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Five questions for WE’s new chair, Michele Muhammad

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For the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of working alongside some of the most incredible women as chair of WE. Today I’m proud to introduce WE’s newest chair, Michele Muhammad, chief marking officer of DSE Healthcare. Michele’s election marks Phase 2 for the community. Michele has big plans that will further enhance our great industry.

As a background, four years ago, at an Annual Meeting of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, I had an idea to bring together inspiring female leaders in this health and wellness space. As we all know, “an idea not executed is worth nothing.” It took eight months and the help of Annie Walker, senior vice president at Walmart, and Kim Sines, former senior vice president at Hello Products, to turn this idea into a reality. Of course, there’s a lot more to this story, but, to put it briefly, it was the beginning of WE. WE is an all-volunteer community committed to advancing and empowering women in our industry.

Andrea_Fallin

Andrea Fallin

Michele Muhammad

Michele Muhammad

Fallin: Michele, you were first involved with WE as a panelist at the “Leaders for Change,” event, in August 2018 at the NACDS Total Store Expo. You gave great advice on “work/life balance.” Can you share this advice with our readers?

Muhammad: Sure. That was a great event and lots of fun for me. The question was how to attain the elusive work/life balance. My point was, when you try to maintain work/life balance exclusive of each other, it’s easy to end up feeling guilty. No one ever wants to feel like a 50% parent, spouse or professional. But when you start to integrate aspects of your life more fully, you’re more present in each area. In my example, my five-year-old daughter and I started school on the same day. She started kindergarten and I started business school. I felt that it wasn’t fair to her to do my schoolwork while we were home together, but I had so much work to my full-time program. So I went to one of my professors for advice. Luckily it was Stew Friedman, founding director of the Wharton Leadership Program and Wharton’s Work/Life Integration Project. He suggested I explain my situation to my daughter — that I had homework, too — and that she would understand and give me grace. It was all under the paradigm of work/life integration. He originated this concept over 20 years ago, and his Work/Life Integration Project has been updated over the years to include the community and self. All of these integrations combine to make you a better leader in each aspect of your life and to embrace how your seemingly disparate identities make you that much more dynamic of a partner, parent, friend, community member.

Fallin: Your contributions to WE stand out. For three years, you and Tiffany McLaud, strategic team builder at Bayer, have co-led the Marketing Committee. This committee is “behind the scenes” on everything WE. Can you elaborate on the committee’s work and how it impacts our community?

Muhammad: Early on, the marketing committee was charged to develop our brand identity. We created our LinkedIn presence, website and logo. One of our values is that we’re a welcoming, connected community — that comes to life in our logo through the choice for lower case and script lettering. That’s my marketing background you’re hearing now. Primarily we promote and support the wonderful events that the other committees develop, including Conversations with We (our virtual executive interview series) and the in-person networking events at NACDS and GMDC. Fortunately, we have our hands in most everything WE does. Moreover, Marketing was probably the first committee to engage our community as volunteers, and it is a committed group of talented women with a wide range of expertise.

Fallin: Last year, you and Roslyn Chapman, president of The Chapman Edge, immediately took action and led WE’s response to George Floyd’s murder. This response initiated the WE Move Forward panel series and our ongoing commitment to address racial inequities and discrimination. Can you reflect on WE Move Forward and share what’s to come?

Muhammad: Yes. Like many others, I’ll never forget that moment and that video. WE had a board meeting coming up and I couldn’t imagine discussing anything else at that meeting. I called Roslyn to ask if she would be willing to join me in sharing our personal experiences. We hoped to give some background and specificity to the protests from the African American perspective. As we likely know, it was not just about one horrific act, but about the broader pattern of police brutality and systemic racism that African Americans face in our country. The WE board had an engaging and heartfelt discussion and exchanged resources. Our next instinct was to determine how WE could amplify our voice of solidarity. That’s what WE does, we lead. One of our pillars is to help shape the future of our industry by enabling diversity and expanding women’s voices.

We started the WE Move Forward webinar series to focus on African American women. There were four different webinars: How To Be an Advocate; Developing African American Talent in Our Industry; Supporting African American Entrepreneurship; and WE Next Gen, The Next Chapter. We had terrific speakers and very engaged audiences. Our largest audience reached nearly 1,000 attendees. It was eye opening to see the interest from our community. We were capturing the critical conversations of this moment. All four webinars are available at 4we.org.

Fallin: Since WE’s establishment, there has been some confusion on what it means to be a member of WE. How would you describe our community? Most importantly, how can a WE member get involved?

Muhammad: When the founders of WE chartered the organization, we were cognizant that most of these women were already leaders and members of other great women’s organizations. So, we thought, “How can we engage more women without competing with their existing priorities or creating any other barriers to entry?” The answer became the WE community — an evolving collective of women who are not directly on our board, but are committed to our mission. We don’t charge any dues. It’s a space where women can network, connect and mentor one another at industry conferences. For example, a new industry member can take advantage of our community by learning about executives through our Conversations with WE series, where we interview executive women, or by listening to our WE Move Forward webinars as resources. Executives can find WE represented at NACDS and GMDC events.

WE is always looking for volunteers to contribute their talent on our committees. Our five committees are Conversations with WE/WE Move Forward; Mentoring; Social and Membership; Marketing; and Outreach. You can reach out to us at www.4we.org or reach out to me directly on LinkedIn. Trust me, we will find a way to involve you. There’s a lot to do. We are putting a huge focus on mentoring this year, so specifically if anyone reading this has a great way to successfully scale mentoring, we’d love to speak with you. And we’re not just limited to women. Men can engage too.

Fallin: Finally, what is the WE board’s vision, and what can the industry expect from WE?

Muhammad: You can expect that WE will continue to develop programming and initiatives that support both long-standing and current issues affecting women in our industry. Our upcoming event, include a webinar with ECRM on May 5, coinciding with the organization’s Diversity Week. I’ll be moderating that conversation, with our board members as panelists. Mark your calendars. We have another Conversations with WE webinar on the huge loss of women in the workplace since COVID-19. The startling statistic is that of the 900,000 jobs that were created in December 2020, none of them were specifically designed for women. We have to address losing so many of the gains women have made over the decades.

Andrea Fallin is executive vice president of strategy at Racher Press.


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