How a Single Chemist Mom Spoke Up to a Man and Changed Black Beauty Products Forever


If it’s been easier to find a foundation shade that matches your skin tone in recent years, you might have this woman to thank. In 2007, Balanda Atis was working in the mascara division when a senior manager said their new foundation meant that everyone would be able to find their perfect tint. Balanda and her fellow chemists of color bravely spoke up. “We still can’t find our shade,” Balanda recalls telling him. “From that simple phrase, he said, ‘If you haven’t found a solution, then try to find one.’” Balanda then set off on a country-crossing mission, “measuring” people’s skin tones and working nights and weekends until she had 20,000 data points. After making a breakthrough in stabilizing a pigment, Balanda developed dozens of makeup shades for people with deeper skin tones across the L’Oréal brands, including Lancôme, L’Oréal Paris and Maybelline, and got promoted to manager of her own lab.

As this was all happening, she was in the process of adopting her first daughter, from Haiti. She wasn’t new to parenting, having raised her goddaughter from a young age, but balancing boss duties with single motherhood came with lessons. “The first thought was, ‘I can’t manage both.’ Then you take a step back and ask, ‘Well, why can’t I?’ I learned to break things down to a bare minimum so it all wasn’t super overwhelming.” The most rewarding part of her job? “The days are long, but the connection to women and girls helps us stay focused on our goals.”

On building a reliable team:

“I can completely relate to when there is a crisis and you need to pick up and go, so I’ve tried to create a team environment where we’re supportive of each other. I don’t want to say I go into ‘mommy mode,’ but I am very protective of them. I think being a mom helps you develop the capability of being a strong leader.”

On work-life balance:

“I used to say I have my first job, and then I leave here and go to my second job, but now I like to say it’s all part of a job. Seeing it that way helps me realize there is no difference. I have to be a mom and a manager at the same time.”

On working for a supportive company:

“Jade came with a lot of health issues. She was in an earthquake and lived on just about nothing for 13 days. She needed to be seen ASAP, and I didn’t have all of the insurances worked out. I called the HR team here, and they said, “Just get her to a hospital and we will worry about it on the other side.”

On finding her dream job:

“I grew up in a Haitian household where kids are nudged to go into the field of medicine. I didn’t have this aha moment where I said, ‘I want to be a chemist,’ but I felt like there was always something there that said, ‘Maybe you’re not going to be the best doctor in the world, but you can be something else.’ I eventually interviewed at L’Oréal, and it’s been love
ever since.’”


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