Burlington DE&I expert Mecca Mitchell on leading with competence, confidence and passion in retail

The List 2024 honoree Mecca Mitchell answers “20 Questions”
By Mary Rowedder

Mecca Mitchell, senior vice president of leadership and organizational development, diversity, equity and inclusion, and community impact for Burlington Stores, is one of the dynamic leaders on The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future 2024. Mitchell will be celebrated at the NRF Foundation Honors this January in New York City alongside fellow impactful retail leaders. Mitchell reflects on her career from practicing law to working in retail and the power of leading with passion and authenticity.

We caught up with Mitchell to ask her 20 questions about her retail journey and experience in the industry. Here are a few questions, along with Mitchell’s answers (watch the video above for all “20 Questions”):

What career advice would you give to your younger self?

Don't be afraid to let your authentic self shine through, early and often. I spent a great deal of time and energy early on trying to fit into systems that punished difference, not just racial or cultural difference, but divergent thinking and perspectives as well. I would have advised my younger self to shed those shackles of assimilation and embrace what was authentically me because once I did, it made all the difference.

What do you do to stand out?

I show up with a healthy mix of competence and confidence. Competence because I have invested in having some mastery over my space. When I decided to move from practicing law to becoming a DEI practitioner, I absolutely devoured the data and the research. I went to Cornell and got my certifications. I networked with experts in the field and adopted and modified and ultimately created best practices for this work within organizations.

And the more competent I became, the more confident I was. I always tell people, you will not outwork me in my space. I am sound in my arguments. I am passionate and purposeful in my positioning. I am persuasive because I will always marry the work that I do to whatever it is that you care about.

What qualities do you look for in your employees?

I think for me it's two things: passion and purpose. I look for what inspires people to do the work they do. What are they driven by? What are they moving toward? What are they fighting for? What is their true north that will propel them forward, giving maximum effort to everything that they do?

What is your leadership philosophy?

I believe in leading with integrity. This is my true north and my guiding principle that always comes back to me whenever I'm facing tough decisions. Leadership and leading others is a privilege. Many folks are very comfortable with the titles and the power associated with leadership, and they forget to engage in the active practice of leading. It is a practice. We should always be learning, growing, honing, reimagining and in many cases rethinking the way that we lead.

What is one misconception about retail that you would love to debunk for everyone?

That retail is all about working behind a cash register at a store. There are so many different opportunities in retail, from finance, to education, to legal and IT, to engagement in DEI. Trust me, you can find your passion in retail.

The NRF Foundation connects people to an industry that’s a great place to start and a great place to grow. Since 2015, the NRF Foundation Honors has raised the funds to continue to provide programs and resources to help people build better lives and stronger communities. Join us in New York City and be a part of the story of how retail builds extraordinary careers.