n the months leading up to Shoptalk Meetup for Women, the Shoptalk team is producing an Original Content series on The State of Women Working in Retail that explores four phases of women’s leadership in retail.

Our first phase, Where We Are, examined the overall landscape for women working in retail. Over the next three weeks, we’ll focus on How We Got Here by highlighting career success stories from some of the industry’s most inspirational leaders.

We spoke with Monica Turner, the President of North America Sales at Procter & Gamble, about her 30-plus year career at the CPG titan and how she’s inspiring the next generation of female leaders.

Thinking back to Monica Turner in 1987, has your career unfolded according to plan?

I started at Procter & Gamble as an intern. I understood P&G was focused on providing quality goods to consumers, and having great partnerships with customers. But what I liked most was that it seemed like a values-based company.

I didn't initially see anyone that looked like me, though. So I had to trust what I saw in the people there, in the values that were present, and that I would have the opportunity to advance. When I finally went to a P&G event and saw others who looked like me, who were very, very talented sales individuals, I then felt like, “Well, maybe this is the place for me.” Because visible diversity was important.

I really thought I was going to have my entire career in Dallas. That's where my friends were. That was familiar. But thank goodness for many great mentors who showed me that having a variety of skills and experiences would allow me to accelerate within P&G. Mentors give you a broader picture of what’s possible.

So, did I think I would be President, in 1987? I can't really tell you that I did, but I definitely knew there were opportunities.

Monica Turner early in her career

Talk about that first move from Dallas. Where did you go?

I know this seems small, but my first move was to San Antonio. It was my first time managing a full unit of people.

I was a young Black female coming into a market where there had never been any young Black females managing anyone. I had the opportunity to manage all men, 10 years my senior.

The first person who reached out to me in San Antonio was Jim Beard. He was considered the best manager in that market. Jim embraced me proactively. He taught me everything he knew about being a great leader.

He taught me how you can show your team that you understand who they are, and that you value them. You can set common goals to elevate what you are working towards versus dwelling on your differences.

There are ways to reduce the “social distance” gap to create real relationships. And so, yes, I had to go fishing and I didn't like to fish. I went to the horse track and I don't gamble. But my team wanted me to participate and they made sure that they respected my boundaries, and I was respectful of them. Mutual respect enabled the team to take breakthrough actions that made us the best in the district.

There’s a belief that women, and especially women of color, are overmentored and undersponsored. Do you agree?

I think there’s partial truth to that statement. If you have effective mentors, you can have multiple mentors. What is really key is that your mentor is someone who wants to make you better and cares enough to push you outside of your comfort zone.

But you need a sponsor, and I would absolutely say women of color are under-sponsored. Sponsors take action. Sponsors pull you through informally and formally. So I say to all women of color: Have a sponsor.

I say to all women of color: Have a sponsor.

You’re a sponsor of P&G’s Open Doors Program. Please describe that initiative.

We launched a pilot with the Network of Executive Women, where I’m the Board Chair, and other companies to talk about the barriers that impede the advancement of multicultural women and create solutions to close the social distance gaps between them, their leaders and peers. We've since brought that initiative inside of P&G.

We want people to bring their authentic, unique selves into the workplace. We want to create relationships that strengthen workplace inclusion and enable meaningful career growth. And we are looking to close those gaps that make it a different experience for a woman of color than a white male. We are on the journey and we’re making great progress, and we have more to do.

What has been your biggest career win?

The biggest win is when I've had the good fortune to mentor and develop and advance very talented people along the way. That’s when I know I've made a difference.

On that note, how do you manage your role as a mentor or sponsor for young women at P&G?

Along my journey I've been many firsts, but I came to this company so that other people could follow me and I wouldn't be the last. So I have all the time in the world to make sure that those who could benefit from my story, from my wisdom, have access. I've learned to do that in different ways, like internal speaking engagements to reach more people at one time.

I stand on the shoulders of so many who helped me be the President that I am today.

I stand on the shoulders of so many who helped me be the President that I am today. They were equally as talented, equally as smart, equally as accomplished, and they chose to lift me up, and so I will lift up those who I mentor and sponsor as well. It is a daunting task, but it is also an honor, and I see it as my life's purpose.

Our Original Content series continues next week, when we’ll hear from the CEO of a leading robotics startup. It culminates May 11-13, 2021 at Shoptalk Meetup for Women.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.