If you have vowed to follow your passions in a creative field, don’t write off working for a large corporation. Target is one of the biggest we know with over 340,000 employees, yet we found two women who are creating content and products that millions of people can enjoy and using plenty of creativity. Sure, there may be a few more spreadsheets involved, but Noria Morales, Senior Director of Design Partnerships and Gigi Guerra, Director of Curation have jobs that sound pretty darn dreamy. We’re all for mamas building their companies from the ground up, but there are opportunities like these, for creatives to shine. Read on…
You both came from career backgrounds that are pretty different from the roles you now have at Target. Can you tell us briefly about your careers and how they led you to the positions you hold now?
Noria: Most of my career, I was a Fashion Editor. I started in the fashion closet at Lucky and took different roles as I identified where I needed to grow. I took a bigger role at a smaller, regional publication in my hometown of Boston, and I took a digital role at a little site called PopSugar. When Target called, I thought I wasn’t their type. Zero experience in mass retail, never worked for a big corporation, and I wasn’t a marketer. I credit that Target recruiter for seeing what I didn’t realize at the time- that my background in fashion, my skill at storytelling, my work ethic, and my values made this ideal composite of what they wanted. They didn’t want status quo.
Gigi: My family moved a lot and I grew up all over the country. I learned to sew at a young age and liked to make my own clothes; it was my way of cultivating my individuality and identity when the world was always changing around me and I frequently didn’t feel like I fit in. I would make crazy stuff! I once took our family’s plastic shower curtain and sewed a dress from it and wore it to school. So, I knew I wanted to study fashion design, and was lucky to get my degree from Parsons. After that, I ended up working in magazines as a writer and editor for a good part of my career. I transitioned into marketing when I took a job at Madewell when it was launching. I was there for the first five years of the brand which was an incredible hands-on experience and I learned the ropes from the ground up. I give them a lot of credit for hiring someone with virtually no marketing experience to lead the marketing for a new brand. But like Noria said, they must’ve seen what I didn’t and took a chance on me. I’ll forever be grateful.
“The true challenge is figuring out how to be effective in a big company, particularly if you are coming in at a leadership level. I learned quickly that you need two things: a clear message and super sharp communication skills.”
What did you find to be the most challenging thing or the biggest adjustment when you first came to work for such a large scale company? How did you meet those challenges?
N: There is definitely a holy sh*t moment when you realize just how big your “large scale company” really is. It’s startling, kind of funny, and often humbling. Visiting headquarters in Minneapolis really drives home how big it is.
The true challenge is figuring out how to be effective in a big company, particularly if you are coming in at a leadership level. I realized that my background in editorial (strong right-brain environments!) had not prepared me for the realities of working day-to-day in corporate America where there were way more left-brainers (with all their rules and processes!). At first, I felt like I was speaking a foreign language. I was overwhelmed by what seemed like a million people, meetings, and opinions. I learned quickly that you need two things: a clear message and super sharp communication skills.
G: For me, coming to Target wasn’t a huge adjustment since I’d been at a large company before (Madewell is part of J.Crew Corp). What drew me to Target was that it IS big – you have the resources, the support, and the ability to scale ideas and bring them to life. As a creative person, that’s hugely appealing. What I do in my current role really allows me to satisfyingly tap into my entire resume: I get to ideate partnership concepts and work with designers to help bring their ideas to life. But the best thing about Target is that there’s a whole store’s worth of product categories to dream up partnership opportunities for. It’s like a giant sandbox: women’s, men’s, kids, home décor, beauty, food, electronics, you name it.
“I credit that Target recruiter for seeing what I didn’t realize at the time- that my background in fashion, my skill at storytelling, my work ethic, and my values made this ideal composite of what they wanted. They didn’t want status quo.”
What has the support system been like for you? Do you feel like you have all the resources you need?
N: This may sound dorky, but the company itself is an incredible support system. I have never worked for a company where the culture is overall very caring and supportive. I’m super lucky to have a boss who believes in empowering her staff, and believes it’s her responsibility to help us grow and evolve. I don’t know if that’s a Minnesota thing, but I’ll take it, because it’s like being wrapped in a warm blanket all the time (okay, most of the time).
When Target hired me, I got my first taste of corporate power during the “onboarding” period. Target does not interview you for six months, hire you, only to let you fail. I got about six fat binders full of materials relevant not just to my role, but to my role and responsibility as a leader. Then, they assigned me an executive coach. This person was really just that- a coach to help me navigate during the first year. If I needed to ask a dumb question, cry, vent, or just talk something out to an objective person, I could call my coach.
G: I agree! The support system at Target is amazing. We have the team, the resources, and most importantly, the enthusiasm from the highest levels to push new ideas and innovative thinking forward. Before I joined Target, I had the perception that this was a company that wasn’t afraid to blaze new trails. And it’s true. Of course, you have to build trust, do your research, and make a solid case why an idea is worthy, but knowing that Target understands an opportunity and is willing to take a leap and support is really what makes me love my job. The other thing I find hugely rewarding is being able to use Target’s scale to bring exciting things to everyone. I remember growing up in the suburbs, and just not having access or means to get to all the things I’d see in magazines. But we had Target, and I knew I could always find something special and cool and new there – I felt like Target understood and heard me.
“The other thing I find hugely rewarding is being able to use Target’s scale to bring exciting things to everyone. I remember growing up in the suburbs, and just not having access or means to get to all the things I’d see in magazines. But we had Target, and I knew I could always find something special and cool and new there – I felt like Target understood and heard me.”
Coming back to work as a new mom is hard for everyone, no matter what you do, and Gigi you have twins! What was your experience like as a new mom returning to work and learning to juggle career and family? How do you manage that? Do you have any life hacks (apps, programs, mantras) that help keep things flowing?
N: Looking back, I don’t know how I did anything. I know I wasn’t operating at full mental capacity. I’m still very forgetful and I feel like I’m constantly distracted, so that’s probably a side effect of being a mom to young kids and managing a big, meaty job like mine.
One thing I will freely admit to is that I have it easy, compared to many working mothers. I have a full-time nanny who takes care of my kids like they are her own. For that, I’m forever grateful because it allowed me to dive into my work and carve out time for me, which keeps me happy. I use that time to exercise.
I also try not to work on weekends. Sometimes I’ll need a few hours to work on something, but mostly, the company is very respectful of family time on weekends and I take full advantage of that. I am in full mom/wife mode on the weekends, and I think that is really important for the balance issue.
G: I had no idea how much the definition of “time” would shift once you have kids. There never seems to be enough of it and not a minute is wasted. That was the biggest revelation to me as a mom. I’m much more scheduled now and don’t have the luxury of noodling over things. It’s made me more decisive too. Going back to work was hard the first week – lots of worrying: are the kids going to be okay? Is there enough milk? Etc – and then you settle into your new routine. Like Noria, I feel lucky. I enjoy my job and like what I do, and am lucky to have full-time childcare, which makes it easier for me to be 100% at work when I’m at work. Target is also a super supportive environment for moms. There are a lot of working mothers at the company which means there’s camaraderie and communal support – there’s an unspoken understanding when you need to be home with a sick child or there’s an unexpected childcare emergency.
As far as how I cope with being a working mom, I’ve learned to carve out “me” time whenever I can. Even it if it’s 30 minutes here and there. On the weekends, my husband and I will swap mornings getting up with the boys so the other can sleep in. Or just lay in bed and lollygag around and read. It’s easy to forget how important do-nothing time is. I’m pretty lazy by nature and not a gym person, so my alone time is usually allocated doing suitably lazybones things. I get my workout chasing twin toddlers. My husband and I also have a standing weekly babysitter so we can have a night out. I can’t overstate how important it is to have time together without kids. And we try to have one-on-one time with each boy individually. With twins, it’s easy to always do everything together, which is great, but since everything with twins from the womb onward is pretty much shared in their lives we want to make sure they have the singular focus of one of us on a regular basis.
Noria, you were 7 months pregnant when they hired you! What was the interview process like? Did you feel like this was going to be an issue.. were you nervous about it? What was it like coming in for 2 months and then heading out on maternity leave? What’s the maternity leave like?
N: I found out I was pregnant during the months-long interview process. My husband advised me not to tell them because he thought they might lose interest in me. He had worked for a big corporation that was not supportive of working moms. In my gut, I felt Target was different so I decided to be transparent. It helped that most of the female leaders I had met at Target were all mothers and seemed proud of it. Simply put, they were awesome about it. It really is a company that values family above all else, which I feel is crazy rare.
It was super hard to leave after two months. One, I was drinking water from a firehose, just learning so much, getting to know my team, and how my projects actually worked. Motherhood is never convenient when you have a challenging job. I also had a 15 month old at home already. But here’s the amazing thing: my boss told me, in the calmest voice imaginable, just to take all the time I needed, that it would all be there when I got back, and that I should enjoy these moments. I didn’t totally listen to her though! I went back to work after 8 weeks because I was just so hungry to get back into the role.
“Motherhood is never convenient when you have a challenging job. I also had a 15 month old at home already. But here’s the amazing thing: my boss told me, in the calmest voice imaginable, just to take all the time I needed, that it would all be there when I got back, and that I should enjoy these moments.”
Women make up 45% of the c-suite execs at Target! This is an incredible number. How do you think this affects the company policies and culture?
N: There is a level of empathy and thoughtfulness at our company, and I think that is cultivated by our strong female leadership. One, it’s easy to support family at Target when you have so many working mothers who are smart, visionary, cool, and can get sh*t done, but being a mom is their other job.
I think the big differentiator with the female leadership at Target is there is a strong desire to empower and support other women vs. something more negative (the kind of crappy behavior you might see in movies or shows). I’ve yet to meet a woman at Target who wants to cut me down. You know how younger siblings copy the older ones? Same thing happens at corporations. The young copy the elders, and that’s why we have such a strong, optimistic culture.
G: I agree. There is real support for working moms at the company, because many of women in leadership roles are mothers themselves. And in general, women really do help each other. I’ve encountered none of the stereotypical cattiness that you hear about when women work together. It’s the opposite. My female coworkers work to empower and inspire each other. I remember when I told my coworkers that I was pregnant – I had no idea what to expect – and I’ve never been met with more genuine enthusiasm or excitement. To this day, it’s common for a meeting with coworkers I haven’t seen in a while to start with an ask about how my kids are doing. Which brings up another point – you can tell a lot about a company by the way they treat expecting and new moms on leave.
Target is one of America’s largest retailers. How do you make sure your voice is heard in a company with 340,000+ employees?
N: You need smart ideas and fantastic communication skills. When you combine the two, you can usually get some pretty cool projects going, and when those succeed, people pay attention.
G: Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself and share your ideas. Be collaborative – help others and others will help you. Find your people – those who will inspire you and advocate for you. Be proactive. Lastly, listen. You can’t be heard if you don’t know the conversation going on around you.
The New York office is gorgeous! I felt my creative juices pumping just from being in the art-packed open space. Where did all of the super cool art work come from?
N: We partnered with this AMAZING organization out of Oakland, CA called Creative Growth. It provides a working space for adult artists with disabilities. I can’t recommend them enough.. Their artists are incredibly talented and cool.
As much as we love and support entrepreneurial women, we don’t want to overlook that there are some pretty cool creative jobs out there at big companies. What are some of the perks for working at a big company?
N: For me, there are 4 major perks:
1. Access and Exposure. Working at a big company, you have access to so many resources that inspire your thinking, enrich your skills, and strengthen your professional network. We work with top creative agencies, brilliant consultants, and really cool businesses. We have access to conferences, trend forecasters, and consumer data, etc. I’ve developed great relationships with CEOs, CMOs, entrepreneurs, chefs, designers, influencers… all because of my place at Target.
2. Right-Brain-Left Brain Development. I’m a creative. I always hated Excel spreadsheets. And while I still hate Excel spreadsheets, I’m fascinated by business and understanding operations and logistics. I’ve developed a much more strategic approach to my work, thanks to this “corporate environment” filled with a lot of left-brained people who are terrific at running a business. This has been invaluable for me to learn.
3. Security. This may not matter to anyone at age 25, but when you hit your 30s, have kids, and realize a 401K doesn’t grow on it’s own, the perks of a big company with a strong benefits plan suddenly becomes very clear.
4. Work-Life Balance. Do I have a hundred entrepreneurial ideas every week? Yes. Do I want to work a million hours to see them come to life, and never see my kids? Um, not really. I’m so lucky to be with a company that challenges me in my work and fully supports me leaving to take care of my family, exercise, and volunteer. I didn’t think about work/life balance until I had kids, but now I’m really strict about it and would never go to a company where that isn’t top of the priority list.
We’d love to hear what goes on at Target’s annual fall meeting! 10,000 people wearing red packed into a stadium?
N: Haha! It’s one of those awe-inspiring, humbling, “I am totally in a movie” moments. It’s where we all come together to recognize the progress we made for the business and brand over the last year, and then get the teams pumped up about the holiday season. That’s important because in retail, the holiday season is IT. There are speeches, videos, and always live entertainment. One year, Coldplay performed (their album was out with us) and Chris Martin came out wearing red and khaki uniform with a “Chris” Target nametag. The goal is that everyone leaves on the same page- we understand our business priorities and what we need to get done.
What do you do to unplug from the office?
N: Exercise and cocktail hour! SoulCycle and Y7 yoga are like my therapy and my husband and I really enjoy the art of making cocktails. My 3 year old wants in on the fun too, so we make him “kid cocktails” which consist of seltzer, bitters, and some sort of fruit mixed in.
G: I like to say I read a lot of books, am learning another language, and cook elaborate meals. But, the truth is, I usually catch up on whatever the binge-worthy show of the moment is and waste too much time scrolling through my Instagram feed. Joking aside, my husband, kids and I try to regularly get out and explore a different off-the-beaten path attraction each weekend in and around NYC’s five boroughs. We’ve explored both an abandoned fort and a former missile installation that defended NYC during WWI and WWII, taken in a couple Coney Island Cyclones minor-league baseball games, visited a historic fish hatchery, and hiked through a large sculpture park. Next on my list: There’s an architecturally award-winning sewage treatment plant in Brooklyn that you can tour. Seriously!
“Make sure you take care of yourself. As they say on the airplane safety video – put your own oxygen mask on first. If you’re not operational, you can’t help anyone else.”
What are your 3 pearls of motherhood wisdom?
N: 1. You should be at the top of your own priority list. Show yourself some love, and that will manifest in you being a better, more present mother/partner/daughter/friend.
2. Sometimes the best thing you can give your kids is independence. Let them play by themselves, figure something out for themselves, and do leave them for a weekend with grandma.
3. Opt out of 90% of kid birthday parties, including your own kids, until they are 6. First of all, nobody will remember them. Second of all, they are a really chaotic two hours, and it’s expensive for parents! Third, it’s not a great way to make friends with other parents because it’s impossible to have a real conversation. Invite the parents over for cocktail hour instead, and give the kids a cupcake.
G: 1. Make sure you take care of yourself. As they say on the airplane safety video – put your own oxygen mask on first. If you’re not operational, you can’t help anyone else.
2. Make bedtime fun. My husband had the genius idea to have a bedtime “light show,” which means we turn out the lights in the boys’ bedroom and we get out glow sticks, a light-up disco ball, hats and glasses with LED lights – basically anything that blinks, flashes and lights up — and have a little lights-out dance party. It makes everyone excited to be in the bedroom, ends the day on a high note, and ready to flop into bed.
3. Enjoy every moment with your kids. It all goes by so quickly. It’s such a cliché, and I’ve learned as a mom that many of the clichés people tell you are true.
“Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself and share your ideas. Be collaborative – help others and others will help you. Find your people – those who will inspire you and advocate for you. Be proactive. Lastly, listen. You can’t be heard if you don’t know the conversation going on around you.”
Photos by Victoria Gloria