Diversity, inclusion, fairness, and respect aren’t just nice-to-haves, “they’re business imperatives.” Former CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi
As we approach International Women’s Day on March 8th, as well as it being Women’s History Month, it’s important to reflect on the progress we’ve made toward achieving gender equality in the business world. Since Nooyi’s statement, we’ve seen an increasing recognition of the value that diversity brings to the global economy, with more women breaking barriers and making significant contributions. In fact, according to Grant Thornton’s 2022 Women in Business survey, which included 5,000 business leaders in 29 countries, women now hold 32% of top leadership positions, up from 31% in 2021.
In honor of this month, we are proud to highlight the women at Penta who embody the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women’s leadership. These women are driving change in the world of stakeholder solutions, using their extensive knowledge and expertise to solve key issues for businesses in areas such as ESG, policy, risk, media, brand, and reputation.
We sat down with former CNBC reporter Ylan Mui, who recently joined Penta as a managing director for Strategy; author, advisor, conservationist, and Penta board member, Beth Comstock; MD for Intelligence Jackie Breuer; MD for Intelligence Kris Havens; Partner for Strategy Maria Cryan; Partner for Intelligence Lauren Wolfson Morgan; Director of External Affairs for Intelligence Sathyaprya Mandjiny; Partner for Intelligence Meghan Pennington; and MD for Intelligence Siera Torontow.
Through our conversations with these women, we identified three key themes: the impact of diversity and women in leadership positions, the importance of female inspiration, and their view on Penta’s unique position within the marketplace.
Diversity and women in the boardroom
Diversity and gender parity in the boardroom are not only moral and social imperatives but also critical business imperatives. A diverse workforce, including women, can drive innovation, creativity, and better decision-making, leading to better business performance and improved financial results. According to McKinsey, companies with more diverse executive teams are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. The Peterson Institute for International Economics also found that increasing the share of women in senior positions from 0% to 30% is associated with a 15% increase in profitability.
Promoting gender diversity in the workplace requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including employees. By doing so, we can unlock the full potential of our workforce and create a more equitable and prosperous future for all. This is how senior female leaders feel about diversity and women in the boardroom:
Beth: Giving ourselves permission allows us to hack rules that don’t make sense rather than follow them; to take ideas and stories apart that aren’t working; to go around the gatekeepers, bullies, and bureaucratic bottlenecks that would stifle change. Developing a habit of self-permission will instil in you the belief that you are in control of your career and your life, regardless of what is going on around you.
Ylan: Diversity doesn’t just happen, it must be intentional. And that doesn’t only apply to recruiting and retention, it’s also about having the courage to think in new ways and recognize our own limits. Welcoming respectful debate and stress-testing our best ideas will lead to stronger solutions.
Maria: For companies to truly succeed in today’s world, they must mirror the diversity of the communities in which they operate. This requires leadership teams to embrace diversity and continually challenge themselves on their representation. Companies must proactively foster conversations and engage in difficult dialogues about diversity and inclusion, and then take meaningful action to effect change. In today’s competitive landscape, a company’s brand is paramount, particularly with respect to attracting and retaining top talent. In recent years, there has been a significant shift in how people view their employers, as they have re-evaluated where, how, and why they work. As such, companies must remain attuned to these changes and adapt their brands accordingly.
Sathyaprya: Promoting diversity at all levels of an organization is not only morally imperative but also critical for business success. By cultivating a well-rounded team, companies can tap into a wider range of perspectives and experiences, leading to more innovative and effective ideas. Therefore, it is incumbent upon businesses to foster a culture that values diversity and inclusivity, from the executive suite to the front line. Only then can organizations fully realize the benefits of a truly diverse workforce.
Meghan: It’s amazing to see more women in leadership positions across the spectrum of organizations—public and private—but I’ve always had a sense of appreciation for the women who came long before me. When I started my career in 2008, I knew it had taken persistence from the generations of women who came before me to break through barriers and hold their ground in the workplace.
Jackie: Since joining Penta, my senior leadership position has transformed significantly, from initially focusing on providing solely policymaker intelligence to clients, I now tackle their most pressing, unanswered problems or questions. Leveraging Penta’s diverse range of capabilities, I develop tailored solutions that address their unique gaps. I am thrilled to be looking at expanding our offerings and empowering clients to solve complex stakeholder puzzles with our expert support.
Siera: In recent times, there has been a significant increase in the tracking of topics related to initiatives that impact people, whether they be employees or members of local communities. This trend is particularly apparent in discussions surrounding social issues. At the heart of these conversations is the challenge of attracting and retaining top talent, which is a key focus for organizations. Companies must pay close attention to their employees and create initiatives and programs that support their well-being and growth. Failure to do so can lead to a talent drain and impact the overall success of the organization. Therefore, it is essential for companies to remain engaged with their employees and communities and adapt to evolving social and cultural norms to foster a positive and inclusive workplace.
“People who are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together.” Michelle Obama
Whether dead or alive, everyone has someone who they can look up to and feel inspired by in life, whether in business or otherwise. Our female leaders identify the people who mean something to them:
Kris: When I think about women who have inspired me, several come to mind. They may not be famous, but they have all held senior leadership positions and have been my colleagues at some point. By working with them and observing their attributes, I have learned so much from them. I was particularly drawn to these women because I started in leadership roles at a young age, and seeing these women succeed in their own right and watching how they handled challenges with grace and confidence inspired me to do the same.
Jackie: Angela Merkel and Jacinda Ardern are two incredible examples of women who have held significant positions and demonstrated tenacious grace when facing powerful adversaries. Both are great examples of women who know their worth and continually stood their ground with inspiring courage.
Lauren: One woman who has truly inspired me is Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. Her story of building her business from the ground up and how she hustled and took risks has inspired and shaped my entrepreneurial mindset. Moreover, I love how she continues to give back to those who have helped her achieve success—from her employees to her partners and closest friends.
Meghan: My first job after college was a press assistant position for Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. She was a force who became the longest-serving woman in Congress. She was a trailblazer. Sen. Mikulski began her career in public service when a plan for a new highway through Baltimore threatened to destroy the community where her immigrant parents made a life for themselves, just like their friends and neighbors. Her tenacity was unmatched and, by the time she hired me, she was a savvy strategist who never backed down from a challenge. And she did it in a man’s world. Sen. Mikulski taught me that nothing is impossible and, as long as you are principled in your pursuit of a solution, you can do hard things without sacrificing your values. I think about her often.
Penta’s unique position in the marketplace
“Traditional business strategy too often does not bother to create a story or narrative about its actions for its employees and the world to gather around. For the strategy to become a reality, people need to see themselves in the story and then take action to make the story happen.” Author, advisor, conservationist, and Penta board member, Beth Comstock
Jackie: At the moment, what sets Penta apart is the unique ability to use our data to inform our strategy. Our intelligence tools provide us with valuable insights that constantly advise us on our next steps, and our skilled strategy team is equipped to turn those insights into action. It is the perfect combination of data and strategy that truly sets us apart from our competitors. I am thrilled to continue pushing the boundaries of this dynamic relationship and explore new ways to leverage our unique strengths to deliver unparalleled value to our clients.
Kris: When I first joined Penta, I was curious about the name of the company. As someone with a background in communications and marketing, I asked our director about the origin of the name and was told that it was inspired by the five senses. I realized Penta was more than just a clever name—it represented the five sensory streams in the brain, and how they collectively guide our intelligence tools to develop the most creative solutions for our clients.
Our approach allows us to take in information from every angle and translate it into effective strategies that drive results. It’s the ability to see the big picture that sets us apart and gives us reach across all audiences. We leverage our unique strengths to provide our clients with a custom solution that is tailored to their specific needs. I’m excited to continue exploring new ways to bring all of our sensory feeds together to create a meaningful impact for our clients.
Lauren: In my view, there is a growing need for every company to have a Chief Stakeholder Officer, and at present, such a position is yet to be established. I believe that our company is already ahead of the curve in this regard.
Looking ahead, the landscape is constantly evolving, and new issues arise daily. It can be overwhelming to navigate this dynamic environment. By identifying emerging issues and developing effective strategies, we empower our clients to stay ahead and be proactive. Our unique and creative approach positions us as a leader in this space, and I am excited to continue exploring innovative solutions that enable us to serve our clients with excellence.
Ylan: Penta has amassed a wealth of in-house data, analytics, and expertise, all of which allow us to connect the dots to spot trends, identify risks, and seek out opportunities before the competition. Not only this, but Penta’s transparent and collaborative work culture means we’re able to get the job done more efficiently and effectively by drawing on strengths across the firm.
Siera: Consistency is key when it comes to building credibility and trust with stakeholders. Our clients have emphasized the importance of continuous communication and action on important issues. One-off efforts are not enough to make a significant impact and may be seen as insincere. By demonstrating a sustained commitment to these values, we can foster a workplace culture that supports and empowers women leaders, which is critical to the long-term success of any business.
Diversity is not just a checkbox but an ongoing journey toward creating an inclusive workplace. In order to foster innovation and deliver value for all stakeholders it is important to support women leaders both in and outside the boardroom.
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