Women need to ask for what they want, and if they don’t get it, they can go build it themselves.”
Monique Nelson has parlayed an early interest in the entertainment industry, which gave her an opportunity to work with artists John Legend, Common and Madonna, into a career as the influential CEO of one of the oldest black-owned marketing and advertising agencies in America.
Nelson, a classically trained singer and dancer who grew up in Brooklyn, assumed the helm of UWG in 2012. Today, companies like Ford, Colgate and Pfizer seek UWG’s expertise when they need a cultural navigator to reach a diverse customer base.
Nelson’s proving grounds were at International Paper in Chicago during the mid-1990s. In their quest to help the company sell more paper, her sales and marketing team recommended expanding the basic line of yellow Post-it notes to include the brightly colored options available today.
UWG (or UniWorld Group, Inc.) was founded in 1969 as African-American, Latino, Asian and LGBT communities began to emerge as consumer markets, according to Nelson. “We believe in talking to somebody, not everybody,” Nelson says. “Understanding diverse consumers is not just giving them a canned message, but talking to them in the right place, in the right space and in the right context.”
As a woman leader in business today, Nelson finds herself more the exception than the rule.
“There are a lot of women in our industry, but not at the top of the house,” Nelson recognizes. “That concerns me because most consumers are women, and we add dimension to a room.”
Nelson had many mentors and sponsors who supported her rise in business. “They were oftentimes my tie-breaker or the truth that I wasn’t prepared to tell myself. They see things in you that you may not want to see, or, when you are down on yourself, you should have seen,”
Nelson explains. “One of my mentors told me, ‘You’re enough, stop worrying about what everybody thinks.’ That was huge to me. Stop worrying about being a girl, stop worrying that they are all guys, stop worrying that they are all white. You’re enough.”
More women will reach the top ranks of business when they understand that they are enough, Nelson believes. “Women need to ask for what they want, and if they don’t get it, they can go build it themselves,” she urges. “You create your own destiny.”
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