Featuring Shalane Walker: Corporate Leader & DEI Advocate

by | Jun 26, 2020 | shine on series | 0 comments

I met Shalane at my first L&I event in late 2018. I connected with her right away because of our career background, as we both work full-time in the advertising industry. Shalane is an Associate Media Director at Wavemaker Chicago, where she currently manages media data for the 2020 U.S. Census account. She has extensive experience in the industry, having managed media plans and executed strategies across three Fortune 50 companies.

Something I love about Shalane is her drive to move the needle when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially in the workplace. She has been a leader on these topics at the companies and agencies she has worked, including serving as a key thought partner and leader at Wavemaker in helping advance DEI. With the recent events as it relates to police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, Shalane and I have had numerous conversations about the racial injustice in this country. She has educated me in more ways than one and for that, I am eternally grateful. I know it’s not her responsibility, but the fact she goes the extra mile proves just how much Shalane cares.

Prior to Wavemaker, Shalane worked overseas in Dubai at Universal Mccann on the Johnson and Johnson account. (How cool is that?) While there, she helped bring to life new advertising touchpoints for brands such as Carefree and Listerine, and even helped to launch Splenda in the region. She also helped co-found and lead Cheer Dubai, the first adult cheerleading team in Dubai.

This woman is an absolute rockstar and I can’t wait to share more about who Shalane is. Read our exclusive interview below and find out why she believes using your voice is your greatest power.

Meet Shalane Walker.

KN: Shalane, thank you so much for being a part of the Shine On series! Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got to be where you are today in your career?

Shalane Walker: I really wanted to be an actress, but I had never done theatre. I went into MSU as a journalism major, planning to be a news anchor. After one semester, I realized how much I did not like writing and researching, and then switched to communications.

I graduated in 2008 (not the greatest year, my 2020 graduates probably can understand), and received only one job offer at an advertising media agency in Chicago. I had never taken an advertising class, and had no idea what media was. However, I accepted and fell in love. It was the right balance of creative and math (yes, I’m one of those nerds who loves math and Excel). I had the opportunity to work on clients such as Bank of America, Pantene, Secret, Venus and Budweiser.

After five years, I went overseas for three years developing media strategies for Carefree, Listerine and other Johnson and Johnson brands. I came back to Chicago to work at a different agency called Wavemaker. I love the company. It’s smaller (although we are still a part of a large corporation, WPP) and it feels more like a family than a corporation. I currently work on the Census account, which I really enjoy. The census impacts how trillions of federal funding is spent, and I’m doing my part to help those audiences least likely to be counted ensure they have a voice.

KN: I think that’s so cool you had the opportunity to live and work overseas! And I love your view on working on the Census account – it has to be extremely rewarding to be able to make an impact in that way. What would you say excites you about your job? What do you find the most challenging?

SW: What excites me most about my job is that I have the opportunity to work with fresh graduates just beginning their careers in advertising and help mentor and teach them. I also really enjoy that there is always something different to do every day. As someone who thrives in everchanging and fast-paced environments, this is a facet of advertising that I enjoy.  The hardest part of my job is when we bring advertising plans full of creativity, insightful data, and well thought out recommendations to our customers and they sometimes decide not to move forward.

KN: I definitely relate to that from working in the ad agency world years ago. What has been the biggest challenge in your career or in your life? How did you get through it? 

SW: The biggest challenge in my career was when I rotated into a different department at my company to work on a new business client. The hours were challenging, I often butted heads with my bosses, and the culture was really hard for me to adjust to. To get through it, I tackled the problem head-on. My boss told me I was performing below target and instead of lashing back and defending myself, I went home that night, made an action plan, and then asked my boss to sit with her and review it. I realized that to move forward, I couldn’t live in the mindset that it was me against the world. I needed to figure out how to get the world back on my side. Now, my former boss and I have a great relationship and she’s actually written me multiple letters of recommendation.

KN: That is a great lesson embedded in that story! Good for you for taking a step back to assess and take action in that moment. What has been your best career decision? 

SW: My best career decision was in 2013 when I accepted a job overseas in the Middle East in Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates. I didn’t 100% know what I was getting into, but I knew I wanted the opportunity to work and live abroad, so I made a plan, networked, interviewed, and moved 2,000 miles away with my daughter without knowing a single soul. It was the best three years of my life. I learned so much about different cultures, made lifelong friendships, and professionally had the opportunity to lead very large projects at a very young age (only 28 at the time). 

Shalane Walker and her daughter in Egypt.

KN: I am so jealous of your work abroad experience! That had to have been life-changing. Shalane, you’re an extremely successful businesswoman. What would you credit your success to? 

SW: I would credit my success to my parents who helped prepare me to face the world and taught me that you win more flies with honey than vinegar. This has been advice that has paid off very well when dealing with difficult situations. Secondly, I have had amazing managers/mentors in my career. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that they also happened to be men and women of color. Representation matters.

KN: That’s a really important point. Speaking of diversity, what actions would you recommend for women who want to create an equitable workplace, especially for African Americans and other people of color? Which actions have you personally taken?

SW: I’m going to take the easy way out and borrow a phrase from the Chicago CTA: If you see something, say something. As an ally, I recommend becoming educated and speaking up when you notice things. Stop being scared of the repercussions and just know that staying silent is much more harmful than fumbling through saying what’s right. Also, as a Black woman, as hard as it is sometimes, I’ve always used my voice. Just recently, I emailed our global CEO about a socially insensitive e-mail he sent in regards to Black Lives Matter. I’ve also emailed an industry conference president after he assembled a 50-person speaker conference with no people of color and only three women. It gets tiring, and it’s emotionally draining, but if we don’t speak up, people can’t learn and do better!

KN: I couldn’t agree more. I’ve definitely learned my voice matters and the actions of one person can truly send ripples to motivate others to speak up and take action too. Can you share how you balance your work and your well-being? 

SW: You have to set “flexible” boundaries. A few examples of how this works: I have a few time periods each week that are “blocked”: 

  • 7a-8am – meditation, devotion, exercise time
  • 9a-5p – work of course!
  • 7p-8p – dedicated time with my daughter, Leila
  • Sunday morning 10-11a – church

However, if things come up, such as an after-work happy hour that goes from 6p-9p, then I move my 7p-8p dedicated Leila time, and find a different time later in the week to make it up to her. Or perhaps if I have a week that is more heavily skewed with family time, then the next week is more heavily filled with work time. What I try to avoid is going entire weeks, or months without time for myself, or time for my daughter, because in the end, those are the two most important items that influence the rest of my life.

Shalane Walker and her daughter.

KN: I like that. It’s important to set aside time for the things that matter for you but also remain flexible and give yourself grace too when you need it! With everything going on in your life, what keeps you motivated?

SW: Knowing I’m making a positive difference in the lives of individuals keeps me going. As long as I continue to have access to teach and influence new minds, as well as make an impact in my job and community for the better, I’ll keep going as long as God lets me.

KN: That’s definitely how I feel too. I talk a lot about making an impact or as I say, making your markLipstick & Ink is all about encouraging women to make their mark on their lives, the lives of others, and on the world. What does “making your mark” mean to you?

SW: What a great question. Making my mark means having one person who can say their life has been improved or enhanced because of something you’ve done. And if you can do that with every person you meet, your impact can be unlimited.

KN: Yes! Love that. Who inspires you and why?

SW: Jesus Christ (from the Christian Bible). I know over time, He has become a divisive figure (anyone remember the Crusades?), but when you read about His life, the things He said, the change He made. I mean He was ultimately killed for disrupting the status quo with the religious and elite of the time . . .but He never gave up in doing what was right, no matter what people said.

The second person that inspires me is Michelle Obama. I relate a lot to her because she has very humble beginnings, but has been able to make her mark by staying true to who she is, and using her platform to make a difference. However, I have no interest in politics or the law profession. 

KN: Amazing answer. Okay, last question. If you had one piece of advice for fellow career women, what would it be?

SW: My favorite piece of advice is what I learned when I was just 10 years old. It’s stayed with me all of these years and it’s this: “Find out who’s in charge, find out what they want done, and do it.” 

Many times people are doing things, but it’s not what needs to be done. Or they are doing things on their own, but haven’t checked in with the person in charge, and they end up going around in circles. Lastly, if the person in charge is asking you to do something you don’t want to do or feel like you shouldn’t be doing, that’s a red flag you need to either speak up or head out. Never compromise your values for the sake of the almighty dollar. 

Thank you for sharing that and a bit about who you are, Shalane! To connect with Shalane further, you can find her contact information below! 

Welcome to Lipstick & Ink®, your home for everything career and wellness inspired. I’m Kelly, a Chicago-based marketing tech professional, writer, career coach, speaker, and events host.

Whether we’re working together on your career aspirations, refreshing your professional documents, or keeping your mental health in check, I encourage you to own your power and make your mark – one lipstick stain at a time.

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