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How Esi Eggleston Bracey and Cara Sabin Learned to Celebrate Their Full Selves

The Unilever executives credit their success in business to embracing their unique qualities whether in or out of the office.

Esi Eggleston Bracey

President, Unilever USA and CEO, North America Personal Care

Cara Sabin

CEO, Beauty and Wellbeing, Unilever North America and Sundial Brands

What’s the most important lesson experience has taught each of you?

Esi Eggleston Bracey: It is do you. Who we are naturally is a gift to the world and you learn over time to be confident in letting that come through and leading with that. When you start out, you are looking for the codes to understand what success looks like — how you should be, how you should look. You adopt and pick up things based on the standards of the norm. What I’ve learned is this idea of do you — who you are is your edge. I’ve learned through experience to have confidence in my instincts. When something doesn’t look or feel or smell right, it probably isn’t. If it feels great — it probably is. Lean into that confidence and clarity.

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Cara Sabin: Give yourself grace. Be kind to yourself. When you are ambitious and you are driven and you have a type A personality, you set a really high bar for yourself. Know that mistakes and failures are gifts that help you learn and grow. You can learn anything out of any experience. I have learned to give myself some grace as I have matured professionally.

E.E.B.: Life is an adventure not a destination. You know who you are but you don’t know where that is going to end up in the world. So many things I’ve done in my life I didn’t set out to do, but when I look back I see consistent threads. I never set out to change laws for hair discrimination and now with the CROWN Act, we have 18 states passing legislation. I was never a politician, but I’ve always been committed to diversity and inclusion. Live is an adventure. I don’t know what’s next, but I know what I’m committed to.

What do you know now that you’re glad you didn’t know when you were starting out?

E.E.B.: I’m happy that I’m innocent. The demands of life, as a mother, a business leader, a community champion — I had no idea of the roles I would take on. I just jumped in back then and did my job and did what I was committed to and life grew. Why am I glad? Because I would have been scared s–tless if I had had any idea of the demands on my life and how much I would have to grow to step into that.

C.S.: I thought you had to have everything figured out at 26 — that you were supposed to know what you were supposed to do for the next 40 years of your life. If you’re open to the journey of where life takes you, it can take you to some interesting places. I wouldn’t have predicted I would land in the beauty industry. I was a tomboy and didn’t necessarily think I was beautiful when I was younger. The industry seemed so intimidating, but I’m glad I followed my interest and passion and it led me to a path that has been more enriching than I could imagine.

What is the benefit of experience and is there ever a time when age/experience works against you?

C.S.: The benefit is the maturation of having lived life and lived experiences and the journey of getting to know people and how to work with different kinds of people, how to get the best of them, how to inspire them. That comes with maturation and experience.

What works against us is the internal pressure we put on ourselves. Externally, I don’t think being older is a negative, but when you are a woman in this industry, you do feel pressure to keep with the trends and what is happening in a way that men don’t necessarily confront.

E.E.B.: I love getting older. Part of it is the experience. You can manage through hardship, because you’ve done it. Before my father had a major accident in 2018, I remember thinking, I don’t know what would happen if something happened to my parents. It did happen — and I managed through it.

You think these crises are the end of the world, but today I know it will work out. You have experience in how to deal with crises in situations, show care to loved ones, seize the moment because life has shown you that is what you do. You have confidence and peace with the world that you will overcome.

When I was 20, 21, I was always fearful about protecting myself against what would happen — now I don’t. I let it happen. We will work it out. When I look at elders who live to 90, the peace they have with who they are and their bodies and the aging process, that is a journey, that is inspiring.

In terms of seeing the handicap, while you know you can handle anything, there are new tools and experiences you want to be open-minded to explore. I have to work against thinking that I know, so that I can make sure I’m listening to my team and fresh voices. Let me open myself to get fresh perspective, but also bring in my experience.

C.S.: You should never stop learning. You should always be putting yourself in positions where you are growing, and going outside of your comfort zone. You can create blinders if you think your experience will give you instant wisdom in all situations.

What’s the key to staying connected with younger generations as you rise through the ranks?

C.S.: Surrounding yourself with people who are equally curious and can expose you to new things. I have a diverse set of friends. I also have an insatiable appetite for culture, music, art and dance. Also, being comfortable and honest. I’m 52. I’m not going to think like a 17-year-old, nor do I need to. I do want to know what is going on in his or her world, but I don’t feel the pressure to be or act young, because that would be futile.

What is important for the next generation of female executives to know?

C.S.: Have goals and pursue them boldly. Sometimes women struggle with measuring or trying to modulate their level of ambition, thinking that it is almost unseemly for a woman to be driven or ambitious. Of course we have dreams and hopes and desires and goals. Never lose the passion and drive to think boldly and dream boldly and execute in a bold way. Don’t ever feel like you have to make yourself small.

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E.E.G.: Invent a life for yourself without barriers. It’s important to know yourself, be yourself and share yourself with others. Don’t underestimate how much work is required to know yourself — your values, what ticks you off, your energy builders. When you know yourself, you can be your best self. Managing your life so you can be your best self is going to he