Vanessa Kingori knows all about the challenge women face in those hallowed spaces of boardrooms and power.
Being a true powerhouse leader with a formidable CV to match, Vanessa was not only the first woman, but also the first person of color to take on the role as Publisher at British Vogue. Alongside Editor-in-Chief Edward Enninful, she has transformed the British Vogue, championing more diversity and inclusion, both within the office and on the pages of the magazine.
Recently being promoted to the Chief Business Officer of Condé Nast Britain and Vogue European Business Advisor, a role just created for her, she is directing the publishing giant to new horizons.
Vanessa is a fierce campaigner, throwing her considerable clout into issues of social responsibility, race, and gender equality. She is a true woman of purpose who believes in change.
You've recently been promoted to Chief Business Officer of Conde Nast Britain's eleven brands, a role created for you. When you were first appointed as Publishing Director of British Vogue back in 2018 you made history by being the first female publisher in the 105-year history of British Vogue. How did it feel stepping into this role?
Whenever I step into a new role, I know it's a right fit if I feel both excited and full of possibilities but also a little bit nervous. The task is not a fitting challenge if there aren't some flutters in your stomach. The role of running British Vogue was definitely one I knew I could accomplish and was excited to do. Still, it was so much about transformation and taking the brand's business into the unknown that it was scary. I felt emboldened by the fact that I had practice in building teams. I had the full backing of Jonathan Newhouse (Chairman Condé Nast International) and of course Edward Enninful, who allowed me to create change. The success that occurred because of that confidence and that backing led me to my more recent promotion to Chief Business Officer. It is incredibly vindicating of the work done, and I hope it proves that women can do hard things in business.
"True change" is a term that you often mention when it comes to diversity and inclusion. What does that term mean to you, and how do you try to implement it at British Vogue?
When I talk about true change, I am really encouraging businesses and individuals to move beyond optics to real systematic change. Since Edwards and I's tenure at British Vogue, I have noticed that there has been a big move to replicate some of the things that we and others were doing, particularly in the media industry. For example, putting more people of color and people with body differences into campaigns, onto catwalks, onto covers. But for me, true change is about changing the teams who create this content so that change happens authentically and organically rather than starting with the external result. The means are more important than the result.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Protect your mental health and wellbeing by not expecting things to be fair. That means institutions, rooms you walk into, every walk of life as a woman, as a person of color. The expectation of things to be fair can often cause hurt and distress once met with reality. Removing that expectation can give strength. The second part of the advice was: Once you have a seat at the table, try to make it fairer for yourself and those who come after you. These are words I live by, given to me by my mother.
Your 3 all-time favorite British Vogue covers, and the reason why you chose them.
My top three favorite covers are tough to choose, but I would have to say: Adwoa Aboah, Edwards first issue that symbolizes the huge shift in the direction of British Vogue as a brand and a huge shift for me personally - in my career goals and purpose. The next would be Oprah, simply because I could not believe that Oprah had never been on the cover of British Vogue before this. She is a global icon, and she is my personal icon. It meant I got to meet her! Her being 64 years old sent a message to our audience and the industry that cover stars do not have to be under 30. The September 2019 cover, which signaled the beginning of our flagship "Forces for change" project, is the third. It celebrates change-makers and re-epitomizes our core goals. It is also a really fun story of how those covers came together. We had lots of different cover options, different themes, and this one was so organic and brilliant. It features Marcus Rashford (British football player), whose family is from St Kitts, which is where half my family is from. There was a special joy to including him on his first magazine front cover and much more poignantly to spotlight the incredible actions one person can do in terms of change and purpose.
You have a 2-year old son and aim to maintain a "work-life blend" rather than a "work-life balance". What does a perfect "work-life-blend" look like?
Work-life balance is a trick that so many women have been sold. The idea that we can work full time in demanding, high-paced careers that require 100% and be full-time mothers, carers, and CEO's of households simultaneously is a destructive one. One person cannot give two lots of one hundred percent. Therefore, it is more fulfilling and achievable for me to think about work-life blend. This is something we've learned to do a little bit more since the lockdowns caused by the pandemic. It is important we learn to do it in both ways though. We have learned to welcome work into our home lives; I have never minded working a little late, I have never minded working on the weekends to maintain my work life. In return, I expect to bring some of my home life to work. That may mean bringing my son and partner on work trips so that we can have time together in the evenings after meetings, and I don't miss much of my son's growth and development and my relationship and development. This means being able to consider my son, my partner, and my wider family while at work. It is thinking about our lives as one life rather than distinct and discrete lives that do not overlap, which is destructive and clearly doesn't work for women despite the best efforts of many.
Why do you believe in the power of purpose?
Purpose is the thing that turns a job into a vocation. It is what brings joy, magic, and evolution to work.