On October 30, Walmart’s Vice President of Merchandising Gita Chakrabarti and Houston Port Commissioner Cheryl Creuzot shared a virtual dais as Keynote Speakers for the IACCGH Women Mean Business (WMB) Series. The Webinar, replete with practical advice and insights on what it takes for a woman to succeed, stemmed from their own professional journeys.
The IACCGH signature event is sponsored by Shell and remains one of their most well-attended events. It brings together women who have found their seats on the table to share their trials by fire and life lessons and empower other aspiring women.
Executive Director Jagdip Ahluwalia welcomed the participants and thanked Shell’s senior leadership – Fred Whipple, Ana Knopf, and Alyssa Henderson for the organization’s longstanding sponsorship of the series and their guidance in helping make each event relevant and inspiring. President Tarush Anand spoke of the Chamber’s pivot to virtual technology and its advantage in inviting speakers from places other than Houston.
Past President Joya Shukla, who along with Chamber member Asha Dhume, was a co-creator of the Women Mean Business series, moderated the event. The attendees, she was confident, would take away “life-changing pearls of wisdom” from the speakers.
Responsible for the sizable bedding and bath division at Walmart, Gita, who is based in Fayetteville, Arkansas, “thrive” on the challenges in her work. A recent racial equality training session set her thinking about people’s circumstances and it dawned on her that growing up in a family that cared about education had played a key role in her success. She earned her engineering degree, figured the field was not for her, went back to Business school, made her way into consulting, and ended up in retail. As a woman, she did have to “lobby and push” her way to her current position. Her advice: make every career move with the intention of getting closer to the goal and develop skills and capabilities that make you marketable. Success takes “patience and tenacity” and rarely happens in “one swoop.”
According to Gita, there are many people who work hard and are smart but do not always achieve what they want. It’s important, she says, to let colleagues and superiors know what you’d like to do because people often “can’t see you in a different role until you make them think about it.” Networking and building relationships with those who see your potential makes them more willing to take a risk on you. She also highlighted the concept of a “growth mindset” and considers this the most fundamental indicator of success. Among other things, a growth mindset thrives on challenges and “sees failure not as an evidence of unintelligence but as a springboard for growth and stretching existing abilities.”
Cheryl, who serves as the first African American woman Port Commissioner, always believed that as a woman of color, she needed “to be three steps ahead.” When she decided to settle on a career in finance and business, she was told by a “certain gentleman in a firm” that finance was not a good career for a woman especially an African American woman. This piece of advice didn’t stop Cheryl from going back to school and completing her education (she is a four-time alumna of UH). She went to work for the same company and winded up owning the firm.
Giving back to the community is a core value and she stresses that women must remember where they’ve come from, reach back and give other women a chance to move into those positions. Life’s experiences have also taught her that no one achieves success alone which is why it is important to seek out mentors. Incidentally, one of her key mentors is UH Chancellor Dr. Renu Khator, whose “energy and can-do attitude” she loves.
Yet another nugget of wisdom from Cheryl was to speak up because “people cannot read your mind.” She explained that her accomplishments were possible because she expressed what she wanted to do down the road to people who could help her move towards those goals. She also pointed out that for every dollar a man earns, an Asian woman earns an average of $0.86, a white woman earns an average $0.75, an African American woman earns on average $0.61 of that dollar and a Latina woman earns $0.52. Women are five times more likely to live paycheck to paycheck and it’s vital for them to achieve and take responsibility for their financial independence.
Cheryl also tries to surround herself with like-minded people and those who have the growth mindset and refuses to “poison or infect” herself with negative talk or negative television.