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Inside the CEW 2020 Women’s Leadership Awards

The virtual awards ceremony honored a slew of industry talents over two days.

Cosmetic Executive Women brought its 2020 Women’s Leadership Awards online in a two-day, virtual extravaganza.

Staggered between Wednesday, Oct. 21, and Thursday, Oct. 22, the event kicked off with opening remarks from Jill Scalamandre, CEW chairwoman, and president of Buxom and BareMinerals. “Never has there been a better time to support a vital business asset: female talent,” Scalamandre said. “CEW is committed to women’s advancement to see what’s here and build what’s next,” she said.

“We will continue to find new ways to support the community, by shifting events to virtual, reducing the price of membership, offering opportunities for networking, and providing new access to information,” Scalamandre said.

True to the times, CEW is also shapeshifting to meet the needs of an industry hit by the coronavirus pandemic and social upheaval. The women who were honored seem to be embracing the shifts — many spoke of the importance of women in leadership roles, women supporting other women and the importance of diversity in leadership. There were even a few mentions of late feminist icon and Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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The event kicked off with a major topic in the beauty sphere — racial injustice that women of color, especially Black women, have faced in the beauty industry.

“It reminds me of a couple of years ago when there was a big awareness around gender, when everyone was saying, ‘Wait, we have a problem,’ and women said, ‘Yeah, we know,’” said Sarah Kunst, managing director of Cleo Capital, in conversation with Scalamandre. “It’s better late than never, and there have been so many amazing initiatives to elevate the voices and brands of Black women in beauty and fashion. It’s not that these women haven’t been there, there just hasn’t been enough attention or money paid for what they bring to the table.”

“The gender and racial biases Black women face in business illustrate just how uneven the playing field is,” Scalamandre said, introducing the organization’s Indie26, a group of Black female founders who are “extraordinary and at the top of their game,” she said.

Scalamandre and Kunst addressed the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement on the beauty industry, but also delved into fundraising.

“VC is a numbers game. If you’re seeing traction and have followers on social media or stock your product at a couple of stores with strong repeat rates, then you have something people want to buy,” Kunst said.


The resurgence of the civil rights movement remained a topic of conversation throughout the event.

Taraji P. Henson, founder and chief executive officer of TPH by Taraji; Melissa Butler, founder and chief executive officer of the Lip Bar; and Mahisha Dellinger, founder and chief executive officer of Curls Beauty Brand — all members of CEW’s Indie26 — joined Andrea Nagel, vice president of content at CEW, for a conversation around beauty products made for Black women.

“This just makes me feel so good as a Black woman,” said Henson. “I remember a time when we didn’t have these options. When you talk about Black beauty, we come in so many shades and so many different hair textures. There isn’t one brand that can cater to one type of hair. All of a sudden, you see this explosion of options, and that’s what warms my heart,” she added.

With the burgeoning market for Black-owned beauty products came unprecedented success for the Lip Bar, Butler said. “In June, we had our biggest month ever in Lip Bar’s history. We had a lot of people being introduced to us for the first time, and I wanted to build long-term connections with our customers, not just accept charity dollars. We’ve grown 80 percent,” she said.

Dellinger, too, saw success, but noted that efforts of big beauty brands to appeal to Black consumers can easily fall flat.

“Brands are coming out of the woodwork. They talk to the Black women in a focus group, put a label on a bottle, and market it to her,” Dellinger said. “No one is a fool to that premise. People can see who’s creating for us. It’s for us, by us. All the other brands you walk in Target and see, we get the consumer because we are them.”

CEW Achiever Award Honorees

CEW’s Achiever Awards’ first installment, with four of the six honorees, also dominated the afternoon. Honorees shared personal stories of storied careers, including pre-COVID-19 career pivots and selling companies.

First up was Maly Bernstein, vice president of beauty and personal care at CVS, interviewed by Helena Foulkes.

Bernstein, who worked for consulting firm McKinsey & Co. on clients in Russia and South Africa, comes from an international background — she was born in Cambodia. She credited her success with tapping into local cultures in the places she worked. “Because I didn’t know the regions well, I had to learn about the consumers and what was going to make a quick impact. At McKinsey, I learned how to look at the data and bold decisions. From the locals, I learned how to look with courage and care,” she said.

As for Bernstein’s approach to retail in the era of the coronavirus, tapping into brand values are key. “We’re focused on being clear on what we stand for: health of the mind, body, and spirit to promote overall health,” she said.

Erica Culpepper, general manager of L’Oréal Multicultural Beauty, celebrated her award with a conversation with Nagel. “Growing up, were you always this hardworking of a leader?” Nagel asked.

“In my own head, I was a very fabulous child, and that energy always pushed me,” Culpepper responded.

Culpepper’s vigor, she said, is a huge part of what brought her through the challenges of 2020. “One of the biggest lessons is you don’t know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice,” she said. “We were trying to figure out how as a brand we show up, how do we speak up for issues that are resonating within the community, and where do we find our place,” she said. “The injustice has put a fire in my belly to go harder and fight for what our consumers—and the beauty industry—deserve.”

Next on the docket was honoree Elana Drell-Szyfer, chief executive officer of RéVive Skincare, interviewed by Richard Gersten, managing partner of True Beauty Capital. Drell-Szyfer, an alumna of the Estée Lauder Companies, left her dream position to pursue working at smaller companies. “I had always been working towards running a marketing department, but I wanted to try my hand at leading a company and having an ownership stake in something I was involved with,” Drell-Szyfer told Gersten.

“I lost the support of the company you work for and the title you hold. I had to define myself by my own achievements, and not the logo on my business card,” she continued.

Drell-Szyfer also underscored the importance of putting women in leadership positions, which she didn’t see at larger companies or across boards. “We are an industry where the majority of our consumers are women, and I think if you want to serve your consumers well, you need that equal representation in our leadership ranks,” she said. “That’s everybody’s responsibility: give people a chance, give people development opportunities, the support they need, roll the dice, and see what happens.”

Closing out the awards honorees on the first day were Lilli Gordon, founder and chief executive officer of First Aid Beauty, interviewed by Janet Gurwitch.

Gordon herself, who left her time in finance to bring “hardworking products—the Eucerins, the Aquaphors, the CeraVes—to prestige,” as she put it, took the leap to launch her business when she identified a gap in the market. When she sold First Aid Beauty to P&G in 2018, Gordon said selling the brand was part of her endgame since the business’ launch.

“The first step was our private equity investment, which started with taking personal financial risk off the table, and then working with a private equity group to build a company,” Gordon said. “We knew we had had growth in the United States and saw it coming overseas, and we knew we needed a partner to take us to the next level.”

Although she had several potential buyers for the brand, Gordon likened her choice to dating. “I’m single, and I date. For those of us who date, we know it’s all about chemistry. P&G shared my passion and the passion of my colleagues for First Aid Beauty, which was so critical to me,” she said.

The event’s first day ended with a networking session and a talk from Fran Hauser, author of ‘The Myth of the Nice Girl,’ and start-up investor at Hauser Ventures, LLC. “I’ve embraced leading with kindness and strength,” Hauser said, “and I’ve learned that I don’t need to choose between the two.” Hauser’s top takeaways include creating safe emotional environments, giving direct feedback, connecting as humans with colleagues, speaking up, and setting boundaries.

The event’s second day started with remarks from broadcast journalist Mika Brzezinski, followed with the honoring of Jenny B. Fine, executive editor, beauty at WWD and Beauty Inc. Fine took home the Beauty Industry Champion award, a separate honor from the event’s Achiever Awards.

In an interview with Carlotta Jacobson, president of CEW, Fine outlined her optimistic view of the future. “Beauty is so reflective of the social forces and cultural trends happening today, that that is a key part of how we cover it,” Fine said. “We’re all feeling worry, anxiety and turmoil right now, but when I look at everything that’s happened this year, I’m an optimist. When I look at how resilient and agile the beauty industry is, it makes me excited for the future.”

Fine closed out her remarks with gratitude for the industry. “I feel incredibly honored and incredibly lucky that I get to do what I love every day. All of these women being honored today and yesterday, I was, of course, crying as if we were in the ballroom, and what an incredible group of people. How lucky are we to do this,” she said.

Honoree Jane Lauder, executive vice president, enterprise marketing and chief data officer at Lauder also echoed that industry gratitude. Lauder left the family business to work in advertising, only to come back and rejoin the company.

“I realized that I love the business side of beauty,” she said, finding her footing in data. “The magic happens when you combine data with creativity,” Lauder continued. “It’s about taking the data to mine for the aspirational intelligence, all to figure out what [consumers] would want in the future. It started with Estée, one on one, listening to women, mining that data and figuring out.”

Lauder was interviewed by sister Aerin, of both Aerin and ELC. “She’s my younger sister, but I’ve always looked up to her,” Aerin Lauder said.

Recounting memories of her grandmother, Estée Lauder, Jane Lauder characterized her by her “determination and generosity,” remembering being regaled with fruit baskets during her freshman year at college.

Alexandra Papazian, president of Laura Mercier, also spoke of channeling founder spirit.

“The first priority is to make sure everyone understands the founder’s vision. When we have difficult decisions to make, Laura and I discuss them, and we filter things through three aspects: is this the right thing to do for the brand, is it for the business, and is it for the team? Above anything, what’s important is to have very clear roles,” Papazian said in conversation with Jackie Fields, senior style and beauty editor at People about navigating a founder’s vision.

Papazian characterized the brand as a classic brand, but still had plenty of plans for its evolution. “We will continue to expand the brand into new markets and new categories,” she said. “We see color as a big opportunity for us, as is skin care, being such an expert of complexion.”

CEW Top Talent Award Honorees

The Top Talent honorees — as Scalamandre called them, “women with next generational leadership” — shared many personal stories of some of their formative beauty experiences, and stressed the importance of diversity and equality in the industry moving forward.

“I would ask my mom why she wore so much makeup, and she would say, ‘it’s part of my routine,’” said Vivianna Blanch, vice president, integrated consumer communications at L’Oréal Paris. “Now, I know that it was her armor.”

Blanch, who has prioritized diversity throughout her career, also said that paving the way for others was crucial to her philosophy. “I want to make that path as wide as possible to fit as many women as possible, specifically diverse women,” she said.

Ophelia Ceradini, vice president of digital technology and innovation, also vocalized a familial connection to the beauty world. “I grew up in Brooklyn with a twin brother and immigrant parents. I would not be accepting this award without my mother, and I’d like to share two of the most important lessons she has taught me: first, having the support to achieve your dreams, and second, how beauty and presentation can have an impact,” she said.

“My mother grew up in a culture where women were not treated equally. She was an amazing mother and worked tirelessly for me, so I could pursue my career,” Ceradini said.

Erum Chaudhry, vice president, marketing of beauty and skin care at Christian Dior Parfums, remembered being given a chance by Achiever Award honoree Jane Lauder. “She has inspired me to pay it forward in this industry,” she said. “As members of this beauty community, and as women, we have the distinct privilege of shaping this industry, and with vision and fortitude, I hope we can foster a diverse community for those who are just making their way,” Chaudhry said.

Maris Croswell, senior director of Pantene North America at P&G Beauty, discussed the recent birth of her second child while receiving her honoring. “As I’ve watched my daughter approach life with a zest for possibilities, my belief that every problem we encounter is a possibility has transformed the way I lead my teams and the way I parent my two daughters,” she said. “Luckily, there’s never a shortage of possibilities dressed up as problems in either area.”

Looking back on her career, Chopin Rabin, vice president of global integrated communications at Nars Cosmetics, recounted her own trajectory to beauty. “I came to New York and answered an anonymous ad for a beauty role. When I saw this world out in front of me, I knew it was meant for me and what my career was meant to be focused on. I have never, ever looked back,” Rabin said. “It’s been an endless pursuit of knowledge and being the absolute best at whatever I was asked to do.”

Maria Salcedo, vice president, merchandising and strategy at Ulta Beauty, also said her career has not followed a traditional trajectory, but credits the forces in her work for her success. “As I reflect back, aside from personality traits and support from my husband, continued mentorship and the incredible teams I’ve had, sponsorship has been a defining element in my path,” Salcedo said. “Women tend to be overmentored and undersponsored. Sponsors are advocates, they fight for us when we do not have a voice,” Salcedo said.

For Usha Vijay, vice president of marketing, consumer fragrance at Symrise, Vijay highlighted the gravity of her position. “We have the responsibility to unlock innovation in beauty to enhance the health and wellness of people in societies, to be supportive of business, especially those owned by women,” she said. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg would’ve been very proud of us: women leaning in, supporting and honoring fellow professional women for their achievements.”

The Awards’ final recipient was selected by peer vote, and according to Jacobson, overwhelmingly so. Janet Chan, vice president of brand at Nügg Beauty, told her parents she wanted to be a makeup artist, and finally took the leap to Revlon after a career in finance. “I spent every Sunday at Sephora,” Chan said. “To all the young women, I would encourage you to take the leap, to follow your passion and pursue your path, even if it means starting over. It is worth it to do what you love every day.”

The two-day event ended with a send-off from Jacobson and a talk from Kristy Click, senior client officer of Ipsos, who spoke on the shifting impact of gender. “No longer is the conversation about two genders, it’s about the unbundling of gender, sex and identity,” she said. “It’s about how everyone can define themselves for themselves,” adding that social media has amplified the conversation around varying gender identities.

“I encourage each of you to envision a gender-inclusive world, where employers don’t judge new talent, societal norms won’t be an issue five years for our daughters,” said Click. “As the revered Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, ‘real change, encouraging change, happens one step at a time.’”

The event’s sponsors include Meredith Corporation, Harris Williams, 24 Seven, Anisa, DermStore, Nordstrom, P&G Beauty, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health, Badger & Winters, WWD, Beauty Inc, Symrise, Moss, Ulta Beauty, Drunk Elephant, Beauty at Amazon, Olaplex, Birchbox, Marina Maher Communications, Goodkind Company, New World Natural Brands, CEI Collective, Kaplow Communications, and Consultancy Media.

10 Key Takeaways

  1. CEW continues to engage members with online events and lower membership costs during the coronavirus pandemic.
  2. Black women have often been overlooked by the industry.
  3. When targeting Black beauty consumers, authenticity cannot be faked.
  4. Thinking long term is key to success.
  5. 2020 showed just how resilient and agile the beauty industry can be.
  6. Marrying data and creativity is imperative to delighting consumers.
  7. Beauty industry executives have a responsibility to support women of diverse backgrounds.
  8. Think of problems as possibility in disguise.
  9. Follow your passion.
  10. Pay attention to the shifting landscape around gender—it will play an inevitable role in consumer identity and subsequently, marketing practices.

For more from, see:

Top Talent Honored for CEW Achiever Awards

Giuliana Rancic Returns for CEW, QVC HSN Beauty With Benefits

CEW Unveils Fight for Female Founders Initiative