Alumna reflects on mindful leadership and the importance of mentors

3.30.2022 Alumni News, Article

Alumna Diana Medina (MBA ’14), Vice President of Retail Transformation at Inmar, speaks with Alumni Council member Taylor Ross (MSM ‘17, MBA ‘20) about mindful leadership, the importance of mentors, and being open to new opportunities.

Taylor: You completed your undergraduate work in Colombia and earned two degrees: Social Communication and Journalism and Business Administration. How did you end up in Winston-Salem, and what made you decide to pursue an MBA?

Diana: I have family in Winston Salem, and I had dreams to build a promising career. I knew a bachelor’s degree was probably not enough education to advance in my career. For me, an MBA was a logical next step. Additionally, Wake Forest is one of the premier institutions in the area!

Taylor: You spent over seven years at Lowes Foods with incredible career progression, starting as a Marketing Intern and leaving as Director of e-Commerce Merchandising (with multiple roles in between). What’s the most significant factor that helped you be successful?

Diana: The biggest factor is being willing to take risks and knowing that every opportunity will enhance your career. If someone sees something valuable in you, embrace it. I was open to stretching myself, even when it was scary or uncomfortable, and that accelerated my growth.

Taylor: You are currently Vice President, Retail Transformation, at Inmar. That sounds like an exciting job! What does it mean?

Diana: I lead a team that supports retailers in the Everyday Spend category. My team and I leverage data to provide solutions for retailers (like Walmart and Target) to support their digital transformation strategies. Through data and tech, we offer insights and solutions for reaching shoppers in a relevant way.

Taylor: As a leader, how do you stay mindful of who’s at the table and who’s missing?

Diana: That takes a very intentional effort. As a Hispanic woman in the US, it’s critical for me not to forget about others that, like I do, may face challenges in their careers due to their backgrounds. The ones that have not reached the same heights in their careers due to systemic or personal barriers. That mindfulness is essential. With my influence, I can remove obstacles to enable them to take control of their professional destiny. I want to make sure the right people are in the room, and I want to hear their thoughts. This applies to small things, like who is participating in a meeting and who is not, or bigger things, like what we do to ensure that our recruiting efforts are inclusive. Leaders must be purpose-driven in building diverse projects and teams. So I make an effort to put people in positions to showcase success so that others coming behind them feel confident in doing the same.

Taylor: What’s one thing you wish people knew about women in the workplace?

Diana: I wish people knew that it takes being in a woman’s shoes to truly understand the experience. The barriers women face are inside and out of the office. There are mental blocks that are very personal and need to be addressed by empowering women to take control of their careers through coaching, training and mentoring. But there are also more systemic-driven issues that need attention, and the role that women in positions of power and authority play is critical to propel change. Male leaders are absolutely essential to make a change, and it takes collaboration, vulnerability and curiosity for our discussions and efforts to be truly impactful.

Taylor: What advice would you give our young women who are getting ready to graduate?

Diana: Be very mindful of your own biases and mental limitations. Make yourself aware of those; it allows you to take control and face your fears. Self-awareness allows you to take control of your destiny. Your career has no limitations; there are only mental limitations.

Taylor: How important is it to have a mentor to grow as a leader? Have you had any mentors or role models who have helped you along the way or shaped who you are today?

Diana: Mentorship is critical; you need coaches and advocates. I think about it in three different levels: a mentor for who you aspire to be, surrounding yourself with the right peers, and finally leaning back and mentoring people who are following you. I have several mentors that I lean on for advice, and they have helped me get to where I am. And I also have mentors that I probably will never meet. For example, I follow former Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi for inspiration. So don’t limit yourself just to the people you know.

Taylor: How have you built confidence and/or resiliency over the course of your career?

Diana: Maintain a growth mindset and be open and eager to learn – in many aspects of life. This mindset teaches you that you will not be an expert overnight but over a lifetime. You must be intentional in your mastery.

Taylor: How have you applied what you learned at Wake Forest to your roles?

Diana: The part-time nature of the MBA program allowed me to learn something today and use it the next day at work. If I learned something in class, I applied it to my job. Curiosity allowed me to go deeper and think beyond my current role.

Taylor: What was your favorite thing about Wake Forest?

Diana: The people/community at Wake Forest; academics was key, but I love that I can always reach out to the community. Also, the opportunity to be profiled is incredible. Finally, networking at Wake Forest is a never-ending gift that stemmed from my career and education investment.

Taylor: Since graduating from the MBA program, you have been very engaged with the School as an alumna. What motivates you to stay connected?

Diana: I’ve seen the value of being a part of the community for myself, and I want that for others. I want others to know that this was possible. The impact of inspiring students has been immeasurable. I’m so grateful for this School and this network.