Learn from Smart Women

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Never willing to give up on her dreams despite rejection, Essence Magazine Editor-in-Chief, Vanessa De Luca, is proof that if you believe in yourself, anything is possible.  With an English degree from Harvard University and then 10 years later graduating from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, Vanessa has used her pen and prowess to empower readers around the world receiving such honors as being listed in Advertising Age's Magazine A-List in 2015, FOLIO's 2015 Top Women In Media, and Fortune’s 55 Most Influential Women on Twitter.

In an unprecedented move, Vanessa omitted an image from the February 2015 cover of Essence Magazine for the first time in 45 years choosing to simply state: Black Lives Matter - filling the magazine with inspiring calls to action, lessons to raise awareness, and stories of those impacted by police brutality. Now turning her attention to celebrating how all women are unique and beautiful, Vanessa launched the Essence BeautyBox designed by her beauty experts for women of color to look and feel their best.  Learn Vanessa’s dream for the Essence reader, how women can impact social change, why she launched the Essence BeautyBox, and how you can reinvent your career at any age.

Sign-up to receive your Essence BeautyBox with products that celebrate how you’re unique!

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My vision is that the Essence reader feels empowered to pursue everything she wants in life.

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Empowering Editorial

What is your dream for empowering Essence Magazine readers?

My vision for the Essence reader is that she lives a life that’s fulfilling and she feels empowered to pursue everything she wants in life because she knows she’s absolutely worthy of it.  My dream is that Essence readers embrace the ideas we share across all of our platforms and that she uses that knowledge as a tool to shape and mold her life exactly how she wants. 

What is the opportunity to impact social change through journalism?

There’s no better time to be a journalist than right now.  There’s no better time to utilize the voice we have through social media to amplify the issues that confront us every day.  Whether we’re talking about gender parity, race equality, black lives matter, or the Oscars, it doesn’t matter – having a platform as a journalist allows you to give a voice to people who may not have an opportunity to speak for themselves.  With that comes great responsibility.  You have to give yourself permission to use that power.

Sometimes, we can be shy or afraid of utilizing a platform to express the things that matter to us.  I believe that’s a mistake.  We absolutely have to give a voice to the issues that keep us up at night.  When you look at the hashtags people create without a PR machine behind them – that’s everyday people deciding they have something to say and they’re utilizing their blogs, twitter profiles, and websites to rally people around their ideas and solutions to societal problems.  That’s extremely exciting and I want to see more of us taking an opportunity to do the same. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re an independent journalist or if you belong to a media company, each one of us has a responsibility to showcase what’s going on in the world around us and not run away from it.  The opportunity for social change is immense and I encourage everyone to not hold back and to just go for it.  It’s an exciting time to share your voice.

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We have an incredible amount of power as women when we share a message and form one voice.

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What can all women do to promote gender and racial unity and equality?

To create a more equitable world, the first thing women can do is to first acknowledge that we all have something in common – we’re women.  We’re all women at the end of the day.  It doesn’t matter what your ethnic or religious background is.  Those details are not as important as the fact that we have a universal experience as women that connects us intrinsically, authentically, and organically.  We need to tap into that and not buy into what society might throw at us to pit us against each other as women.

There are so many issues that require our immediate attention.  Equal pay is a huge issue because it leads to being able to afford proper day care for our children.  There are so many things that we as women can organically rally together to say, ‘We’re not going to put up with this anymore!’  We have an incredible amount of power when we share a specific message and form one voice.  Many voices, speaking as one, is a lot stronger than someone speaking on their own. 

If we learn to drown out what people say to keep us divided, if we don’t buy into the divide, but instead buy into togetherness and connectivity, that’s a solid start.  From there we’ve got to be willing to listen to each other’s opinions.  Not every woman is coming from the same point of view.  Everyone is looking from a different vantage point, all of which are valid.  It’s the willingness to hear and listen, just as much as the willingness to extend a hand across the aisle.  With both of those things working in tandem, you’re going to get a much better result than trying to change the world all on your own. 

What are the beauty brands you love for glowing inside and out?

Beauty is part of your personality; it adds to the personal statement you want to make to the world.  While some people might say it’s frivolous or it’s not something a serious woman would be drawn towards, I don’t agree with that.  Beauty products enhance your natural beauty.  I like to look polished and professional and beauty products help me accomplish that look.

I use great facial products like Kate Somerville and Shea Terra because they keep my skin looking fresh and clean.  That’s important to me.  Everyone likes to put a great face forward.  I use makeup by Black Opal and MAC because I like to look like I’ve made an effort when I walk into the office.  I never know what I’m going to face on any given day and at the last minute, I could get a call for a television interview and I want to feel prepared.  My beauty regime makes me feel like I’ve got all my ducks in a row.

When it comes to inner beauty, I spend a lot of time reading the works of inspirational women like Maya Angelou, or I’ll listen any time Michelle Obama gives an inspiring speech and that makes me feel good on the inside.  Using the words of other women who inspire me, who I can relate to, helps me stay steady and on course.      

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The Essence BeautyBox says, ‘You’re unique, special, beautiful, and you don’t have to conform.’

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How does the Essence BeautyBox empower self-esteem and confidence?

The beauty conversation can be really complicated for women of color.  Part of that comes from not being sure that every product is going to suit your specific skin tone, shade, or coloring.  It can be overwhelming to go to the beauty counter and see all of the different choices and not really have a sense of what’s going to work.  You don’t want to spend a lot of money on products if you don’t know they’re going to work color wise and the same thing goes for hair care.

Black women come in a wonderful array of different shades, tones, and hair textures, so having something like the Essence BeautyBox, which contains five products every month, curated especially by our Essence beauty editors, not only gives our editors an opportunity to share a bit of their knowledge with the audience that’s subscribing to the BeautyBox, but also gives the consumer the assurance that with the authoritative lens our beauty editors bring to the table, the products will work.  The audience knows that we’ve tried the product and we know it will work for you.

There are lots of products on the market that aren’t meant for everyone and don’t encourage women to be unique.  There are products that suggest you have to conform to a particular type to be accepted by others.  The Essence BeautyBox is here to say, ‘You don’t have to conform.  We understand that you’re unique, special, and beautiful.  We want to make sure that the right products show up at your doorstep every month that will give you a little extra boost of confidence.’

The Essence BeautyBox, our newest brand extension, exists because we know there’s a huge void in this market for boxes that specifically address the needs of women of color.  We’ve gotten tremendous feedback that this is absolutely something our audience feels they’ve been missing.  They love that it comes to their doorstep, they love that there’s an insert where each editor identifies a product in the box and why they believe in the product.  The editors give tips about when and how they use the product.  I can’t wait for more people to discover the Essence BeautyBox and see what’s inside.  It’s a gift to our audience.  It’s Essence saying, here’s something special for you.

Watch Vanessa's bSmart interview here!

Women in business can be kind, caring, encouraging, and support other women.

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Chief of Her Career

What are the characteristics you attribute to creating your success?

Success comes in stages.  It’s something you build up.  Having a lot of clarity about what works and what doesn’t has contributed to my success.  You make one decision and see how that plays out.  You might need to course correct or pivot based on how that decision went, so you do that.  When I’ve found myself in situations where it wasn’t a good fit, I’ve figured out pretty quickly how to divert, and move into a better position that could actually work for me and where I felt I could do my best work.  That requires some discernment and a lot of self-awareness.  When facing such a situation, look inside and examine what you’ve done to contribute.  You’ll know pretty quickly, and if you’re discerning, what you can bring to the table and what you can’t.  Being able to do that at every stage of my career has been essential to getting me where I am now.

There are going to be plenty of times when you’ll be faced with people who don’t have the same belief in you as you have in yourself.  You can’t let that stop you if you’re pursuing something you really want.  I was turned down twice for my current role as Editor-in-Chief.  If I had listened to the naysayers and stopped myself after the first two times, I wouldn’t be here.  I would’ve given up.  But I couldn’t imagine giving up on myself.  I had to give it the best try I possibly could and it ultimately worked out in the end.  Know yourself, be creative, and use your discernment – which may just be a fancy way of saying, trust your gut.               

What is your philosophy for being a great leader and effective manager?

There’s no ‘one way’ to be an effective leader or manager.  There are many different ways to lead.  I happen to believe that being a great leader in this environment (working at a publication) requires that you be open to collaboration.  There’s no bad idea, there are lots of great ideas.  If we work together, we can collaborate and build better ideas out of that initial kernel of an idea.  That’s always worked for me, no matter where I’ve been employed – being open and being collaborative.

While collaboration is key, being an effective leader or manager also requires being decisive.  People need that just as much as they need to be heard.  They need to be led.  They need someone to say, ‘This is what I think we should do.’  That doesn’t mean that a leader isn’t going to make mistakes.  The best leaders recognize quickly if something isn’t working.  ‘Fail fast’ is how people refer to this process.  If you fail as leader, it’s important for you to recognize what your failures are and know how to not make those same mistakes again.  You’re actually teaching everyone who is working around you, that it’s okay to make a mistake.  That’s an important lesson to share so that your team isn’t afraid to try things and take risks.  All of those factors go into being a great leader and manager.

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 Being a great leader requires you to be open to collaboration.

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How do you inspire and empower your family and career at the same time?

Some days you’re going to be stronger at work and some days you’re going to be stronger at home.  To even put it out in the atmosphere that there’s a way you can find this perfect balance does a disservice to women in general.  It sets us up for this huge expectation that we’re going to be able to achieve perfection in life, which is simply not true.

What I like to show my daughter (who’s almost 13 and I’m sure will be a working mom one day because she’s very ambitious) is that you’re not going to be perfect all of the time.  Sometimes you’re going to be very focused on your work and you’re going to have to explain that to your family.  I had to understand that growing up with my mom being a working mother and her mother being a working mom.  They did what they needed to do for work and then they came home and did what they needed to do for family.  It was constantly an up and down situation.  That’s just the way life is.  The sooner we make our young women know that and feel that, the less pressure they’ll feel to be perfect.

When you’ve done a good job and you’ve proven yourself to be a solid employee, you can set the tone for the kind of experience you would like to have at work.  You can let people know you have a life outside of the office.  You can say, ‘I’m going to leave early today to go to my kid’s game.  But, I’ll be back tomorrow at 8:00 AM so I can make up for the time I lost.’  There are tradeoffs all of the time.  When you’re in that work environment, someone will see you make those decisions (someone who is not in your same position) and it will make it easier for them to prioritize in the same way.  When it comes to balance, lead by example.  You’re showing people how to make it work and how to figure it out for themselves.  There is no one right answer to balancing family and work and that’s okay.            

What have you learned from the women you’ve featured and promoted?

One of the perks working at Essence Magazine is that you get exposed to so many incredible women who have done extraordinary things in life.  Whether we’re discussing Mellody Hobson, who owns her own financial firm, or Maya Angelou, a prolific writer and visionary, or you’re talking about Michelle Obama, our First Lady, who sets an incredible example of how to be poised and confident in whatever setting you’re in, I’ve learned so much from each and every one of these women. 

What I’ve learned the most is that you can be unique.  You don’t have to imitate anybody else.  I don’t have to be like Mellody, I don’t have to be like Maya, and I don’t have to be like Michelle Obama to be successful.  You have to find your own path.  I hope that’s how women are empowered when they see me.  I’m not expecting anyone to follow in my exact footsteps.  I’ve learned that as a woman in business you can be kind, you can be caring, you can be encouraging, and you can support other women.  I’ve had that experience with all of the women I’ve been so fortunate to get to know.  It can be done.

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Equal pay is a huge issue because it leads to being able to afford proper day care for our children.

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How can we be smart when taking a risk or reinventing our career?

It’s never too late to pursue a dream.  It really isn’t.  I was 30 years old when I decided to quit the career I had in retail.  I was an English major in college and I always had this little voice that nagged me saying, ‘Maybe I could work for a magazine.  I think that would be really fun.’  But the truth was, I was well into one career and I knew I would have to start from scratch if I wanted to go for it.  Everybody thought I was a crazy, my parents included.  But in the end, I wanted to try it, so I moved back in with my parents and took a huge pay cut.  I went back to school.  I got a certificate in book and magazine publishing over a summer because I knew there was a job fair at the end of the program.  At the fair, I ended up meeting someone who called me a couple of months later and said, ‘There’s an editorial assistant position open at Glamour Magazine.  Would you be interested in interviewing?’  After what felt like ten interviews where I was trying to convince them that I wasn’t crazy, and yes, I was willing to start from scratch and I was willing to make hardly any money, I got the job!

As soon as I got the job, I knew I had made the best decision in the world.  Everything about it felt exactly right.  I have never regretted making that choice.  Not once.  Even when it’s been hard, I always felt like I made the right choice.  If I can do that, with zero qualifications – I never wrote for the school newspaper, I didn’t know anybody in the industry, I never did any of the things they tell you that you have to do in order to get a job in publishing – you can too.  I believed in myself.  Sometimes all you need is that belief in yourself and the ability to tune out the naysayers, because what do they know?  I share my story because I want people to know that you can do this (whatever your ‘this’ is).  Whatever you set your goal on, think about it, prepare for it, focus on it, and do whatever it takes (within reason) to make it happen and get to where you want to go.     

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It’s never too late to pursue a dream.  It really isn’t.

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Spotlight on Vanessa De Luca

Neighborhood: Scotch Plains

Occupation: Editor-in-Chief, Essence Magazine

Women I Admire: Michelle Obama; Shonda Rhimes; Roxane Gay; Maya Angelou

Ultimate Accessory: Statement Necklace

Favorite Store: Bloomingdale’s

Go-to Outfit: Sheath Dress and Heels

Must-have Shoes: Tom Ford pumps

Favorite Nail Polish: Essie

Can't Live Without Product: Kate Somerville Facial Wash

Beauty Essential: Lipstick

Cocktail of Choice: A glass of Malbec

Best Date: Any date with my husband

Travel Destination: Dying to go to Bora Bora

Current Craving: Anything fried—I am on a weight-loss journey and trans fats are the enemy!

Best Advice: Trust your gut.

Favorite Quote: I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. - Philippians 4:13

De-Stress Technique: Binge-watching Netflix

Latest Gadget: My new iPad Air

On My Playlist: Adele and the Eagles on heavy rotation right now

Favorite App: The one for the exercise studio near my home

University: Harvard University

 

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Essence BeautyBox Essentials

Iman lipsticks

Colgate Optic White Toothpaste

CoverFX Mattifying Primer

Dark & Lovely Soak It All Up Oil

Miss Jessie’s Coily Custard K

ISS Looks So Natural Lashes in 'Flirty'

 

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