Senior VP and Chief Growth Officer, The Hershey Company
“…something I see in women, especially early in their career, is their struggle with confidence and it is something I spend time thinking about–how to coach, build wins to gain experiences, and encourage and recognize risks and rewards…”
What in your opinion are the qualities of a power woman?
Channeling the full power of our whole self, combining our talents and intellect with what is in our heart is where true power is revealed. When we are vulnerable and courageous enough to bring everything special about ourselves with energy and passion, it is a power that is unstoppable.
Do you believe that there is any gender specific role for women to play in the Covid-19 pandemic. Do you believe the response to the Covid-19 pandemic highlights & emphasizes the natural resilience of women?
During the pandemic, leadership and decision making have been elevated in both moving an organization through a high degree of uncertainty, as well as making decisions quickly to keep employees safe and the business delivering. Our CEO at the Hershey Company, Michele Buck, has managed brilliantly; her strengths of listening, analyzing, and playing to win have positioned us to thrive now and in the future. What is most important is that women and men are at the table together leading change.
With all the different issues one could focus on, how do you balance your efforts in pursuit of gender equality? Is it a global approach or a specific issue that you are passionate about?
When it comes to gender equality, it’s about walking the talk – and that’s grounded in facts and metrics. Equality and gender equality are an enterprise priority for the Hershey Company. We are proud to have 50/50 gender representation across our business with 99 cents on the dollar pay equity. I also sponsor our Women’s Business Resource Group who is working to advance career development for women early in their career to ensure a strong leadership pipeline. Equality of gender and race at every level is an important growth driver for our business and we hold ourselves accountable for delivering on our goals.
Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block due to your gender?
My first job out of college was as a semiconductor engineer working the night shift in a manufacturing environment. Working in a technical job like engineering, I was surrounded by a lot of men, and to be successful I had to look beyond gender and put myself in a position to be successful. When I was working by myself on a night shift, I either knew how to troubleshoot an issue or I would have to shut the line down until the morning. I loved the challenge of figuring things out, and I found asking the right questions to solve an issue was an important skill I could leverage. I didn’t have a lot of experience with wrenches and taking apart these intricate machines to fix process problems, but I found if I spent time behind the equipment with the other technicians, asked questions and showed that I was committed to learning, the barriers of gender were erased. I was a student at times learning the ropes, and other times I made the decisions and was accountable and responsible for them. It was a very important lesson for me to be driven to learn what you don’t know, and that a growth-mindset can break down barriers.
Do you think that asking previous salary requirements in job interviews contributes to the pay gap between women and men? Should we push for a nationwide ban?
I think the pay gap should be addressed through transparency in metrics. At every level, it is easy for a company to pull the numbers and see if there is inequality based on gender and minorities in the payroll. The more transparent a company is with the metrics, the easier it is to address issues where they exist and hold everyone accountable.
There are many studies that support the idea that a female presence in the boardroom increases the bottom line and leads to healthier work environments. What can we do to continue to support and enhance the growth and presence of women in high profile positions?
For me, it has been important to learn from role models in positions that I aspire to achieve. Michele Buck, our first female CEO at the Hershey Company, has been incredibly impactful on me because I get to work alongside a talented and qualified woman leader who is respected by the organization, the Board of Directors, and industry peers. Her leadership makes becoming a CEO tangible for me – it is not only possible, but also one that can influence incredible change in the way we work.
Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?
One of the most defining moments for me was becoming the daughter of Rex & Kathy Riggs. I have had two role models with incredibly different strengths that have shaped the person I am today. My Dad is an incredible businessman and entrepreneur who I’ve watched lead and care for the people that work for him throughout my lifetime. He’s confident, tough, and incredibly smart. I’m so glad I had a tough opponent in some challenging debates growing up. My Mom is kind and caring, anyone who knows her, loves her. She worked as an OB nurse, and while she was also great at her job, I learned more about how to lead and love from your authentic voice from her example. She has boundless enthusiasm for life and wears her heart on her sleeve, always. She helped me have the courage to always be vulnerable with my heart and feelings. I learned that leading with heart can bring hurt, but it is a more fulfilling way to live.
Is “Education, education and education” one of the top three responsibilities of a civilized society?. If so why is it prohibitively expensive? If not why not?
My Uncle John always used the phrase, “Kristen Jo, it’s always Education, Education, Education. Nobody can ever take away your education.” I have been so blessed to have opportunities for a great education.The rising costs of college education and rising debt of student loans is a big problem for our younger generations today. I don’t have the answer on how to fix it, but I think it is something we have to tackle as a country to ensure we continue to be innovative, creative and full of opportunities.
If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?
I am a HUGE sports fan and I LOVE my Purdue Boilermakers. I would choose to be the Purdue basketball coach Matt Painter, the head assistant coach. He’s the best! I would definitely pick a game day at Mackey Arena. Talk about an adrenaline rush and so much fun!
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
It is advice that has been instilled in me by my parents every day of my life. I was created uniquely and intentionally to do something special with my life. There is nothing that I cannot do if I am tied to my life’s purpose.
What’s your favorite book? Fiction or nonfiction, present or past?
Love Does by Bob Goff
My next question is what do you most value in friends?
I value a loving heart and an openness to share what they really think and feel, even if it is a different perspective than mine. Time is so valuable, and I want to surround myself with people that I can trust and can speak truth into my life. I am blessed to have many people that are friends like this, and I cherish each relationship.
What do you consider is the most overrated virtue?
I think it is important to follow your heart and principles that you believe in and never compromise them. It is really important for me to demonstrate love and care in the way I treat my team and also in how I talk and interact with them. It is authentic to who I am, and I refuse to soften it. I also want to bring a lot of enthusiasm and passion to what I am working on, and I have been given advice at times in my career that my enthusiasm might seem too Pollyanna or immature. I have not compromised on this approach because it is a core value for me. My compass is to follow my heart and listen when I get advice. This advice must always pass through a filter before I consider change; I must be assured it aligns with who I am and what I stand for without compromise.