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Inspiring People: Ukonwa Ojo

Many women of colour are shifting paradigms, leading worldwide multi-million-dollar companies, and Ukonwa Ojo is no exception. The award-winning marketer, of Nigerian descent, has over two decades of experience leading the marketing efforts of several global cosmetics companies. She has been commended for transforming the way makeup is marketed, by championing diversity on the forefront of campaigns and behind the scenes.

Background and Early Career Challenges

Ojo has said that she's always been a 'beauty junkie', growing up in Nigeria to her late mother, a fashion designer. However, she has admitted that she didn't believe she was able to make it a career. Instead, she had dreamed of working in business and finance and thought of America as the 'nirvana' of the business world. So, in her late teens she chose to immigrate to the US and earn a business degree at the University of North Carolina.

However, 6 years after beginning her career in finance Ukonwa realised it wasn't the right path for her. In an interview with PopSugar magazine in 2018 she stated that her initial motivation for working in the finance sector was due to her love of numbers and mathematics. But, she soon found 'the lifestyle was incredibly boring', and so she began to pursue a career in marketing.

Ukonwa's early career was not without its challenges, and she has spoken about her initial struggles with progressing in management as a woman of colour. When she was first promoted to a management position in her late 20's, her team were reportedly uneasy about this as it wasn't 'normal' at the time. They weren't fond of her upfront style, which she attributes to her Nigerian roots, and even called in a coach to try and mould her into something she wasn't. She chose to resign from the position and has since made a point of encouraging young women to be their authentic-selves at work. She is certainly a case study to prove it, now successfully heading billion-dollar companies due to their cultures allowing her to confidently and unapologetically be herself.

Transforming Make-up Marketing

Ojo has overseen marketing initiatives that have led to international sales growth for multiple well-known brands including, Durex, Cheerios and Betty Crocker. However, in 2016 she took the leap into her beloved beauty sector and this is when some of her most notable work began.

After becoming Chief Marketing Officer of the multinational beauty company Coty Inc, within 11 months she gave their brand CoverGirl a complete make-over. She introduced the powerful tagline 'I am What I Make-Up' which highlighted her vision of diversity and inclusion. Alongside this the brand launched a 40-shade range of foundation, catering to all skin tones. Oja believes in looking at brands holistically, from the viewpoint of all consumers and not just the majority. This is something the beauty sector has historically been criticised of not doing, often neglecting the needs of their ethnic minority consumers.

Ojo is currently Senior Vice President of Global Marketing for one of the world's leading make-up brands, Mac Cosmetics. She continues to be a champion for diversity and inclusion, having a strong consumer-centric approach to her marketing. When speaking of the importance of encouraging diversity in the make-up industry, she has said that it shouldn't just be considered a trend. In an interview with Elle magazine she stated, 'makeup is more than cosmetic, but a tool for creativity, self-expression and personal transformation'. It is therefore increasingly important that beauty brands continue to be more inclusive and market to all consumers, from all backgrounds and ethnicities.

Contributors: Isobel Mortimer
Image Credits: Craig Barritt on 2017 Getty Images for Fast Company

7 May 2020

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