who maybe I'm not in contact with them as much as when we worked together and I taught them how to knit, and I see them pull out their needles and make something. And I feel like, "Oh, my goodness, I really did leave a part of me with you." Which is why when people say, "Oh, can you make me something?" I'm like, "I'll teach you." [chuckle] I'm happy to, what is it, "give a man a fish and you feed him once, and you teach him how to fish and you feed him for his life." I look at that with knitting. It's a great hobby, and I'm so happy that that was one of our connections.

06:58 KW: And it's a meaningful one, I think, 'cause you connect with people in a very authentic way.

07:06 CN: Thank you.

07:07 KW: That stood out for me for many years now. But it's not the surface level, like, "Okay. Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you. We're done." But you really take the time to get to know people and invest in them, which is so important.

07:24 CN: It's funny. And I think... I'm not even thinking about it as I'm doing it. And it's something that I've learned now as I can look back. I'm old enough to now have experiences, where I can look back and say, "You know what, it happened in a very authentic way," and I'm realizing now the impact that I've had on people, whether it's teaching them how to knit or just the connections that I've been able to develop. And it just makes me feel really good about the legacy that I've... 'Cause something I'm focused on now as well, thinking about like, "What is the mark that I wanna leave? How do I wanna be remembered?" And so I'd love it in so many... My husband says I can be a bit dark at times. But when I think about, "Okay, honey. When I die and you're doing this funeral, you have to play songs from Rent 'cause they mean that much to me."

08:13 KW: Yes.

08:15 CN: And so, "I'm gonna do my own slideshow of all the pictures," and, "Have everybody either wear something that I knitted them or bring something to show that effect that I had." I think of the Women's March and everyone in their pink hats, but it'll be everyone will be wearing something that either I made or I taught them how to make.

08:35 KW: I don't think that that's dark. I think that that's important. Life goes by so fast, and you go day to day and week to week and month to month, and we don't take enough time to stop and be like, "All right, am I the person I wanna be?"

08:50 CN: I think about... And I can't remember who said it, if it was Maya Angelou, I think, says, "People won't remember what you said, they'll remember how you made them feel." And so I really think about how do I make people feel. And I'm very... I've become very intentional now, as I think about the impact and how I use my presence and my aura, and my energy. And again, I'm still a work in progress and I might not always get it right, but I wanna be very aware and alert. I think it's so important.

09:24 KW: And you also... We were talking, before we started taping the podcast, about something you started doing. You're taking videos.

09:30 CN: Yes.

09:31 KW: Because I think this also, when you think about your life story, telling that life story in a visual way. Can you share what you're doing?

09:42 CN: Sure, sure. I am definitely the storyteller in the family. I'm the person who has the shoebox of pictures. So Instagram, for me, was the best thing ever. A picture really does tell a thousand words, is it? And so I learned about this video app called 1 Second Everyday, and it allows you to film different things in your life, your commute to work, whatever it is that you're experiencing over the course of a month. And then, at the end of the month, it compresses it into a 30-second video. I love it, 'cause you move so quickly. And even for myself, I've been enjoying now looking at it and seeing how busy I am. I've been on several planes in the past month, and to a couple of states, couple of countries. And when I look at that 30-second, it allows me to say, "Wow, look at all that I did." And again, even as you're going on vacation, you're moving so quickly. I like to take the pictures and the videos 'cause it takes me back there. And so I'm really excited to finish the month and see my finished 30-second, I'm proud of which, of course, I will share on Instagram. And so you'll be able to see my month.

10:56 KW: And I'll be part of it 'cause we just took a video...

10:58 CN: You will be a part of it.


11:00 KW: I love that, because we get so... It's easy to get, I think, dragged down by just the weight of day-to-day and family...

11:08 CN: Absolutely.

11:09 KW: And all the other responsibilities. But when I think... I want to remember the fun stuff and the exciting stuff, and just the things that make me happy versus the...

11:21 CN: That's so true.

11:22 KW: The other mundane things that drag you down. Right?

11:26 CN: The thing that I've realized that we do is we move so quickly through life. And you have an accomplishment and you don't take the time. And so I think about this past week, so seven days, I did an event at L'Oréal for working parents. It was a panel of working parents, and everyone thought it was such a great event. And I lived in that moment, and the very next day I was on to, "Okay, I need to host a think tank meeting on Monday, and so I need to prepare for that." And so I hosted that, and that went well. And then I didn't get to enjoy that because I'm planning to get on a plane to go to a conference. And so what I've started doing for this year was I purchased a passion planner. It's something I saw on Instagram. And what I love about this planner is not only is it a calender, but at the end of each quarter, at the end of each week, it asks you, "What did you accomplish? And what are you most proud... " Even in the week, it said, "What's your favourite memory of the week?"

12:25 CN: And so, when I'm commuting or when I have a moment, I actually am making myself now go in and put those things down for just that reason. At the end of the year I will easily... Not easily, I should say, but I'll be able to put down my accomplishments for work from a performance perspective. But at the end of the year, did I accomplish the things that I wanted to accomplish for me? And do I remember those things, like take a minute out to write down, "Oh, I got to see my girlfriend in Puerto Rico, who's expecting, we spent a week with her." And that will seem like so long ago and it wasn't, but I wrote it down. So when I go back and I look over my calender, I'm like, "Oh, I remember that. That was a special moment where I wasn't on Instagram in the... I was just enjoying being with my friend and her family." I'm a person who likes to try to journal. I like to try to... Either I take a picture of the moment or I try to write something down so I can remember it, because we move through life really fast.

13:23 KW: You told me a story about something you and your girl friends do at the beginning of the year.

13:28 CN: Yes.

13:29 KW: And you create a board.

13:30 CN: A vision board.

13:31 KW: A vision board. Can you talk about that?

13:33 CN: Yes, sure. I read an article about Lucinda Cross, and she's a young lady who... She didn't come up with the idea of the board, but she really packaged it in a way that I really like. And so about three years now, at the beginning of every year, we try to have this group meeting with me and a couple of my girl friends by the end of January, where we come together and we talk about what are the things that we wanna accomplish and what are the areas. Is it in your professional life? Is it in your personal life, your relationship or even in your health?

14:05 CN: And while the vision board is really a visual representation of this conversation through ripping out pictures and words from the magazines that I provide, but the conversation is really where the insights come. So, in that time, where we're talking about our goals, we're holding each other accountable. And then the group... The women around the room, were saying, "Oh, have you thought about this?" And so they're adding other layers to your vision and your goals, and then after we've all shared, then we get the magazines out and we rip out the pages. And because we've had the conversation, we can say, "Oh, hey, Michelle, I found a yoga picture. I know you wanna focus on balance and health." And so we share the photos, and we create this vision board.

14:49 CN: And then at the end, we make a commitment to hold each other accountable. That means that I can call you and say, "Hey, did you register for that test you said you were gonna do? Did you finish your resume? I remember you said you wanted to find a new job." And we give each other permission. So, I'm going to be your... I'm going to hold you accountable, but you've also given me the permission to check on you and to make sure that you're moving along. And now because we've had this for a couple of years, we can actually bring our old vision board and say, "Here's what I accomplished in a year, and so now because I accomplished this in 2016, for 2017, here's what I'm going to focus on for this year." And so we do believe that what you write, you remember and you'll do, and studies have shown that. But it's really great to do that in that communal environment where we can be supportive. I like to use the hashtag "my tribe" and "squad goals." It means that tribe of women who's there to support you. And I don't wanna exclude the men, but right now my tribe I'm focused on is my tribe of women supporting each other.

15:58 KW: Absolutely. So where did you grow up?

16:01 CN: I grew up in Queens. I'm a Queens girl.

16:04 KW: Yes.

16:04 CN: Yes, Queens. I still live in Queens. Yeah, I went to school in Queens, except for college. I went to college at Pace University here. Definitely, I love to say that I am a New Yorker through and through. I'm not a New Yorker who just lives here. I do everything, everything from the Opera to theater. I think we live in a great city, and so I try to take advantage of it as much as I can.

16:33 KW: I've never known someone who just loves life with such passion as you do. [chuckle] I follow you on Instagram and Facebook. But I just... Seeing the things that you do, it's exciting. And I agree, we... I am from New Jersey, so I'm somewhat new to New York, although it's been about 20 years now. But every weekend, if we have free time, I'm like, "Which museums should we go to? What should we do? Let's go to a play." I love Rent, too, by the way.

17:01 CN: Okay.


17:02 KW: What song are they playing at your funeral?

17:04 CN: They are playing "five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, what is this... Oh, the "Seasons of Love."

17:09 KW: Yes.

17:09 CN: Seasons of Love, I love that song. Yeah, that's what they're playing.


17:13 KW: Yeah. That is great. So, today you are at L'Oréal.

17:18 CN: Yes. I'm in the office of Diversity and Inclusion at L'Oréal.

17:21 KW: And how did you get from a little girl in Queens to diversity and inclusion at a major multinational organization?

17:29 CN: I'm still shocked that this little girl in Queens actually has done the things that I've done, and I think I have to give a lot of credit to my grandmother and to my mom, both of which have passed. But I think that... My grandmother, when she made the decision to come to this country, her parents were from Panama, she sacrificed a lot. I always felt like I owed her something, and so I've always had this work ethic to just continue to push myself. So, I'll say I did have my daughter young. I was a very young mom, but I didn't let that stop me from still thinking about what are the goals that I want to accomplish, and even using that as more of something to challenge me. Now I have this little person who's looking at me, and so how can I live a life that she'll be proud of so that we can be able to say that my grandmother, her sacrifice wasn't in vain. So I say all that to say... I've spent a lot of time at JPMorgan Chase, probably... I've been with L'Oréal for eight years. I was with JPMorgan for 13 years, and I was fortunate enough to go through an analyst program there, focused on marketing. And through my various jobs at JPMorgan, I did a lot of marketing. And then I moved into university relations, and that's where...

18:55 KW: Where we met.

18:55 CN: Where we met. I was managing the JPMorgan brand on campus, so their website and the brochure. I took out the ad in Vault, and I think we had branded the Vault interview guide, which was awesome. And then, as a result of that, I got to spend a lot of time on historical black colleges and universities, and I realized that I had a passion for diversity. And in my time on the campus, I said, "If I'm gonna be here to set up this event, I wanna add value. So why don't I learn how to interview, so I can help support the recruiters who are interviewing?" And apparently I started to develop that skill.

19:33 CN: And so when I left the bank, I left as the VP of Diversity Relations for JPMorgan, managing diversity recruiting and MBA recruiting, and through downsizing is why I'm no longer there. But when I got the opportunity to come to L'Oréal, it was through my network. A friend of mine knew that I had left JPMorgan, and I was consulting at the YMCA at the time, and he called me and said, "Hey, the recruiter from L'Oréal, they're looking for a diversity recruiter, an MBA recruiter. Would you be interested?" And I'm like, "Absolutely. Why don't you take a look at my resume and tell me if you think that they would find me interesting." And literally, 10 minutes later, I got a phone call from the recruiter. My friend had forwarded over my resume, and they gave me a phone call.

20:22 CN: And so I came over and I [20:23] ____, so I started with L'Oréal doing the same... A similar job that I did at JPMorgan. People always ask, "How did you make the switch?" I'm like, the hardest thing was learning what L'Oréal was looking for in their candidates. I knew the recruiting, I knew the cycle, and I still had a passion for diversity, so that made sense. And I've had a great experience while working at L'Oréal, so I've had... This is my third role, and so I spent time, like I said, in the talent acquisition, the talent recruitment space, and then I went over to a line of business in HR for our consumer products division where, again, I still had a filter, I'm still being aware of diversity recruiting, still partnering. I'm going to the diversity conferences. And what I didn't mention was, while I was at JPMorgan, I co-led an affinity group, their African American affinity group. Again, I've always had these roles where I've had some lens into diversity, and so when I had the opportunity to actually join the diversity and inclusion team, I jumped at it.

21:32 CN: And I couldn't ask for a better role, I couldn't ask for a better team, and I love how committed our company is to diversity, and it's a company that really values diversity. Diversity really is at our core, when you think about just the plethora of products that we have, and that we believe in beauty for all and beauty for each individual. And so within that is embedded diversity. We don't believe in just for blonds or just for men, it's for everyone. And so, as we look at the marketplace, we need to be aware of diversity, we wanna be able to have products that everyone can use or can see themselves in, in that aspirational way.

22:18 CN: Then we also look at the workforce, who's out there now being aware of the changing demographics of the workforce, making sure that our company has an offering that is attractive to everyone, and that you feel that this company values your diversity and that you will feel included once you're there, which leads to the workplace. So making sure that our employees feel that their dimensions of diversity are valued as well. That's amazing, to have that opportunity to touch so many lives and still be involved in recruiting, being involved with... We called them "think tanks" or other companies call them "BRGs," and so we have think tanks based on dimensions of diversity. And so being able to have that relationship with our employees and that our company truly values that is so important to me.

23:13 KW: Listening to you talk, I'm hearing about the importance of looking at your end consumer and how diverse that consumer is, and reflecting that back through the supply chain into the business.

23:25 CN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

23:27 KW: And through your employee groups, giving employees a voice and to be their authentic selves, to talk about their values and the things that appeal to them, and really taking that information and using it to drive change within the organization. Because oftentimes, we know from our data, over 50% of employees feel like they do not have a voice within their company's culture or policies. And that's a shame because there's a huge opportunity to tap into the consumer that's within your business.

[overlapping conversation]

23:57 CN: Here you have the people... The consumer are your employees. Absolutely.

24:01 KW: And to engage that consumer but having something that's really reflective of the consumer population, too. It always amazes me when there's products for women and it's all white men that are making it, right?

24:16 CN: Right. Exactly.

24:17 KW: They're like, "Wait, hold on a minute, how is this happening?"

24:19 CN: We need to have that voice. It's funny, I just came back from speaking to our employees about diversity, and whenever we talk about diversity, we always quote or we include Mackenzie's study that talks about not only just the impact and how much more innovative teams are where there is diversity, it talks about the dividend of diversity. And the figures go something like it's companies who master gender diversity can see an increase in their financial performance of 15%, and companies that master gender and ethnic diversity can see an increase by 35%. So it's having... The piece that I think is so important, and it's just not the diversity, just not to have employees who are different we're all, "I'm different," and that's great, but it's the inclusion factor. It's making sure that they feel that their voice is heard, that they have opportunities for advancement.

25:25 CN: Again, it's not enough to say, "We're this team, and we have a woman who's on the team." Does that woman feel included? Does she feel that her voice matters? Do they listen? And I'm using the dimension being gender, but you can replace that with anything. It's like we value... If you look at statistics, and we know that Hispanics are the largest segment that's growing from a demographic perspective, and if I'm a company who values... Who needs to have a brand that is well received by all my consumers and I know that Hispanics are a large part, then I know that I wanna have employees, I wanna have employees who are reflective of the population but also then they'll start talking about language. And so it's great to have that person. So, if I say I value Hispanics and I go out and I recruit Hispanics to join the company, but then I don't let them bring their whole self to work, then what was that for? Then that's not really an inclusion. And so what we strive for is to have that environment where everyone feels they can contribute and be their full authentic self, whether it's their gender or their race, or whatever the dimension of diversity is, we wanna make sure that our employees know that we value that.

26:47 KW: We had recently, at Ellevate in New York, a "Take Back Feminism" event, which was great, and Sally said something at that event, she said, "Mentoring is great, sponsorship is great, a lot of these things that we're doing, great, needed, but we're not seeing movement." And what we need is promotion. We need... To see movement, you need to see diverse voices promoted within companies that then will promote additional diversity to have that power to influence change. There has to be... Even you talk about, "All right, our entry level hires are 50% women, woo-hoo," but then you see it's the triangle effect. And as you move up the ladder, it's not so diverse.

27:35 CN: Exactly.

27:37 KW: So how do we... If first you're speaking to a, let's say, hypothetical employee, what advice would you give them for how to get promoted? What are the things that they should be thinking about?

27:52 CN: That's a really good question. One, it's using their voice. When I hear you talk about promotion, that's making sure that your work product is known. And so gone are the days where you put your head down, and you just work and somebody's gonna tap you on the shoulder and say, "Here, go sit in that corner office." So, the advice I would give is to not only be an expert at your craft but also don't be so focused on your craft and your next steps that you miss out on the network. I think the network is so important, and so as that new employee is coming, you want to also make sure that you are connecting with people in an authentic way, that you are leaning in, in the true sense of the meaning of leaning in, to assignments, leaning in to stepping out of your comfort zone, taking risk.

28:58 CN: And so the person who just moseys on along with their head down, they're not gonna get as far as the person who still does the same quality of work but at the same time is thinking, is looking around, is surveying their environment, is connecting, is seeking out those mentors who can make a difference. And then also serving as mentors as well. So I think a lot of what is valued is the skill set as well as your EQ. It's your IQ and your EQ and the ability to get... Think about your son's report card, in that report card, "plays well with others, to work well with others," 'cause if everyone wants to work with people, while there was a time where you went to work with people who were like you, you understand their value of difference, and so you need to lean into that cultural competency and be able to work well with others. And so for that hypothetical employee, as she or he, I'm gonna say it's a he 'cause we wanna try... Oh, it's a she in this example, sorry. We want her to get to the next level. I want her to just be aware of all the factors that play a role in that advancement, and your job performance is one factor.

30:14 KW: We talk a lot about your personal brand. In that review meeting or senior leadership team meeting or whatever meeting, what they're saying about you, and getting back to what we were talking about earlier, at your funeral, what do you want people to say about you, today in the workplace, if a conversation is being had, how do you want them to talk about you? What is your legacy in your brand?

30:36 CN: Yeah. Well, one, I want to be known that I did my job well. First of all, they're talking about me, so they're talking about the work product. But I wanna be known as somebody who had an impact. We all... Again, there's tons of new roles that's being created, but as you're stepping into roles that were occupied by others, you wanna know that you put your mark on it, that you did it different. So when people are talking about me, I would love for them to say the impact that I had on my diversity and inclusion team, on the team and on the work that we do. I'd like them to talk about my authentic, inclusive leadership skills that should be evident. And I wanna be known as a creative problem solver, somebody who really wants to get things done and really wants to solve problems, and come up with out-of-the-box solutions.

31:39 KW: Great. Well, thank you for joining us today, I'm so happy to finally get you on the podcast.


31:45 KW: Thanks so much for listening to Ellevate. If you like what you hear, help a girl out. Subscribe to the Ellevate Podcast on iTunes, give us five stars and share your review. Also, don't forget to follow us on Twitter at EllevateNtwk, that's Ellevate Network, and become a member. You can learn all about membership and all the great things that Ellevate Network is doing at our website That's And special thanks to our producer, Katharine Heller, she rocks. And to our voiceover artist, Rachel Griesinger. Thanks so much and join us next week.


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