Today's feature, Crystal (Andrews) Banks, is a beauty industry Director at Ulta with years of expertise in diversity and inclusion, a former college basketball player, and a toddler mom (among many other things). I had the pleasure of chatting with her about the intersection of passion and profession, a concept that many of us hope to achieve at some point in our careers.
Crystal's energy, excitement, and most importantly, authenticity, were palpable through the phone during the interview. For those of you that have been following feature posts on the blog, you know that diversity and inclusion is a key professional focus for many of my executive interviewees. So, to see both the passion that spans each interview and the unique approaches trailblazers like Crystal are taking to mold that passion into the industry in which they work has been extremely rewarding for me (and I hope for each of you as well).
Read on for details on Crystal's tips and tricks for keeping up with the latest industry and business news, anecdote on the importance of remembering who you are and where you've come from, and love of the iconic "wrap dress."
Into the Details
The first word that came to my mind was "Conqueror."
I feel like that sums up who I am as an individual; regardless of obstacles or challenges or even when things are easy I always want to give my best, even when I know that my best may look different depend on the day. As long as I come in with my winning mindset I can conquer the day, the meeting, or whatever else is in my path.
Do you have any passion projects, whether at work or in your personal life? If yes, what impact does that/do those projects have on the work you do?
Luckily, my personal passion is diversity and inclusion (D&I), so that goes hand-in-hand with the work that I do professionally. But I certainly didn't go to school to be a D&I practitioner -it wasn’t really a popular profession in the early 2000s. Like so many, I fell into this space and have stayed because the work grants me the opportunity to have a seat at the table with a voice that is a catalyst for positive change.
Whether you're male, female, a member of the LGBTQ community, differently-abled, a person of color or have another identity, I feel like you should be able to walk into work and feel a sense of belonging. How you identify or your appearance shouldn’t determine your ability to grow and thrive in any organization. That's something I'm super passionate about and I feel like the work that I do enables me to be an embodiment of that.
"How you identify or your appearance shouldn’t determine your ability to grow and thrive in any organization. That's something I'm super passionate about and I feel like the work that I do enables me to be an embodiment of that."
In order to make that vision a reality, I focus on meeting people where they are on their own cultural journey. There's a lot of coaching, there's a lot of influencing, there's a lot of building those strategic relationships that shed light on the importance of the initiatives that are important to me and that can drive value for teams and organizations.
What I'm trying to do at the end of the day is to be the change I wish to see in the world by enabling others to see the value in the human connection and experience. D&I efforts require a significant understanding of the places and the people you're trying to reach are coming from. You're trying to engage those that are interested and convert the folks that are on the fence. Some people aren't going to get it - the need for D&I initiatives - at all and that's okay. At the end of the day, being a leader is a choice and so is adopting employee engagement strategies as a part of your leadership goals. It all goes back to meeting people where they are and working to show them how D&I can contribute to the goals they have for the organization as a whole.
How does working in the beauty industry affect the D&I strategies you and your team develop?
Disclaimer: I've only been at Ulta for 2 months, so, I'm still in the honeymoon stage of my work here. Moving forward, though, I think what will make us successful is aligning D&I with all sides of the business. When we think about our guest experience, our product assortment, the professional services we offer, and the changing US demographics, we need to ensure that we're mirroring the impacts of changes in all of these areas in all that we do.
As the demographics of the country continue to evolve, we want to ensure that we are catering to all types of guests. As such, there is ongoing cross-functional partnerships to ensure that everything we're doing in the market is also reflected in the way we operate internally. Because D&I is such a hot topic, we want to ensure it is embedded in who we are and reflected in the work we do in the space in an authentic way. It’s not just a PR strategy for us.
What are your preferred methods of keeping up with the latest news and information for your role and industry? Have these methods changed over time?
I can appreciate the phrasing of this question as someone who considers themselves to be a more "seasoned" millennial. Personally, I consider my industry knowledge intake approach to be two-fold: sourced from people and sourced from news.
Because D&I is all about people and because I'm also a sociologist by trade and educational background, it's important for me to understand what events and happenings are impacting people in reality and not just conceptually. I start my morning with the New York Times brief to learn about what's going on with the world that day. I think most people probably have iPhones now, so as a reference, I'll also scroll through my news feed that way. I'll also go to TMZ and Instagram for the latest.
From an industry perspective, there's a lot of overlap in the type of information I look for. The intersection of beauty and culture is huge. For D&I specifically, I follow a lot of industry groups across multiple platforms (LinkedIn, local Chicagoland industry practitioner groups, etc.). There are also a number of D&I think thank partners that provide tons of resources that are industry-relevant - best practices, in-person webinars, and more.
How the methods have changed over time? For me, it's really been based on my personal bandwidth and the time I do or don't have to digest information daily. I would say the last piece of staying on top of what's going on in your work and in your industry are your relationships. The conversations I have with others are what keep me the most up-to-date. Whether it's talking to colleagues in similar roles at similar organizations or catching up with friends in different roles and industries, there's always something new to be learned from those around me.
"I start my morning with the New York Times brief to learn about what's going on with the world that day. I think most people probably have iPhones now, so as a reference, I'll also scroll through my news feed that way. I'll also go to TMZ and Instagram for the latest."
How are you best able to lift as you climb?
Well, for one, it's all about acknowledging that I'm standing on the shoulders of greatness; those that came before me are the reason I am where I am today. As a person of color, and especially as an African-American woman, I feel it’s important to acknowledge your family legacy the obstacles, sacrifices and challenges others have faced.
I'll share one specific story as an example of this; it's not one of mine, but, it may resonate with you. I had an opportunity to participate in the Executive Leadership Council (ELC). The council offers a professional development initiatives and sponsor programs that specifically target members and attendees at their various career levels. This past fall, I was able to attend the Mid-Level Symposium. There was a senior leader in attendance from PepsiCo and was a panelist for their female only breakfast. As you may have experienced, and I know I have, in groups like these, the discussion of hair in the workplace often comes up. In this case, the speaker was telling a story about how she was in a high potential leadership program with 15 others from her company. Unsurprisingly, she was the only African-American member of this particular program.
At the program conclusion, the group was supposed to present a business idea to their c-suite leaders. Leading up to this presentation, the speaker's cohort decided they wanted to blow off some stream prior to their big presentation and go out as a group and pair off and preform skits. Two members of her cohort thought It would be funny to wear afro wigs, completely unsensitized to the fact that while it was costume for them, that’s what her hair looked like naturally. She immediately left the outing, called her husband, and expressed her frustration: "here I am, this leader of an organization and my colleagues are making fun of people who look like me." She already felt like she had so many unique qualifiers impacting her experience as an "other" in the workplace. As she reflected on her family legacy, that be being a 4th generation college student, her grandmother had 12 kids and was responsible for being the backbone of her family, and so much more. But in that moment, like in so many others, she was reminded that these are all things that signified her experience, things that she was as proud of as the hair that grows out of her head.
So, she went to that presentation the following day wearing her natural hair and she killed it. There's a responsibility we often feel because of isolating experiences like this one. You can't go through life alone and you didn’t get to this place in your life alone: other people helped you get here. Some of these people you know by name, some you don't. Because of this, for me, it's not always about lifting those who come behind me, it's also about lifting my peers to the side of me and even to leaders above me. Regardless of where you are in your career journey, be that the CEO or the custodian, you don’t know what you're going to say or do that will give someone else the confidence they need to achieve greatness.
"You can't go through life alone and you didn’t get to this place in your life alone: other people helped you get here. Some of these people you know by name, some you don't. Because of this, for me, it's not always about lifting those who come behind me, it's also about lifting my peers to the side of me and even to leaders above me."
If you had to list one go-to garb item in your work wardrobe, what would it be?
This is a hard question for me because I love shopping, so to pick or grab just one specific item would be tough.
Generally speaking, there are two brands that make me feel powerful. But, I have a 2-year-old, and so often I'll get dressed for the day but he'll want a hug and he might have an accident on my well thought-out outfit. . The two items that I would grab from one of the two would be a DVF wrap dress or a Lafayette 148 power dress. The Lafayette 148 dress might be my first choice, but, if my son has an accident, I'll go for the wrap dress as a backup.
Want to learn more about Crystal's work experiences? Check out her LinkedIn page!