5 questions with Eliana Wahnon
Today, Working Mother Magazine released its annual Best Companies for Multicultural Women rankings and General Mills earned a spot for the tenth consecutive year, landing in the elite ‘Top Five’ along with Deloitte, KPMG, PwC and State Farm.
Companies were selected based on responses to nearly 400 pointed questions on representation, hiring, attrition and promotion rates, recruitment, retention, advancement programs and company culture.
Featured in an article on the rankings in Working Mother magazine is General Mills’ own Eliana Wahnon, Global Consumer Insights Manager, who is the subject of our latest “5 questions” interview.
I’ve asked Eliana to share her personal story on what has inspired her to excel at General Mills and relocate her family to Minnesota for a company she believes in.
1. How have the women in your family inspired you in your adult life as a busy working mom?
Wahnon: I come from a family of entrepreneurial and professional women. Both of my grandmothers managed family businesses. I will never forget the many times I saw my grandma “Chala” (our nickname for her) in her 1980s being a tough negotiator with clients and vendors.
My biggest inspiration has always been my mom, she has seamlessly managed to build a solid family (40-year marriage, two kids and four grandkids), while having a successful career as an architect and a lawyer. She has endless energy and never stops investing in her personal and professional growth. Around the time when I was in college, she decided to go to law school while still working full time, and graduated five years later.
She is still active professionally in both careers, and she will tell you she doesn’t ever want to stop. My mom has and still is my greatest supporter, even today when I am in need of help with the kids if I have to travel for work, she will hop on a plane from Venezuela and take care of everything.
For me, seeing these examples in my family inspires me everyday to be the best I can be as a professional, as a wife and most importantly as a mother. My hope is that one day I can serve as inspiration for my kids, so they both can achieve their goals in lives.
2. Describe your current role at General Mills.
Wahnon: I am the Multicultural Insights Manager, and my role is to deliver relevant insights and analytics so the organization can accelerate growth and meet the needs of multicultural consumers. I see this as a yin and yang role.
One side of my role is to build the business case and track our performance to create a sense of urgency behind this opportunity, and on the other side it is about building cultural intuition around multicultural consumers and their lives, making sure their voice is always present in how we market our brands and how we innovate new products.
3. Do you believe that growing up in a multicultural family, and now living in a different country from your native Venezuela, has given you valuable perspective for your current position with General Mills?
Wahnon: I think my life experience, my educational background in engineering and my deep passion for understanding people really prepared me for this role. I come from a very diverse family in Venezuela.
I was raised by a Jewish dad and a Catholic mom and all my grandparents were from different countries – Morocco, Colombia, Venezuela and Argentina. In addition, I studied for 14 years in an American school, Colegio Jefferson, learning all about American culture.
The combination of all these things helped me develop an ability to be very open, curious and accepting of differences because I needed to do it to understand my environment.
My understanding and openness allowed me to help those around me understand the richness of differences and the things that brings us all together.
This translates directly to what I do, which is making sure we embrace and celebrate the differences of all our consumers but also find the links that are universal to us all.
4. What advice would you give to a new mom returning to work? What was helpful for you to keep in perspective?
Wahnon: This is your own journey and your own discovery. I would say listen to your instinct first and foremost, and define clearly integrated priorities.
Be stubborn about the things that matter and extremely flexible on the rest.
For example, I know I won’t ever miss my kids’ teacher conferences, but when it comes to putting dinner together every night I am very flexible about that. Also don’t be afraid to ask for help, either at work or at home, we have great teams that can support you at work and I rely on my husband and the grandmas to help me at home when needed too.
5. What about the culture of General Mills to you find supportive as a working mom?
Wahnon: I always say that this is the best company to work for because of the people who work here. It is not only the incredible level of talent, but this organization really values you as a person, not just an employee. The company offers many benefits like work flexibility so you can do your job in the best way that fits your life.
Both of my kids went to daycare onsite at General Mills, and that made my transition so much easier when I came back; emotionally, because I could see them throughout the day, and practically because I could easily take care of their needs in those early months.
To me, the most important thing is the empathy you receive from those around you. I remember one day I had a really important meeting and the night before I had to take my son to the emergency room, I was so stressed because we had to reschedule the meeting, and on top of that my son was in the ER. The reaction of those I work with was so incredibly supportive.
My manager and the head of my function not only managed the impact at work so I could focus on my son, but were so supportive on the personal side making sure I had access to everything I needed to deal with my personal emergency. Everything turned out fine, mostly due to the culture of support here at General Mills.
Editor’s note: The full list of Working Mother’s Best Companies for Multicultural Women appears in the June/July issue of Working Mother and online at WorkingMother.com.