Learn To Embrace Authenticity With Huda Beauty’s Mona Kattan
Dive deep with Salesforce’s Chief Philanthropy Officer Ebony Beckwith and Mona Kattan on the #BossTalks series, aimed at career-oriented professionals on LinkedIn.
What happens when you show up as your true self? You embrace authenticity and demonstrate who you are, what you stand for, and why that matters in the world. When we offer our authentic selves — not just our professional side or our personal side that emerges when we clock out, but our whole self — we can set the world on fire. In the second episode of #BossTalks, Salesforce’s Chief Philanthropy Officer Ebony Beckwith welcomes Mona Kattan, global president of Huda Beauty and Kayali Fragrances, for a frank, open conversation about embracing authenticity — and how that has allowed Kattan to not only succeed, but to truly flourish and shine.
They speak candidly about how realizing their true paths in life helped them embrace authenticity to succeed in their careers. They both felt they had to put on “masks” to fit in with the male-dominated finance world, when truly they could embrace their femininity and display their intelligence and grit. Dive in for details on this advice:
- Follow your passion
- Don’t make Barbie your benchmark
- Celebrate individuality to embrace authenticity
- Earn respect as your authentic self
- Don’t conform. Be yourself
- Formality vs. professionalism
- Share the magic within yourself
- Lessons exist everywhere
Scroll down to see the video and transcript in full.
Follow your passion
Kattan was born and raised in the U.S. by Iraqi immigrant parents who moved the family to different states before they all settled in Dubai in 2002, where she and her sisters eventually founded beauty company Huda Beauty. Before that, Kattan’s father encouraged her to study finance to ensure a stable career. She worked in investment banking, but it never felt like her true calling. “I knew very much that it was not authentic to who I was or who I wanted to be in life,” Kattan said. “I left [finance] and I started venturing into self-employment and entrepreneurship. Then I launched Huda Beauty with my sisters in 2013. Since then, it’s just been a crazy ride.”
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Don’t make Barbie your benchmark
The Kattan siblings, who are women of color, started Huda Beauty to break the mold on what “traditional” beauty is — and have shown young people beauty comes in a variety of shades, shapes, and sizes. Kattan often hosts conversations on her YouTube channel that uses beauty as an entry point to discuss larger, poignant life topics, including business tips, self development, and wellness. Growing up, Barbie was the benchmark of beauty and intelligence, but many young girls, including Kattan, didn’t see themselves in Barbie — and they shouldn’t have to.
“I think we wanted to look like Barbie [and] the girls in magazines and I don’t look like Barbie,” Kattan said. “We always felt like we didn’t belong, like we didn’t fit the standard. It just made me feel like I wasn’t attractive and I didn’t feel desired. It was really challenging to even just feel confident. I’m so grateful things have finally changed, and I think it really is due to social media. People finally have a voice to call people out and to say, ‘We want to be represented no matter who you are.’”
Celebrate individuality to embrace authenticity
When asked by Beckwith what more the beauty industry could do to influence and celebrate the differences between people, Kattan said things need to go beyond merely being inclusive. Instead, we need to celebrate individuality, which can help embrace authenticity and allow people to truly be themselves.
“We should celebrate who each and every single one of us are, because when we think too much about being inclusive, we almost become exclusive,” Kattan said. “We stop including everyone as an individual, as who they are. We need to take it a step further and just celebrate being Ebony. Like who is Ebony? Tell us all about her. Let’s celebrate every part of you, and I think that we need to do that for everybody. So everybody realizes how incredibly beautiful they are just being themselves.”
Earn respect as your authentic self
When she worked in finance, Kattan, like Beckwith, wore boxy suits and glasses to make herself appear older, smarter, and “more nerdy” because she still wore makeup and did her hair. But in doing so, she felt she projected an image of a woman who, because she took care of herself, wasn’t as smart or hardworking. That did no one any favors, especially herself — until she realized that wasn’t the right line of work for her to thrive.
“Why do we need to change how obsessed we are with looking good and feeling good if you want to be respected in terms of just being a hardworking person or someone who’s passionate about your role?” Kattan asked. “So I did everything to try to fit in. Eventually, I just left because I realized I really didn’t fit in, but it was way more than just how I looked. It was not the right calling for me.”
Don’t conform. Be yourself.
Kattan doesn’t regret leaving the finance industry to become an entrepreneur, but looking back now, if she loved investment banking, she would have stayed true to herself instead of conforming to fit a mold.
“There’s magic in being yourself,” Kattan admits. “That’s when we get the beauty of the world. I think diversity of culture is so important.”
Formality vs. professionalism
Beckwith brought up how people feel more at ease being their true selves around friends than at work. She reminds us that regardless of where she is, she’s the same person, so why not show up that way all the time? Kattan agreed it’s important to be yourself all the time and that work environments need to allow for that to happen to get the most out of their teams.
“There’s a difference between being professional and unprofessional, and being formal and informal,” Kattan said. “At Huda Beauty, we’ve tried to create an environment where people can be super informal, but extremely professional. To be honest, that’s where you get the highest standard of people because they’re relaxed. They treat each other like family members. We have such a strong bond, but we hold each other accountable. You’ve got to try to create the right environment for people to be themselves.”
Share the magic within yourself
Kattan says if you don’t embrace authenticity, you don’t show up as your true self and, in turn, can’t have a real impact in the world. And, she believes, everyone can change the world. “The only way we can make true change is by being authentic and sharing the magic we have within ourselves,” Kattan said. “Every single person in this world is here for a reason. Every single person has an impact they are meant to bring to this world. Until you look at yourself and figure out what that is and you live authentically, you’re just not doing yourself, or the world, justice.”
Lessons exist everywhere
The Kattan siblings didn’t have a blueprint to follow when they went from beauty bloggers to launching a global brand. They didn’t have role models or mentors in their world, so they forged a new path. But they looked outside of their smaller world and took lessons from, well, everywhere else. “Take lessons from everyone in different areas, because even if you’re creating something completely new, you can learn from everybody’s stories,” Kattan said. “Keep learning from everyone. Everyone you meet can teach you something.”
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Want to read the full interview — including viewer questions at the end? Here it is:
Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of Boss Talks, a new series featuring candid career conversations with people I admire and trust to keep it real. Today, we’re talking about authenticity; all the things that make you, you. Most of us find it way easier to bring our full selves to our personal relationships. We feel more accepted and in the safe zone when we’re hanging out with our friends, our family, our crew, our squad, whatever you want to call your people. But today we’re going to talk about the incredible opportunity that exists when we show up as our authentic selves at work.
Now, earlier in my career, I thought success was about fitting in. But it wasn’t until I started embracing authenticity that my path became really clear and my career began to transform. Now I realize that authenticity is actually one of my super powers, and that’s what we’re going to unpack in today’s conversation. There’s no way I could do this alone. So I’ve invited my good friend, the queen of authenticity herself, Mona Kattan, also Co-Founder and Global President of Huda Beauty and Kayali Fragrances.
Mona, welcome to Boss Talks. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Thank you so much, Ebony. Honestly, I love you so much and your introduction was so great. Just the whole conversation about authenticity is so important. So thank you so much for having me.
Oh, I am so happy to have you here too. And when I thought about unpacking this topic, authenticity, you immediately came to mind because of your candor, your willingness to be so open and honest about all aspects of your life and really that ability you have to inspire others with your stories. I love watching you on YouTube, not just for the great beauty tips, but also really for your heartfelt discussions on topics that your community really cares about.
I have so many things to ask you. So we’re going to just dive right on in with the first question. So first, let’s talk about how you got to where you are. Something we both have in common is that we both took very non-traditional career paths. So I’d love for you to share your story with everyone.
Sure. So I am an Iraqi American. I was born and raised in the US to immigrant parents. They immigrated from Iraq to originally Pennsylvania, but then Oklahoma, then Tennessee than Massachusetts. So they were kind of all over the place. Then we moved to Dubai in 2002, and I’ve been here ever since. I studied here. I studied finance. Not my choice. It was the choice of my father. He was trying to push me into a more traditional, more stable, less risky career, which I did for him. And then I started my career in banking here in Dubai as well. I was in investment banking. I didn’t stay very long because I knew very much that it was not authentic to who I was or who I wanted to be in life. And I left and I started just venturing into self-employment and entrepreneurship. And then we launched Huda Beauty with my sisters in 2013. And since then, it’s just been a crazy ride.
So, Mona, one of the reasons why I thought you’d be a great guest for this topic is because of your work in the beauty industry. And I love how you’re breaking down barriers in an industry really traditionally associated with concealing or covering up our flaws, and helping people really embrace what makes them unique. So will you share your point of view on how authenticity shows up in the beauty industry?
Yeah. I mean, I think that we’re very lucky to be living during these times where things have finally started to change and people are embracing what makes them different and what makes them an individual. I think it’s so important. I think that my entire life and probably all of our entire lives, we wanted to look like Barbie. We wanted to look like the girls in magazines and I don’t look like Barbie. You don’t look like Barbie back then. Thank God things have changed, but it’s like we always felt like we didn’t belong. Like we didn’t fit the standard, and probably I’m sure for you too.
It just made me feel like I wasn’t attractive and I didn’t feel desired. It was really challenging to even just feel confident. But thankfully I’m just so grateful that things have finally changed, and I think it really is due to social media. I’m so grateful for social media. People finally have a voice to call people out and to say, “We want to be represented no matter who you are.” And I think that we kind of owe it to Instagram and other platforms who’ve really made a change and giving people a voice.
I could really relate to what you said about the … I loved Barbie. Still do.
Me too. And I didn’t look like any of them.
I didn’t look like any of them. My hair wasn’t the same texture. My body shape was different. I was told… And I was thinking about this before the show; I don’t know where I learned some of the things I learned, but as a dark-skinned girl, my lips were too big, now they’re fashionable.
I couldn’t wear bright colors because I was too dark. I couldn’t have my hair in certain styles because that was too ghetto. And I’m sure that certain people can relate to that; just feeling other. And you don’t even know where that came from. But I love, like you said, that you started to see people and brands really representing all people, and just the variety of differences that we have, really just embracing that. So I guess that really leads us into our next question. The beauty industry reaches such a broad mainstream audiences and is really influential, but what more do you think needs to be done in the industry?
I mean, I think we just need to keep taking this further. I feel like we really need to be more… I don’t think it should just be about being inclusive. I think it should be about being an individual. I think that we should celebrate who each and every single one of us are, because I think when we think too much about being inclusive, we almost become exclusive. We stop including everyone as an individual, as who they are. I think we need to take it a step further and just celebrate being Ebony. Like who is Ebony? Tell us all about her. Let’s celebrate every part of you, and I think that we need to do that for everybody. So everybody realized how incredibly beautiful they are just being themselves. So I think let’s keep doing what we’re doing, but take it up a few levels up.
Take it up a notch? We need to up-level?
Yes. Yes. Absolutely.
I told this story a few times, where earlier in my career, when I worked in the banking industry, I used to wear boxy suits. Because I was young and everyone, they were older white guys. And sometimes I even wore fake glasses, just so I have to be older.
Oh my gosh.
Right? And looking back, I laugh at thinking about what I did to fit in, but it was real for me at the time. So I love what you just said about just celebrating the individual. Have you ever had moments like that? I’m sure our audience would love to know if you ever had a time where you tried to fit in at work and how did that go for you?
I’m not going to lie, Ebony, I had the same exact experience. When I was in finance, I also was wearing like the boxiest suits ever. And I wore glasses as well. I was trying to look more nerdy because I did still wear makeup at the time, and I still did my hair. And I actually felt like people looked at me as a girl who took care of herself, as someone who was less smart and who just wasn’t as hardworking. But I just felt like, why do we need to change how obsessed we are with looking good and feeling good, if you want to be respected in terms of just being a hardworking person or someone who’s passionate about your role? So I didn’t feel like I fit in, so I did everything to try to fit in. And eventually I just left because I realized I really didn’t fit in. But it was way more than just how I looked. It was not the right calling for me as well.
I know. For me, it was super exhausting. It was just so exhausting to think about that and trying to hide and cover up as opposed to just being the real me.
So for you, do you think that story you just told, was that a turning point for you where you figured out it was just going to be easier to be yourself? Tell us what you gained from that experience personally and professionally, because that was kind of like a launching point.
If there’s anybody else who’s in a career that they do love, but they don’t look like everybody else and they feel that kind of pressure to try and conform, I would say, if you love what you’re doing, don’t conform. Just be yourself. I think that we’re lucky we’re in times where people have to allow people to be themselves, because it’s a shame not to allow people to be themselves. There’s magic from being yourself. If you truly just are who you are, that’s what when we get the beauty of the world and of a team as well. I think diversity of culture is so important
It’s interesting because I hear from so many people that they feel like it’s so much easier, so much more comfortable for them to be themselves with their friends, but it’s so much harder to be that person at work. And I even have to remind myself that I’m the same person in both environments. There’s not a home Ebony and a work Ebony. There’s just one, actually one of my mentors always she’s like, “There’s just one Ebony.” Yes, you’re right. I can’t compartmentalize everything. What do you think about that? And what advice do you have for others on authenticity?
I think it’s really important to be yourself all the time. And like you said, we have different facets of who we are. So of course, you’re going to have your more professional side, your more fun and goofy side, your more relaxed side. And you’re going to have the part of you that’s probably super driven and a crazy workaholic because I know you are, but then there’s this side of you that wants to watch Netflix and chill on a weekend, which you deserve. You deserve to switch off.
But I think that it’s really important in all of those different areas of your life to still remain who you are. And I do think it’s important too, to have a working environment where you allow people to be themselves and be less formal. I think there’s a difference between being professional and unprofessional, and being formal and informal. At Huda Beauty, we’ve tried to create an environment where people can be super informal, but extremely professional.
And to be honest, I think that’s where you get the highest standard of people, because they’re relaxed. They treat each other like family members. We really do have… We are a family. Everybody in my team and the company, I consider them family. I would do anything for them, and I think they would do anything for me too, we have such a strong bond. But at the same time we hold each other accountable. There’s a super high standard of just paying attention to the details. So I think you’ve got to try to create the right environment for people to be themselves.
Yeah. Why do you think people may hold back, Mona?
I think people hold back because we’re scared. I think that we’re taught to be afraid of being ourselves. We’re afraid to make mistakes. We made mistakes and then we’re afraid of like repeating those mistakes again. And I think through experience, I don’t know about you, but I feel like the older I become, unless I tell myself not to, I do become a lot more scared and more reserved and less creative because of all the mistakes we make along the way. I think the more mistakes you make, the more scared you are, and that’s not good. So I try to challenge myself. I’m like, “Think like a kid. What would the child version of Mona say to creating a solution for this problem?” Because I think that children are the most creative people ever. And it’s because they haven’t failed so much. So they’re fearless.
They really are. So that goes to my next question. Is there any advice that you wish you would have gotten earlier about how to bring your full self to work or in business? Or what advice would you give to people looking to be their full selves?
There is so much advice I would give, but if I had to pick one thing in particular, I would say, be in touch with your feelings. And don’t think that just because you’re going to go to work and you need to be professional, you should be less emotional. I think emotions are so powerful and so important. And for the longest time I feel like I switched off my emotions because I’m a very sensitive person and I feel like I get emotional. So I thought that maybe that made me less professional, but I realized like my emotions are like, what guides me. And I think they guide everyone. They’re really your compass. So get in touch with your feelings and stay connected. They really help you make the best decisions when you’re really in touch. And they’re your guiding light. They really are.
What you just said though, Mona, requires a lot of vulnerability. Even just to show up and be emotional, whatever that looks like for you to bring your emotions, your feelings into the conversation or into the professional space, it can also be a little intimidating, especially for women. But how can bringing our authentic selves to work help us professionally?
I just think that we got to think of the cost of what if we don’t? What if we don’t show up authentically? We’re not going to be making change. If we’re not who we are meant to be, we’re not going to create an impact in this world. And the only way we can make true change that’s actually going to count is by being authentic and sharing our magic that we have within ourselves. And I think every single person in this world who’s alive is here for a reason. I think every single person has impact that they are meant to bring to this world. And until you just look at yourself and figure out what that is, and you live authentically, you’re just not doing yourself justice, or the world. We all need to just think like, what am I here for? And you can’t do that if you’re not vulnerable, if you’re not authentic. So I think it’s a must.
So you’re telling people don’t hold back your gifts from the world.
Exactly. And they’re within … everybody, every single person, if you have a pulse, you’re here for a reason.
That’s right. Sometimes being authentic means you’re the first, or the only person to do something. And I know I can relate to that as I’m sure you can. Can you talk to us about that and any guidance on how to get over that only ism, or first?
It’s scary to be the first in anything, because you don’t really have a blueprint. So you can’t really study people as much, and you don’t really have as many role models to look up to, to do exactly what they did. So you’re kind of like creating your own path and you’re paving the way for the future. And I do feel like we did that to some extent being the first Middle Eastern beauty bloggers who really went on a global level and then to launch our own brand back.
Back in the time, it was very rare and we were kind of the first influencer brand that created a brand on a global level in those times. Now it’s a lot more common, but back then, it wasn’t very common. So we were kind of paving the way and it was scary. But I think just take lessons from everyone in different areas, because even if you’re creating something completely new, you can learn from everybody’s stories. So I was just on Google 24/7, looking at different people’s stories, different people’s success stories and finding inspiration from people from many different paths. And there’s lessons everywhere. So just keep learning from everyone. Everyone that you meet can teach you something.
Well, Mona, we have come to our final question and I’m so sad because I could talk to you forever.
And I miss talking to you. I am asking everyone about their super power. What is your superpower? I feel like I have to plug authenticity today, which can be anyone’s super power as long as you tap into that, what do you feel like your special superpower is?
I would probably say feeling people’s feelings. I’m kind of… I would say when I looked up empath, and there’s even a special kind of empath that was like Heyoka empath that someone who’s like overly sensitive. I kind of related to the description a lot. I was like, “Oh my God, I think this is me.” And for the longest time I tried to deny that and I didn’t want to be that sensitive, but I realized it’s really an amazing way to just connect with people, to feel their feelings. And I think using that ability to help find solutions for what people are going through is my superpower. So I want to use it to cause good.
Oh, I love that. Well, Mona, thank you so much for joining us and bringing your energy and authenticity, your passion. I just loved it and I’m sure many people watching did too. So thank you so much for being here with us today.
Thank you for having me. And it’s always so good to speak to you. You’re one of the most authentic, beautiful humans I’ve ever met.
And I love you so much and I’m here to connect with you anytime you want.
Well, Mona is as authentic as it gets. I love what she shared about embracing authenticity. And now I want to hear from you. You sent in your questions, so let’s hear what you have to say.
Hi, Ebony. My question is how do you authentically lead through a lens of equity, diversity and inclusion, and how do you promote your core values and staying authentic in the workplace?
Hi, Tim. And thank you for that question. Really, to me, leading through a lens of equality and inclusion starts with listening. And I think for so many, myself included, we have the initial instinct to move straight to action when we hear our troubling story, because it’s hard to hear people who are suffering. What I’ve learned is that in order for me to take action, that I actually need to pause and listen, so I can fully understand the issues and the experiences of other people.
Now to answer that second part of your question about promoting my core values at work, I’m really grateful that at Salesforce, we have something called the V2MOM, which stands for vision values, methods, obstacles, and measures. Everyone in the company has one from our CEO all the way down. And they’re public so that everyone can see what my values are and what’s important to me. And I really love this exercise. I’ve actually even replicated it in other areas of my life. I even made one for my wedding, unbeknownst to my husband, but we were on track and it was an amazing experience. So you don’t have to have an entire V2MOM, but I do think that it’s really helpful to write down your vision and values as a way to define what’s authentic to you.
So thank you so much for sending us your questions. I will definitely include some each episode. So please add your questions to the comments on our LinkedIn page, or send me a tweet @EbonyBeckwith using #BossTalks. I hope you all enjoyed today’s conversation. To continue building valuable skills for your career. Head on over to Trailhead, Salesforce’s free online learning platform that helps anyone skill up for in demand jobs in the Salesforce ecosystem. With that, I’m Ebony Beckwith. Thank you for tuning in to Boss Talks.