Design leader interview series: Jadalia Britto

For AIGA Women Lead’s first interview series, we sat down with women pioneers at colleges, design studios, agencies, and large companies to share their unique stories: the journey from mentee to mentor, frank assessments of women and the design field today, and how they’ve demonstrated a commitment to gender equity in the workplaces they now lead.


As strategic brand design manager for Colgate-Palmolive supporting Oral Care, Jadalia Britto’s career is about forging strong connections between people and the brands they love. It’s that skill that makes Britto particularly adept at calling out where connections are lacking—where companies aren’t reaching those they need to, like women, people of color, and all those in-between. Britto spoke with AIGA’s director of new ventures, Darralyn Rieth, about what it’s like to feel completely outnumbered as “a double minority—a Black woman,” how the outlook of the design field is changing, and why, although she’s had self-doubt as a leader, it is now the fuel for her success (and it should fuel you too).

You work currently at Colgate-Palmolive,  supporting Oral Care. What do you do for them?

I recently joined Colgate-Palmolive supporting Oral Care as a strategic brand design manager. Prior to Colgate, I worked at Creative Destruction Films as Director of Digital Content Development & Design. I ran my own consultancy, Episode 21, as Director of Strategy and Content Development. I worked with companies like Google, New York Life, Garnier, P&G, L’Oreal, Boys & Girls Club, Tidal, Garnier, HBO, Luster’s, BBC, Marketo, Mastercard, Dark & Lovely, iHeartRadio, BlackEnterprise, NEA, BankRate, VH1, and ABC News.

As a design management professional, what do you do?

Brands aren't just about names anymore; they’re about connections. I bring visions to life by shaping brands and forming connections with people through the experiences I create. What brands do you love and why? What is brand loyalty? How does it make your life easier? Why do you care? These are the things I take care of on a daily basis. By working with cross-functional teams, I’m helping people buy into an experience; making their choices easier by providing things that resonate with them. So there are these subtle nuances.

What do you think is most challenging for women in the creative industries?

Equal pay and stereotypes. Women go into these scenarios already feeling like we're working to get the same level of respect as men. All these stereotypes make us second-guess ourselves, so we go in working ten times harder than we have to. What’s worse is that we’re our own toughest critics. We’re hard on ourselves, and feel that we have to always over-deliver instead of just having the confidence that we're great at what we do.

Would you say that's unique to the creative industry?

No. When I started my career in design in many departments I was out numbered. Women were outnumbered by men, and as a minority I was completely outnumbered. Whenever I saw someone else of color they were usually the Fed-Ex guy. It was rare to see anyone in a leadership role who looked like me: a double minority—a Black-woman.

But now more than ever, there is a surge [of women] in art schools. If you go to any art school, you'll see way more women going for design degrees than men. We're starting to become equal to or even outnumber [men] in the industry—but they're in more leadership roles. It is rare to see a woman running a design organization unless she founded the company. You'll see women in a supporting role and be one amongst a group of men or partners, but I have yet to see it equally balanced out.

Let’s hope we see that soon. How does your organization create a culture that supports women? Are you seeing that happening where you are now?

Absolutely. I definitely can say I see diversity at Colgate-Palmolive. This is one of the first companies that I’ve been in where I've seen women from different cultures and various backgrounds in abundance; the first truly diverse company [I’ve worked for].

I started my own business due to lack of opportunities. I felt like the only way that I could get ahead, challenge myself, or grow professionally as a creative was to start my own business.

Some of the disparities that I experience are not just from being a woman but also being an African American woman. So now, dabbling back and forth in corporate America, I see that it's changing. Especially within the last 10 years. It's exciting. We still face many challenges, and we still have a long way to go. But you can see some progress. And to me seeing progress is hope; any progress is hopeful.

You've had some great mentors and some great role models in your lifetime. What are some of the key things you've learned from them about leadership?
    • Over-prepare. Being a leader means stepping out, taking risks, and not being afraid to scrape your knee.
    • Lead by example.
    • Patience is a virtue.
    • If you've done it 100 times, you're just getting started.
Good advice. What's the greatest challenge you faced and how did you deal with it to become a leader?

Not feeling I was good enough or that I deserved the opportunities I got to lead. Get out of your head and don’t overthink it. Lead by example and you can show better than you can tell. I would say that when I was taking bigger risks, and I felt that especially as a consultant. “Do you have enough to offer?” “Are people drinking the Kool-Aid?”

You're always going to have self-doubt; don’t let it cripple you. The more you challenge it, the less you fear. Now, doubt fuels me.

People look at me as a leader, but at times I don't look at myself as such because I'm still fighting. I would never say I've figured it out, but I do hope that from all of my hard work, wounds, and experience I've opened doors for others and can make this journey easier for someone else. It's a thankless journey—I'm not looking for kudos—it's just something that I've done because this was the only way. If you want something, what does it take to get there? You've got to look at it like it's raining outside. What are you going to do? You're going to put on your boots, you're going to put on your raincoat, and you’re going to bring your umbrella. You're not going to cry over it.

What have you learned you wish you knew 10 years ago?

It's not enough to study design. I learned this when I got my Masters. You've got to study people’s behaviors, cultural nuances—understand the differences, and the things that bring us together. Because if you don't know how to grab someone's attention, if you don’t know what matters to them or excites them, how is [your brand] going to be appealing?

What additional advice do you have for companies that want women leaders?

There needs to be flexibility. We're still women first, right? We're partners, professionals, mothers, daughters, siblings, mentors, and friends. If you choose to start a family, you feel like you have to choose [between that and work] because you can't take time off. A lot of my creative female friends had to choose, and that sucks.

I know people are starting to push work-life balance but I don't think they really understand the importance of it. I've seen maybe one of 10-plus companies start to sort of get it right. Companies need to understand that the more you put into your employees, the more we will give in return; the more you’ll see women thriving in your organization. If I feel that I'm trusted and respected and someone is working hard for me, I'm going to work hard for them.

What is your professional superpower?

My professional superpower is my ability to connect and motivate. Funny enough, I'm a Leo, and people will say “Leos make great leaders.” But at times I take that for granted. Forming connections is a great asset.

You just shared your professional superpower. If you could be any superhero, what would it be?

I always thought of myself as Black Widow. If you follow Marvel, Black Widow is an Agent of the Shield. She has to be a chameleon, she has to be strong, she has to not feel anything. And she always has to fight many battles—she's a soldier. I think about the way that I've attacked my professional career and my track. I am a Black woman and I am creative—I've been a soldier with many wounds. I still try to do it with a smile and sense of humor, and while being hopelessly optimistic.


About Jadalia Britto

Jada BrittoJadalia Britto is a brand and design strategist, creative director, digital content developer, businesswoman, entrepreneur, futurist, and mentor. Britto is based in New York City.