New Member Blog – Anna Bourne

New Member Blog – Anna Bourne

Anna Bourne is a Global Client Service Partner at EY, whose responsibilities include leading global accounts and executing business transformations for multi-national Fortune 250 clients. Anna is a strong advocate for DEI and believes that women hold the key to continuing a supportive and inclusive workplace culture. Outside of work, Anna enjoys a good hike, spending time with her four kids, and a competitive round of bridge. Anna has been a C200 member since January 2024.

 

Eva Glassman: What does it mean to be a Global Client Service Partner at EY?

Anna Bourne: I am basically the CEO of all the services that EY provides to my global clients and responsible for the scoping, contracting, delivery, and quality of the work.

I also have a second role, which is market leadership on the east coast for EY’s Advanced Manufacturing and Mobility sector. We do the revenue planning and accounting enablement discussions of the accounts in the east that fall under that sector to make sure that those accounts are being properly served. We break them up into groups in terms of size and scale and figure out what we can do when we create a bespoke solution for a client and how we can leverage that through the sector.

EG: What do you spend the most time doing on the day-to-day?

AB: You never know what the day is going to be like because, in addition to my two roles, I have the pleasure of serving on our Global DEI Steering Committee. While there are certain regular cadences like earnings calls, different things take precedent depending on the day. For example, deals can start as a whisper and then turn into a freight train very quickly. Some of the timelines are very aggressive and you never know what will boil up to the top.

While I can’t say my week is 20% of this role, 40% of this role, and so on, I have amazing teams across all my roles that can help juggle things to the finish line. The skill sets to bring out in certain people on certain teams are all different, but that’s the secret to why we’re high-performing.

EG: I’m curious about your career journey. Where did you start, and how did you end up here? Why do you think it all worked out?

AB: I went to school at University of Wisconsin – Madison, and my parents had always told me not to rely on anybody else, to make sure I could find my own way in the world, so it was important for me to pick a profession that I’d be able to support myself with. Back in the day, that was accounting, so that’s the path I followed. I was okay at it, but I didn’t particularly like it.

After I graduated, I started out in a “Big Eight” company in external audit, and while I learned a lot in that first role, I always felt like I was looking in the rearview mirror. I wanted to do something that was forward-looking or contributing to the success of something, versus, as my father would say, “bayoneting the wounded after the battle.”

So, I took a role with a client and left public accounting for two years. I was the assistant controller and officer at Federal Signal Corporation and learned a lot from the role. It was eye-opening to see accounting from the client side and to realize the impact I could have doing things like process improvement work or strategic transformations—things that would actually make the business and environment better.

Eventually, however, I became uninspired by my work and wanted more of a challenge. That’s when I decided to return to the firm and focused primarily on automotive clients like Caterpillar, Navistar, and Tenneco. At the time, they were creating a different service line for the consulting side, so I was returning to something nascent and had the chance to get in on the ground level. I really enjoyed that, because there was so much opportunity to create improvements and forward-looking things.

The firm saw how I was excelling at my job and asked me to relocate to Atlanta and run a practice. Before this, I had only been responsible for client services; now, being on both the OPS and talent side was an eye-opening experience. It was much harder than I anticipated, but after three years, the firm said something to the effect of, “Why don’t you move up and run a practice three times as large in New York?” By then, I knew I could do it; I was in that role for several years.

Eventually, the firm informed me that someone on the Executive Board was stepping down due to health issues and needed someone to fill his role, which was not on my radar at all. However, I felt glad to work for a firm that was concerned enough about someone’s health to immediately say, “You need to focus on your health,” and get someone else to fill in—so I said yes. I am lucky that my deputy was able to take over my role so I could move to this one. I came into it mid-year with no talent training, but I learned a ton.

After a few years, I was interested in being on what we call G360s, so I took on one of the top accounts in the firm, and I think that is the best job I’ve had. Eventually, the firm gave me the current job I have, so that’s how I ended up with two roles.

EG: What do you think was the biggest factor that led to your success and continuing to advance and move up?

AG: It’s always about being willing to try something new. People who are willing to get out of their comfort zone, have a growth mindset, and move onto something else recognize that all the things you’ve learned and experienced to that date will apply to something.

Even my experience raising four kids helped me learn and grow in my career—not because there’s child-rearing in my day job, but because some of the things you experience in your personal life can apply professionally. Do you want to be “right,” or do you want to achieve your goals? Do you want to stay married, or do you want to be “right”? For me, it’s always the second option.

You can’t worry about being right. You have to trust that you have the talent and skills, and that a learning curve is nothing to be worried about because we face them all the time. Lots of people stay in one spot for too long, get stuck in a rut, and become miserable; I’m a huge fan of term limits on certain leadership roles.

When I was on the Executive Committee and went back to client services, people asked me, “Did you job fail? Why would you leave an executive role to be in client services?” I’m a creative person—shouldn’t I get to be creative? The way people love to have their names and titles in boxes is a fascinating psychological study to me. It’s a lot more important to talk about what you’re learning from and giving to a particular role.

Often times, people see something in you that you don’t see in yourself, and so it’s important to have people around you who aren’t going to just pat your head and tell you, “You’re doing great!” Those people should be saying, “Let’s challenge that—you seem to have mastered that. How about adding something else?”

It’s easy to dig your heels in and think, “Why can’t everybody see it my way?” It’s much more fruitful to approach a situation thinking, “Let me hear your perspective and why or what led you to that conclusion.” I think it’s hard for people to do that, and there’s still a lot of people who are very self-interested. Self-interested leaders don’t create followership, and if you lack followership, you’re headed for a bad ending in that role.

EG: How did you get involved with C200? What drew you to the organization?

AB: I actually didn’t know much about C200 before joining. I was at an unrelated event last November, and one of the women I went with, Susan Skerritt, who is a retired partner at the firm, was going to a C200 meeting. I asked, “What is that?” I find out that Cindy Doe, Deidre Quinn, and all these other women I know and respect a lot are in it, too; I had no idea! I told myself I would check it out, and that’s how it happened.

I think a lot of women get asked to be on a bunch of women’s organizations, and it’s hard to see through the vastness of the market. C200 is different; it has a much better balance of what you contribute and what you get out of it than a lot of other organizations.

EG: Because C200 is all about women paying it forward, I want to know about your experience as a woman rising in her career. Did you have any women mentors?

AB: There were very few women in leadership when I started at the firm. Apparently, a few years before I started, we didn’t even have a maternity policy. Even today, we hire over 50% women and still don’t see that reflected in our leadership.

My mentors were primarily male until I was a senior partner and had the benefit of meeting a very talented woman who had been a Canadian partner and just came to New York. That opened the door to getting in touch with more women who were at the senior ranks; that mentorship was helpful, but it was much later in my career.

Early on in my career, the women who were advanced had a mentality of, “I found my way here, but I’m not going to help you.” As Madeline Albright said, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women!” When I decided to have a baby, people said to me, “You should probably quit the firm because you clearly can’t do both,” to which I said, “Why not?” I do feel as though there were structures, both cultural and corporate, setting women back quite a lot by fellow women who felt that you should pay your dues. There’s a lot more willingness now for women to help each other and not feel like that’s taking something away from them. I’m glad to see that change, and we need to do everything we can to ensure that continues.

EG: Related to that, what does being a “woman in business” mean to you, and how do you apply that thinking to your personal and professional life?

AB: Although this is a generalization, I think women embrace the idea of empathy more and know how to appeal to the hearts and minds of others; a lot of inspirational leaders try to do one and not the other. Women understand the totality of people, and that helps create more inclusive spaces. Women in business are getting better at integrating in a way that’s genuine to them and authentic to who they are, and that’s doing a world of good in terms of creating more people who want to follow that model.

When I first started out, I would never tell anyone when I needed to take my kid to the doctor; meanwhile, my colleagues were taking four hours to the golf course. Those kinds of things are hopefully becoming things of the past, and now we’re prioritizing people being allowed to bring their whole selves to work. Female leadership does a solid job of that and doing it for the right reasons turns out to have a very big impact on business.

EG: A woman’s experience growing up in the world, both what they perceive and how they are perceived alike, really informs how they lead, and it often times shows in how they include others in the workforce.

AB: In my Global DEI Steering Committee role, we’ve spent some time learning that there’s a consistent issue in assumed universality, which creates implicit bias. To use affluence as an example, people growing up in certain wealthy areas assume everyone has the same experiences. For example, I often hear people say, “Oh, you don’t ski?” It leads me to wonder how we can create common ground without making someone feel stupid or “less than” for, say, not skiing.

Women are better at asking questions that don’t put themselves at the center. If someone says they don’t ski, you can ask about what they enjoy doing and go from there. There’s a way to pivot the conversation without sounding pejorative and making the person you’re speaking with feel othered. It’s so interesting to me how that idea of having “have-nots” creates a confirmation bias.

EG: How do you like to spend your time outside of work?

AB: I love to hike and get outside. My husband is a great chef and has a wine cellar, so I eat and drink well. I’ve got a German Shepherd and he’s the smartest dog I’ve ever had.

My youngest child is studying abroad, so I’m excited that all of them are out and living their lives. Besides spending time with my kids, I enjoy bridge. I know it’s a game that, according to my colleagues, is popular with a demographic much older than mine, but all my kids play, and my daughter-in-law is learning. We like to do things that are slightly competitive.

EG: What is your advice to aspiring female business leaders to advance their careers? If you could go back and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?

AB: Networking is a really strong thing. Getting a “Board of Directors” or outside perspective to help when you’re struggling with something that you can’t go to your team with is also important. Get different perspectives and other ways to look at things. Ask for contrarian points of view and make sure you’re doing what you do for yourself first and foremost.

Women will run to the eleventh hour when it’s not the best thing for them or their health, and they don’t realize it because they like to be needed. Make sure you set some boundaries and live by them so that you can be in a good place for others.

EG: Finding boundaries can be difficult, because, especially for women in the workplace, you want to be able to stand alongside your team, have a good reputation, and have people respect you. There’s an element of having to “prove yourself” as a woman in most spaces that makes it very easy to let your boundaries break down.

AG: “No” is a complete sentence, people! There’s a problem with the boundary side for a lot of our female executives, and I think that’s something I’d do differently in my own career if I had to do it again. But having said that, I still would rather air on the side of doing too much than too little. What isn’t being done, and how can you contribute to that? Figure out what it is that you can have an impact on.

There’s a great Harvard Business piece about the “monkey on your back” and how there are some people who go around putting their monkeys on everyone else’s back. If you’re going to be what my parents called the “patsy,” you’re not going to further your career; you’re really just doing someone else’s work, and that’s a bad place to be.

EG: What are you most excited about as a new C200 member?

AB: Given that I hadn’t heard anything about C200 before joining, I joined because I was so excited to be a part of a community that so many women I know and respect are a part of. I’m going to the FunRaiser in June at Ginger Bailey’s Canoe Island Lodge. I’ve heard great things about FunRaisers, so I’m jumping in with both feet! I’m really looking forward to getting immersed in the organization, meeting a lot of members, and gaining a whole new network and support system.

The Strategic Advantage of Employing Military Spouses

The Strategic Advantage of Employing Military Spouses

By Suzie Scanlon Rabinowitz, SRD Legal Group | C200 member since 2020

May 10, 2024, is Military Spouse Appreciation Day. Over 90% of military spouses are women, facing unemployment rates much higher than the national average.

C200 member Suzie Scanlon Rabinowitz has written this article for Forbes highlighting the urgent need for support and opportunities for these spouses, who often bear the effects of frequent relocations and financial instability.

By prioritizing military spouse employment, businesses can tap into a rich pool of talent and experience that has often been overlooked. Military spouses possess a unique set of skills, including adaptability, resilience, and the ability to thrive in dynamic environments. By recognizing and leveraging these attributes, businesses can enhance their workforce and drive innovation and diversity within their organizations.

You can read the full article here.

2024 AAPI Heritage Month

2024 AAPI Heritage Month

The ways in which Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, especially AAPI women, are affected by racial biases in the workplace are often minimized or overlooked. This is due to a variety of factors, one of which is the “monolith myth,” which obscures the diversity of the AAPI population in the United States. In addition to representing East Asian countries like China, Japan, and Korea, AAPI individuals also come from Southeast and South Asian countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, India, and Pakistan.

Another factor is the “model minority” phenomenon, a myth that assumes AAPI men and women don’t need help or support because they are stereotyped as hardworking, overachieving, and therefore “successful.” In fact, studies show an opposite reality for AAPI workers, which is especially evident at the leadership level. According to a 2020 report from Ascend, an organization that works to advance AAPI equity in the workplace, AAPIs make up 13% of the U.S. professional workforce but only 6% of executive leadership. A 2022 report from McKinsey finds that AAPIs make up 9% of SVPs and only 5% of promotions to the C-Suite. Of those C-Suite promotions, AAPI women make up less than 1%.

From these statistics, we can see a story of ambition going ignored, unsupported, and unfulfilled–something all women in business have experienced trying to advance their careers, but exponentially so for women of color, and in this case, AAPI women. That’s why it’s important to support and shine a light on the experience of our AAPI sisters, who have professional ambitions they deserve a fair and equitable chance to pursue and achieve.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of articles, reports, and more resources about the AAPI experience in the workforce, so that you can educate yourself about the unique obstacles AAPI individuals, especially women, face, and how it connects with the collective struggle and fight for workplace equity for all:

 

New Member Blog – Esther Alegria

New Member Blog – Esther Alegria

Esther Alegria is the founder and Chief Innovation Officer of APIE Therapeutics, a drug therapeutic development company focused on microvascular repair and regeneration therapies to prevent and cure certain chronic diseases such as systemic sclerosis. She founded APIE in 2020 after a 25+ year career in the biotech world, taking on high leadership positions in companies such as Wyeth (now Pfizer) and Biogen. Esther moved to the United States from Puerto Rico in the 1980s and has a PhD in chemistry. Outside of work, Esther finds great joy in dancing, especially with friends and family. She has been a member of C200 since December 2023.

 

Eva Glassman: Let’s start with a quick overview of your background and professional journey. What kind of roles did you take on before founding APIE Therapeutics?

Esther Alegria: I was born and raised in Puerto Rico but moved to the United States in the early 1980s and completed a doctorate degree in chemistry. I’ve spent my career mostly in the big biotech corporate world in drug therapeutics development, working at companies like Wyeth (now Pfizer), and was Senior VP of Global Manufacturing at Biogen until 2015.

At Wyeth, I was in the vaccine R&D division and worked on two blockbuster vaccines from early development all the way to market. It was a great experience going all over the world to speak with different regulatory agencies to get approval to market in those countries. Furthermore, I felt a sense of accomplishment seeing the benefit these vaccines brought around the world.

When I was with Biogen, I had similar experiences focusing on several rare diseases (e.g., Multiple Sclerosis, Hemophilia, Alzheimer’s) through every phase of the process. I moved to Denmark to lead the company’s biggest foreign investment project, starting up a brand-new large scale biologic manufacturing center and getting approval by both US and EU regulatory bodies. After Denmark, I moved to Boston to lead the entire global manufacturing network and began focusing on foot-print strategies and pushing the innovation envelope.

I like to keep pushing myself to new journeys and experiences, so that’s why I founded APIE Therapeutics in 2020. Our focus area is preventing certain diseases that impact women in particular, like systemic sclerosis. I’m all about dedication to those who need better therapeutic treatments; it brings a lot of joy and passion for me.

EG: What was the switch to an entrepreneurial route like? How is founding and running a startup different from your previous career experiences?

EA: It’s a completely different dynamic that’s extremely challenging, even stressful at times. You carry a lot of weight on your shoulders at the beginning. I think that it’s an experience for people who like to be challenged and eternal learners. I’ve learned so much and met so many new people through creating this startup.

When you work at a well-established biotech company, there’s a lot of infrastructure and procedures already in place for how to move a program from research to development to commercialization. When creating my startup, I knew all the steps to do good work on drug development, but a lot of the fundamentals that you take for granted at a big corporation are not there in a startup. Suddenly, I was involved with every little detail of the company, details I would never have considered previously. I had to wear so many hats in a given day; I was the CEO one day, the supply chain expert the next, the shipping and receiving expert the day after that!

Meanwhile, I was trying to be very mindful of how I spent the initial investors’ seed funding. The realization that only 3% of venture capital funding goes to female-founded life science startups was a shocker. Making sure my startup was successful became doubly important to me because of that. I wanted all the money to go toward the programs that would help real patients who are fighting these diseases.

Founding a drug therapeutic company is a tough road. We work on rare diseases in small markets where there’s little support. That’s why having that anchor and source of energy is important. You have to know where your passion and energy for what you do is coming from. At the start of my company, I went out and met a patient with systemic sclerosis. I wanted to learn from her about her experience and journey with the disease, and she was excited to hear about the work I was setting out to do with my company. I continued to keep up with her and met with more systemic sclerosis patients, and they are all a source of energy for me. Every time I feel overwhelmed and challenged by my business, I think of them and how much they need better treatment, and it re-centers me in my efforts.

EG: My next question is about your C200 journey. How did you get involved? What drew you to C200?

EA: A colleague of mine who sits on the Board at Steris with me was asked to sit on a panel at C200’s 2023 Annual Conference in San Diego, “Innovation Inside of Healthcare: Where the Puck is Going.” She then asked me if I would be willing to join her on the panel and share my experiences with the audience. It was no question that I’d participate; it’s my area of expertise, it’s something I’m passionate about, and it was an opportunity to participate in something I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. I decided, if I’m going to be a part of this panel, I should attend the whole Conference so that I get a strong sense of who the audience will be.

My first impression of the C200 women was extremely warm and welcoming. They are very inclusive and eager to learn. Every single table that I sat at, everyone was genuinely interested in learning more about me, what I do, and why I do it. After I did the panel, they asked me even more questions about being a female founder in the life sciences and, even though they weren’t in the same industry as me, they understood the challenges I shared. Many of the women asked me, “How can I help you?” It was clear to me that C200 women not only want to listen, but they’re also willing to get involved to make things happen.

EG: As you’ve said, women founders in the life sciences are extremely rare. I’m curious if, despite that, you had any female mentors going up in your career, or if your mentors were mostly men.

EA: The majority of my mentors were in fact men. During my time at school, I had two professors that really supported me. When I moved to the U.S., I didn’t know English, so I didn’t understand much at first in my studies. I copied everything on the blackboard to my notebook, and when I got home, I pulled out my dictionary to translate my notes. Even though I struggled against a language barrier, I always got A’s on my tests, and my professors would always give me a look like, “How did that happen?” It took two or three years for me to become comfortable talking back and forth in English.

These two professors went out of their way encouraging me to continue my studies beyond a bachelor’s degree. I didn’t believe I could, but they saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. In my mind, it would be a miracle to get a bachelor’s degree; I had two little kids at the time. I couldn’t see beyond that point, but continually hearing the confidence my professors had in me made me think about going to get my doctorate—and I eventually did!

However, getting into PhD school was not without obstacles. Even though I was qualified and had the grades to get in, the department head recommended against going, that I should just be a high school chemistry teacher. When I asked why, he told me that graduate school was not designed for mothers. That was a punch to my face, because the doubt quickly set in; what if he was right? Nevertheless, I answered him: “I think it’s for me to decide whether graduate school is designed for mothers.” I knew it was important to push that envelope.

On the other side of it all, that same professor became my biggest fan. When I graduated from PhD school, I asked him if he remembered that conversation we had, and he started laughing. I told him that it turned out that while my male peers were talking all day and competing academically, I put my nose to the books and worked hard so that I was able to succeed in school and take care of my kids at night and on weekends. I don’t think that professor will ever tell a woman what she’s capable of again. When I went to do my postdoc at the University of Virginia, he wrote my reference letter that I was later told read more like a fan letter!

From that experience, I tell young people that, along your academic and professional journey, you’re going to find some people who will encourage you and others who will doubt you. You just have to believe in yourself and push through whatever roadblocks are in your way.

EG: What does being a “woman in business” mean to you and how do you apply that thinking to what you do?

EA: Every time I join a consortium of heads in global manufacturing or biotech, there’s the odd female here and there, but it’s mostly men. In those circumstances, it’s about concentrating on what you are. For example, in my mind, I’m a scientist and a great leader who makes things happen. Rather than focusing on why I’m different, I focus on what I can bring to the table.

As I went up in my professional career, I feel like I was extremely valuable to the teams I was a part of. Coming from Puerto Rico and going through many struggles to find my place in the U.S. gave me the belief that anything is possible. Now, as a woman in a high leadership role, I value what everyone brings to the table and have a bigger appreciation for diverse characteristics and perspectives that form a team. A diverse group thinks differently, and you have the ability to pull the best qualities of the entire group at the same time. If you have passion, believe in what you’re doing, and are diligent, you can and will make anything happen. It didn’t matter what the company challenge was; I always knew there was a solution, and that we could find it. I see challenges as opportunities to be creative.

I have a book that’s getting published very soon where I share many of my stories about coming from Puerto Rico to the U.S. and my academic and professional journey. In that book, I try to share with younger people and those who are trying to develop a career that, rather than focusing on the differences that you think may hinder you, use those experiences to leverage the value you bring.

EG: Outside of work, what do you like to do for fun? How do you spend your time?

EA: Dancing! I love to dance—the music and the rhythm. I enjoy the freedom it brings, especially when I’m dancing with family and friends. Every time I get together with them, we somehow always end up dancing!

EG: What’s your advice to aspiring female business leaders to advance their own careers?

EA: You need to look at what technical knowledge and leadership value you bring to the table. Those two aspects should be your only focus, no matter what industry you’re in. If nobody appreciates you at a company, that may not be the place you should be, and you need to move on. Don’t feel despair that you’re at a disadvantage as a woman in business; if you give that too much weight in your mind, you won’t succeed. If you come in and show your technical and leadership skills, you will eventually find a place that will value you and your expertise.

Some of the young people I mentor don’t last more than a year in their jobs. I think that sometimes you have to stick it out, because you really start to learn and see your impact at a place after two or three years. Surround yourself with good advisors outside of work who can help you navigate whether the time is really right to make a job transition. Your support system can listen to what your challenges are and help you with tools to overcome or cope with certain situations. You’ll learn more and develop a sense of resilience in a tough environment than if you pivot every time things become unideal.

EG: Why C200? What are you most excited about as a new C200 member?

EA: I’m actually excited that most of the C200 ladies aren’t in the life science or therapeutic drug development industries! That brings me an opportunity to expand my brain by learning about their businesses and careers, how they navigated and solved their own challenges. I’m already thinking about how I can reach out and gain some insights that will help me with APIE Therapeutics. There’s always something you can learn from experiences outside your industry.

From Taboo to Transformation: Building a Menopause-Inclusive Workplace

From Taboo to Transformation: Building a Menopause-Inclusive Workplace

By Mary Tinebra, Corporate Executive | C200 member since 2017

Menopause is a natural life transition that impacts nearly half of the global population, with significant implications for workplace productivity, talent retention, and organizational culture. In her recent Forbes article, C200 member Mary Tinebra conveys the business impact of supporting menopausal women to unlock the full potential of the workforce.

A leader who is deeply committed to fostering supportive workplace cultures, Mary has a history of optimizing the intersection of employee needs and technology. She has led teams to establish world-class people strategies for G500 employers at Mercer, and currently serves as an Officer for Inflection, a leading global health digital education platform helping employees to navigate life’s inflection points. 

Her article provides a call to action to all leaders to establish support networks to break down stigma, normalize menopause discussions, and create a supportive network for women at all career stages.

You can read the full article here.

New Member Blog – Stephanie Penner

New Member Blog – Stephanie Penner

Stephanie Penner is a senior partner at Mercer, a global consulting firm that specializes in helping organizations with their human resources and financial needs. Stephanie is responsible for overseeing Mercer’s offices, employees, and clients up and down the US east coast and has been with the company for 26 years. Outside of work, Stephanie enjoys taking advantage of living in New York City and spending quality time with her daughter, who also lives in New York. Stephanie has been a member of C200 since November 2023.  

 

Eva Glassman: What is being a senior leader at Mercer like? 

Stephanie Penner: When I meet people and they ask me what I do, I usually say, “Before I tell you what I do, where do you work?” Odds are, their company may just be a client of ours! I lead the eastern region of the US, from Portland, Maine down to Florida, across all of Mercer’s service lines, overseeing 20-plus offices, over 2000 employees, and thousands of clients. I’ve actually been at Mercer for 26 years and I love what I do—you better love it if you’re going to be at the same place for that long. 

Mercer is a leading global consulting firm that works with employers around the world to develop and implement strategies for attracting, retaining, engaging, and ultimately retiring their workforces. 

I love what I do because of the difference we make in advancing the health, wealth, and careers of what is most likely the most vital asset at an organization: its people. For example, Mercer and our services became even more relevant during the pandemic when the health and well-being of employees became a top priority. Prior to the pandemic, we had often talked with clients about the importance of telehealth as an option for employees; this refers to the use of technology to provide healthcare services remotely, but the adoption of this technology was quite low. Now, that has completely changed as telehealth has demonstrated its potential to complement traditional healthcare delivery models and improve access to care in various situations. 

Another topic of great interest to our clients is how AI will revolutionize the nature of work and reshape the skills required in many industries. It can be scary, but also exciting, to think about the transformation of workforces through upskilling and reskilling and using machines to augment (not replace) human capabilities. 

We truly are in complicated, fast-changing times with concurrent crises in the world impacting businesses and their workforces. Every day we see in the news stories about economic, social, and climate pressures including labor shortages, inflation, mental health deterioration, technological change and disruption, population aging and longevity, chronic health conditions, and preparing for the future of work in the era of generative AI. I feel fortunate in working at Mercer to have the opportunity to find solutions to these complex people risks that have a direct impact on businesses, our economies, and people’s lives.  

EG: Where did you start out in your career, and what’s it like working at the same company for so long? How has your career journey been shaped by that experience? 

SP: I went to University of Pennsylvania – Wharton for an undergraduate business degree. I had an affinity for numbers and ended up becoming a compensation consultant with a competitor firm for around five or six years before joining Mercer. I actually interviewed with Mercer when I was two months into my maternity leave—because what else would a woman do during that time? [laughs] My daughter was four months old when I joined Mercer and I’ve never looked back. 

My journey at Mercer started off with me as an individual consultant, so I was focused on working across a variety of client projects and ensuring we were servicing and delivering on the commitments to those clients. Over time, I started to take on more management and leadership roles and broadened my experience across our entire portfolio. 

At the time, I was based in Philadelphia, but because Mercer is so large and complex, I was able to interact with many other colleagues and clients across and outside the US despite living in Philadelphia the whole time. I never felt stagnant as I was able to reap the benefit of being at a large global organization and build a network that was broad and deep in geographic and technical span.  

I lived in Philadelphia for 20 years and moved to New York City in March 2019 when I was asked to lead across all our business lines. I was able to experience a good year in the “city that never sleeps” until we all “went to sleep,” so to speak—when the pandemic hit. However, I ended up loving New York, even in the middle of a global health crisis, and I’m still living here today.   

EG: What factors do you attribute to your success and advancement in your career? 

SP: I’ve always been conscious of relationship building, making sure I cast a wide net of connections and nurture them along the way. I also make sure not to burn any bridges and understand the purpose of a connection at any point in time. Since there are 25,000 employees at Mercer, I never felt the need to go to another company to build new connections; there were always new ones coming. 

This might seem cliché, but I’ve found that the most successful people are those who find opportunity even in challenging situations, and when they encounter adversity, they’re able to have resilience coupled with a positive mindset. That not only allows you to figure out how to solve for something, but you also inspire others to work through change. That outlook really helped me over the course of my career. Change is a constant in today’s world, so having a muscle for it that I’ve built over time has helped me accept change as part of the everyday equation.  

Lastly, I have had champions, mentors, and advocates for myself over the years, people who’ve seen something in me that I hadn’t seen in myself. They are people I’ve been able to lean on for advice or an open door, and while I can’t pay them back in the same way, I often will pay it forward to others. 

EG: Tell me about the people you turned to for advice going up in your career. Were the mostly women? Men? 

SP: I absolutely did have female mentors, but they weren’t my only mentors. Many of my mentors were men as well, and I believe that ultimately benefitted me because they already had a seat at the table and were looking to make room for me. When I was entering the working world, there weren’t as many women leaders, and the women that were there were also still trying to prove themselves in a male-dominated environment. Now that I have a seat at the table, I help other women also get a seat. 

EG: How did you get involved with C200? What drew you to the organization and community? 

SP: My C200 journey can be summed up with the words, “Timing is everything.” I was introduced to C200 through Mary Tinebra. She’s a mentor of mine, but she’s also so much more than that. She’s been a champion and advocate for me over my entire time at Mercer. 

I started getting involved in some different groups when I first moved to New York that were more social, and I was still looking for a professional organization. Over lunch one day, Mary suggested I look into C200, right before the 2023 Empowering Women Summit in Atlanta. The timing could not have been better; I actually had a business trip to Atlanta planned that week, which was ending on the same day the Summit began. All I had to do was switch hotels! 

EG: That’s a sign from the universe! 

SP: Yes! It was telling me, “You really need to look into this group!”  

I was blown away at the Summit; it was such a unique experience. The whole agenda hit me in so many different places; one speaker who talked about the importance of patience in leadership really struck me. There were so many tidbits that I took away from the event and was able to share in my work world.  

I was also incredibly impressed by the C200 members in attendance—not only at the composition of the group, but also at how many female founders as well as corporate leaders there were. Some of them were in the consulting space like me, others on corporate boards, others small business owners, others retired. It was such a great array of experiences of successful, powerful, collaborative women, and I immediately knew that C200 had the diversity of the professional organization I was seeking. While there were several professional organizations I was exploring, C200 felt unique with a well-rounded membership and a variety of ways to engage, and I really valued that. 

EG: What does being a “woman in business” mean to you, if anything? And how do you apply that thinking to what you do in your life? 

SP: It’s hard for me to answer that question, because I feel so valued regardless of my gender. I also know that it’s an important question, because not everyone has that same feeling. I feel a certain sense of responsibility to demonstrate that I am a strong leader regardless of my gender; my career is not a story of feeling at a disadvantage for being a woman. 

I sometimes don’t even like some of the questions that women in the workplace get asked. For example, when I’m asked, “How do you create your work-life balance?” I know that a man would not be asked that question. And yet, I know that there are women who do struggle with that. 

As a woman in business, it’s important to be a role model for both women and men, to be a good leader regardless of gender. I often like to share about how I’ve made choices in my life that have allowed me to follow my true purpose, and I feel fortunate to have found that in my life both personally and professionally. I never felt like I needed to give 100% of my time in one place, and at the exact same time, 100% someplace else. That’s 200% of one person—that’s impossible. I’ve struck a balance for what has worked for me. Everyone has a different view on what the “right” balance is of all your priorities in life.  

EG: Some women find the question of being a “woman in business” easy to answer, and some find it difficult, but that’s exactly why a question like that is important to ask. It challenges us to think about why we ask certain questions about certain people, and to reconcile how we feel in the world versus how we’re perceived. Sometimes, those seemingly-contradictory answers can coexist. It’s super complicated, but I think that’s wonderful.  

SP: Something I’ve always told my daughter, who’s now a 26-year-old independent woman, is: “You are my top priority in life. You cannot be my top priority every day.” She grew up truly understanding that, and it’s actually made her appreciate the complexity of prioritizing, making choices, and being happy about those choices.  

Being a woman in business, I know that I bring a diversity of thought and different sense of emotional intelligence; I know that sharing my story is important and how I got to where I am. At the same time, I hesitate to say that women are more emotionally intelligent, because I know that’s a stereotype and generalization. For myself, I know I’m someone who has a greater influence because of my strong sense of who my particular audience is, and I can tune into that to truly speak to them. 

EG: To shift gears quite a bit: How do you like to spend your time outside of work? 

SP: I’ve been immersing myself in a wide variety of New York City experiences. Even though I’ve lived here full time since 2019, it still feels new because of the pandemic. I spend my time going to museums, seeing live music, Broadway shows, biking in Central Park. The concentration of arts and culture here in New York is so impressive.  

My daughter also lives in New York City. We both lead very busy lives, but we’re extremely close and get together weekly for lunch, dinner, or shopping. I love it and try to take advantage of city living. 

When I want to get out of the city, I always enjoy a long weekend somewhere. I recently visited the Dominican Republic for a beach vacation, and I love going to a lake house or going with friends boating on the Chesapeake Bay or skiing in Utah. Those are the kinds of travel experiences I like to weave into my annual calendar; travel doesn’t always need to be a full week or two weeks away. 

EG: You mentioned earlier that a lot of the people you mentor are women. What are the kinds of things you hear from them, and what’s your advice to them and to women in general going up in their careers? 

SP: A lot of the young women I mentor are trying to figure out their voice: when to speak up, how they speak up, what kinds of words they use, how they position something. Helping them find their voice in a way that feels authentic, meaningful, and powerful is something I focus on a lot. If we’re talking in a Zoom meeting or in person, I’ll give them immediate feedback if they are not presenting themselves in the right way. I’ll even do that to men as well! If you don’t present yourself authentically and confidently, you can actually diminish your credibility. I’ll say something like, “I want to hear every word you say; don’t dilute the power of your message with filler words.” They always appreciate the feedback; better to get it early on before it becomes a habit that’s hard to change.   

Another thing I help people navigate as a mentor is the politics of an organization. When you’re in any sort of relationship, whether it’s personal or professional, it’s not going to be smooth sailing the entire time. In personal relationships, you’re going to have fights; in professional ones, you’re going to disagree and get annoyed. The key is determining how to channel that negative energy in a mature, professional, and productive way.  

Finally, I always get questions about work-life balance and statements of, “I feel guilty if I don’t go to my kids’ _______.” I always share my perspective about my daughter being my top priority in life, but not necessarily every day. I was fortunate to have a very good support system for raising my daughter; her dad was always around and able to attend all her sports events. Again, you don’t need to give 100% here and 100% there at the same time.  

Related to the idea of work-life balance is the importance of choosing how to spend your hours wisely. We all have the same 24 hours in a day; within the past few years, I’ve made a consistent effort to remove from my vocabulary the phrase, “I didn’t have time to ______.” That statement isn’t an honest one. We all have time; what you’re really saying is, “I didn’t make time.” That reframe made me think differently about how I prioritize my time. Every day, I’m the one choosing where to spend my time. 

EG: Why C200? What are you most excited about as a new member? 

SP: I want to explore some of the different Committees and Councils available; I definitely want to become a more active member in C200. And definitely attend some in-person events!