Growing up as a Black woman in America, Monique Picou never expected to work for two of the world’s largest companies. But Monique’s grandmother helped her realize how much she could accomplish, sending her off to college with a $5 bill bookmarking Psalm 23 and giving her endless support throughout her life. Today, Monique is SVP and Chief Supply Chain and Strategy Officer at Sam’s Club and was recently recognized as one of the most influential Black executives and women in the supply chain industry.
Attesting her success to her support system, Monique strives to foster gender and racial equity in the workplace and prop up young women who, like herself once, just need someone to advocate for their potential. As the executive sponsor of Women in Supply Chain as well as People of Color in Supply Chain, two Walmart associate groups, and the co-leader of Sam’s Club’s racial equity initiatives, Monique is actively working to make her goal a reality.
Below, she offers three lessons on how anyone, at any phase in their career, can make the conscious choice to pursue a more equal and diverse world.
1. Find Your Seat at the Table
When you are just starting out in your career, focus on lifting yourself up and find those who are willing to help you do so.
At Monique’s first job out of college, she had a facility manager named Bob White, and everyone who reported to Bob was male. She felt isolated, with no one to look up to. As a result, she approached Bob with a proposal to create a resource group for women. While Bob disagreed about the lack of inclusivity in his company, he let Monique make the group and began advocating for her career trajectory, acknowledging her unabashed drive and courage. Monique was given a seat at the table, and progressively, her seat got closer to Bob’s until she was finally in his seat. And when she was promoted to plant manager, Bob was the first person to congratulate her.
With this experience, Monique realized the importance of finding not only a mentor, but a sponsor—a Bob White. A mentor is a few steps above you and can offer advice about what you are experiencing. A sponsor is someone much higher in the organization who will have your back in rooms where decisions are being made. "Cultivating a sponsor can take time, but the connection is possible as long as you demonstrate your desire to grow and generate impact within the organization,” Monique says.
2. Leverage Your Seat at the Table
You have a seat at the table now, so use it.
Once she had an active voice in the discussion, Monique became a champion for others. She began mentoring other women, becoming someone else’s Bob White, or rather, their Monique Picou.
Monique recalls her mentorship with Nahid, a fellow woman of color. Nahid performed with precision and passion in her role, however, she was often quiet in the meeting room. While her numbers spoke for themselves, her reserved nature caused her to be overlooked in leadership conversations. But cognizant of Nahid’s talent, Monique defended her value and created the space for Nahid to show herself as a capable leader that she was. With this support from Monique, Nahid has since advanced into an elevated role and now uses her own position to carry the thread of empowerment and guidance to those below her.
3. Set the Table for Others
If you are a senior leader in your organization, you can take on more risk. That means you have the opportunity – some might say responsibility – to make bold moves on behalf of others.
At this point in her career, Monique focuses on sending the elevator back down. “You look at your leadership table or the meetings you are in, and you make sure women, minorities, and diverse talent are well represented,” Monique says. She urges her fellow leaders to create the change they want to see: to be a junior’s sponsor, to call out inequities when one sees them, to speak on an employee’s behalf even when the situation is uncomfortable.
Thinking about the professional landscape her daughters are entering, Monique is proud to recognize how many more opportunities have opened for younger generations of women and people of color. But in the same breath, she knows that she and her peers must continue promoting diversity if she wants to see her daughters — and all the other women who look like them — as the leaders of the future.