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5 Exceptional Champions for the Advancement of Women | Linkage Announces Women in Leadership Executive Impact Award Recipients for 2022

August 22, 2022 Katharine Panessidi

The advancement of women leaders, and the creation and support of cultures of inclusion where they can thrive, continues to be a critical need for organizations today.

From Linkage’s work with leading organizations and our research, we know that the hurdles to advancement in the workplace have never been higher—or harder to scale—for women. Decades of progress toward gender parity are on the line, as the lasting effects of the pandemic are still impacting women at every level.

We need champions for women leaders—the type of people who will roll up their sleeves to take on the hard work of identifying, advancing, sponsoring and supporting all women leaders.

Each year, Linkage recognizes exceptional leaders who are committed toward women’s progress in their organizations and their communities. On November 1–4, 2022, at the Women in Leadership Institute™, Linkage will recognize five extraordinary leaders with the Women in Leadership Executive Impact Award.

This year’s recipients are striking examples of people who have empowered their organizations to new heights through the support, engagement and advancement of women and cultures of inclusion.


  • Alison Braman, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Hilti North America
  • Kay Fernandez, Deputy Head, Global DX Branding, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc.
  • Amelia Hardy, Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer, Senior Vice President, Best Buy
  • Carrie Jones-Barber, Chief Executive Officer, Dawn Foods
  • Dena LaMar, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, Advance Auto Parts

What makes these recipients so special? These leaders are innovative, transformational and trailblazing. They work to create seats at the table for women and lift others as they climb. They are changing the game for women in the workplace and leading paths to a more inclusive world. And, they all see a future where women thrive at the highest levels.

Here is why I am personally inspired by each of the 2022 recipients:

Alison Braman

Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Hilti North America

Alison Braman creates a seat at the table for women and supports an inclusive organizational culture where women can thrive at the highest levels.

As Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Alison is a relentless advocate for the advancement of women and other underrepresented talent at Hilti North America, with more than 4,000 team members. The global Hilti Group, which supplies the worldwide construction and energy industry with innovative products, systems, software, and services, employs 31,000 people in 120 countries.

“Alison Braman inspires hundreds of people a day,” said her nominator. “Perhaps one of the most impactful and inspiring behaviors I am privileged to observe firsthand is the way she holds herself, her peers and our CEO accountable to progress in all of our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.”

Most recently, she championed the organization’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force, and applied key feedback from employees to create positive change and engage top leadership in this important work. In 2022, Alison sponsored the creation of an Advancing Women Leaders Academy in partnership with Linkage, changing the lives of 19 women in the first cohort. “Her support will now move the academy to a global scale and expand availability to higher levels,” said her nominator. She also spearheaded the formation of the organization’s first four Employee Resource Groups (ERG), one of which is focused on women.

“Alison is also a partner and mother and is incredibly open about the challenges she faces as a working parent,” said her nominator. “Raising an African American child and having a multicultural household, she and her partner are keenly aware of the barriers and different life experiences they will need to navigate.”

Alison is an executive sponsor of the organization’s Black Affinity Group ERG. She sits on the National Advisory Board of Catalyst, a solutions and thought leadership nonprofit focused on creating workplaces that work for women. She is also passionate about her seat on the National Board of Creating Healthy Communities (CHC), a nationwide nonprofit that addresses the barriers to good health and equity. This organization recently launched an initiative that will dedicate $7 million to address the disparities that exist for pregnant Black women.

Alison empowers people to bring their full, authentic selves to work—and fosters critical conversations. She and her team launched a series called “Team Talks,” all-company webinars dedicated to addressing topics that are seldom talked about in the workplace but affect many people’s ability to bring their full selves to work. Topics have spanned critical issues related to women, race, LGBTQ+, mental health and addiction. “The sessions opened up space for people who are struggling,” said her nominator. “They also increased the empathy we all had for each other and brought awareness to important and sometimes taboo issues.” Programming like this has supported a culture where employees feel safe talking about outside topics that affect their work lives.

Alison models exceptional leadership by identifying—and acting on—areas of opportunity for women in the organization, and keenly understands that improved policies have an outsized impact on women in the workplace. She revisited the organization’s employee policies and expanded paid family leave, bereavement for pregnancy loss, and paid emergency child or adult dependent care. She also noted the increased impact on women’s mental health during the pandemic, and expanded access to paid therapy for employees, as well as introduced new Teladoc options for psychiatry.

Kay Fernandez

Deputy Head, Global DX Branding, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc.

Kay Fernandez is changing the game for women in the workplace by tapping into the power of community and driving transformative results for women.

Kay is a true supporter of women’s leadership, and as SVP of Marketing at Konica Minolta, a global technology leader, she is blazing a pathway for the women leaders around her.

“As a key member of the executive leadership team, Kay continually strives to spark engagement from our employees through programs that make an impact and inspire change within our company and community,” said her nominator. “She is an inspiration to everyone at Konica Minolta because she leads by example.”

In 2015, Kay established the Step Forward program at Konica Minolta to inspire women in professional excellence. This inclusive monthly program encourages the advancement of women through leadership development skills training and a forum for male and female employees to share experiences and best practices. The program is open to all employees, and specifically helps women to develop leadership skills and men to understand how they can effect change.

“Kay is dedicated to empowering other women and continually works toward extending opportunities and creating an environment for her female colleagues to learn, grow and lead,” said her nominator.

Step Forward hosts a variety of guest speakers and panelists touching on a wide range of topics, encouraging employees to identify their personal and professional goals, discover new possibilities, support and teach colleagues, and learn ways to prepare for new challenges. Each month, employees are given the tools, motivation and inspiration to help them navigate their individual journeys to success.

Since its inception, Konica has achieved a 118% increase in the number of women at the director level. In an internal survey gauging employees’ experience with Step Forward, the majority reported the program helps them perform their job better, has been beneficial to their career development and has improved their relationships with both coworkers and customers.

Kay also appreciated the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women—and identified a need for continued support for women. “When the pandemic hit and the company transitioned to remote work, Kay made sure Step Forward didn’t miss a beat,” said her nominator. “The program continued virtually each month, offering topics to help with productivity, self-care and managing stress.”

Her new virtual approach to the program empowered more women leaders to become involved. “Prior to the pandemic, live meetings yielded 100+ in-person attendees,” said her nominator. “Once it went virtual in 2020, Step Forward was rolled out nationally, and currently sees upward of 650 employees at each session.” Topics have included health and wellness, being resilient and different leadership styles.

Kay recently launched a new initiative for the empowerment of women in Konica Minolta’s dealer channel. The Step Together program is intended to inspire the professional development of women of the office technology industry, and bring them together for support, collaboration and inspiration. The program strives to build community, create a positive environment to share experiences and support intentional leaders. Step Together will officially commence this summer with a series of virtual sessions featuring special guests, culminating in a live event at the LPGA Pelican Women’s Championship in November in Belleair, Florida. As the title sponsor for the tournament last year, the company leveraged its participation by inviting a group of female leaders from its dealer community to attend the Raymond James Women’s Leadership Summit, which was part of the event.

A vivid storyteller and marketer, Kay spearheaded a social media campaign for International Women’s Day that spotlighted women from all levels of the organization on social media and started a critical conversation. In 2019, she helped with the creation of Konica Minolta’s first global video that highlighted women throughout the organization.

Outside of her role at Konica Minolta, Kay is involved with many organizations focused on women. In 2021, she was recognized by the Girl Scouts of Northern New Jersey as part of its annual Women of Achievement program, which honors women from the region who have made a substantial impact on their communities and industries and serve as positive role models for girls. “Kay is a true role model to girls in her community and every woman in our organization,” said her nominator.

Amelia Hardy

Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer and Senior Vice President, Best Buy

Amelia Hardy drives transformational change, and her leadership inspires a path forward to a more inclusive world.

During her seven-year tenure at Best Buy, Amelia has been a key champion of transformational initiatives that serve the greater good of Best Buy, and the broader community. As Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer, she spearheads work to support the organization’s DEI commitments.

Her leadership stands as an inspiration to those around her, including Corie Barry, CEO of Best Buy. “The people you connect with every day play such a significant role in your life by the way they support and inspire you,” said Corie. “Amelia Hardy is one of those people for me, the Best Buy team and so many people in her community. Across numerous leadership roles in our company, Amelia has made those around her better by bringing her experience, belief, passion and grace to everything she does.”

Her commitment to this important work runs deep. Amelia proposed the formation of an Executive Inclusion and Diversity Council (EIDC) to the then-CEO Hubert Joly and partnered with the former Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer to implement the council that remains effective today in providing senior leaders with a forum to discuss and address enterprise DEI actions.

She partnered with the Women’s Employee Resource Group and the Benefits team on a proposal to extend maternity and parental leave and expand it to partners. She was also a major advocate to increase the number of on-campus lactation rooms for new mothers.

In June 2020, after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, Corie made a commitment that Best Buy would “do better” for the company, community and country. She asked Amelia to form an enterprise, cross-functional task force that would identify and propose areas where Best Buy could make an impact. Amelia defined and built the task force from the ground up and managed a planning team.

“I designed the task force to be an immersive experience and haven where people can be educated about DEI, learn, grow and make mistakes without fear of judgment,” said Amelia. “The psychologically safe space has allowed for more than 50 leaders to transform and accelerate their development within the past two years.”

The impact continues to multiply, as the leaders who participated in this program have taken their learnings into key positions within the organization, to their ERGs and IDSCs and within the broader community.

Amelia serves on multiple local and national boards and is affiliated with the Minnesota Business Partnership for Racial Equity, Twin Cities Chief Diversity Officer Group, and Black Executive Leaders. She serves as the founder and co-chair of the DEI committee for the Boys and Girls Club of the Twin Cities, executive sponsor of the Women’s ERG, and partnered with the Black Employee Resource Group to start a mentoring and coaching circle for women of color.

Carrie Jones-Barber

Chief Executive Officer, Dawn Foods

Carrie Jones-Barber is a chief executive who is blazing a trail for women leaders by cultivating a people-focused culture—and who serves as a shining example of a leader who lifts as she climbs.

As the first female Chief Executive Officer of Dawn Foods, Carrie understands the challenges—and the responsibility—of being the “first.” When she began her career in sales, she was constantly overlooked by clients and business leaders who would immediately defer to the man in the room. “There was an assumption that as a woman, she was not going to know the ins and outs of the product she was showing or how they stacked up against the competition,” said her nominator. “She would show up to meetings and people would look right past her, looking for her male counterpart.”

To rise above the situation, Carrie relied on her tenacity. “When I asked her how that made her feel, she told me that she just never gave up,” said her nominator. “She did not let it knock her down.”

She was also instilled with a sense of resolve about her own role as a leader who lifts as she climbs. “Building on her own experiences, Carrie empowers women, and all people at Dawn, to never give up and to be their true and authentic self,” said her nominator. “She encourages her team to let who they are shine, and to not let what others think impact your ability to thrive and grow. She encourages you to ask bold questions, to look past your own conscious and unconscious biases, and to intentionally work with inclusion as a priority.”

Carrie’s vision includes a commitment to empowering women leaders at Dawn Foods through hands-on, targeted leadership development opportunities and a people-first culture. In 2021, Dawn Foods introduced a Women’s Leadership Development program as part of a broader, formalized Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy. The program is designed to build and strengthen the organization’s talent pipeline and provide high-potential women with the knowledge, skills and experiences to accelerate their development. Carrie serves as an executive sponsor of a participant in the program and as an active leader to all women involved in the program. “As a member of the first cohort of this program myself, I have had a front-row seat to the valuable insight and advice she has shared with participants,” said her nominator.

Through her championing of the women in this program, Carrie has inspired the women leaders at Dawn to new heights. Her nominator recalls when Carrie led a discussion with the group that changed her perspective on her career and her life.

“It was a very open conversation about the hurdles and challenges we have overcome or been faced with throughout our lives,” said her nominator. “Carrie shared her story first, which was rooted in honesty and vulnerability. I have never witnessed, in my career, such a welcoming and open discussion with any group of women. The connections I made and the relationships I formed is something I will treasure forever.”

It was Carrie’s leadership—and her shining example of vulnerability, honesty and inclusion—that continues to change the lives of women at her organization.

Beyond her formal role at Dawn Foods, Carrie serves on multiple business and charitable boards, including the Business Advisory Council for the Haworth College of Business at Western Michigan University, and the Board of Directors for Land O’ Frost. She is part of C200, a global organization focused on making a profound impact on the advancement of women in business. She has also been involved with Junior Achievement and the Girl Scouts. Carrie is an active member of the American Bakers Association and Society of Bakery Women. Both organizations frequently hold panels focused on the next generation of industry talent. Carrie participates in these panels as often as she can to motivate and support new talent, especially women, in the baking industry.


Dena LaMar

Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, Advance Auto Parts

Dena LaMar is an innovative changemaker focused on charting a path to a new, inclusive future where women thrive at the highest levels.

As the first Black female executive to serve as Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, Dena is a trailblazer in every sense of the word.

She began her career at the organization in leadership operations, a highly visible role that, in the automotive industry, is not often filled by women. As a former Regional Vice President, she was a champion for women in the auto industry and helped to mentor and coach other female leaders in the organization to be successful.

It was Dena’s passion for creating change and promoting equity that prompted her to take on a leadership role in DEI with the organization. As Chief DEI Officer, she reports directly to the CEO, Tom Greco.

As her nominator said, “she has been driving change and breaking barriers ever since,” and is the highest-ranking Black woman at the organization.

Dena advocated for the creation of a formal Office of Diversity, which was established in 2020. Through her leadership, Advance Auto Parts has a comprehensive, 5-year strategic plan for diversity, equity and inclusion improvement. The organization’s partnership with Linkage and other expert DEI providers has engaged more than 400 women and underrepresented groups in results-focused advancement experiences. “The results of this initiative will provide a lasting impact to the organization, our employees, and the customer base we serve,” said one of her nominators.

In her role, she is focused on supporting, advancing and retaining women leaders of all levels and she spearheaded the creation of the Women of Color Steering Committee within Advance Auto Parts. The group has been instrumental in the development and support of the first-ever Leadership Investment For Tomorrow (LIFT) program, which is aimed at advancing the careers of 34 protégés through executive sponsorship, empowering them to overcome barriers as they ascend the corporate ladder.

“As a strong advocate for women in leadership, she consistently seeks to improve the representation of females within our organization,” one of her nominators said. “She focuses on initiatives that promote the enhancement of leadership skills in an effort to retain and advance this cohort.”

Dena’s focus on women leaders has a multiplying impact throughout the organization. “Thousands of female professionals are having their work landscape cultivated for improvement and growth in the DE&I space thanks to her work,” said another nominator. “And many more females in the population at large will reap these benefits with work practices and cultures that attract new female talent and support their advancement.”

During the pandemic, Dena created a high-performing team with women in key leadership positions. Her grace during this time of change and transition was especially appreciated by her team. “Her compassion is evident in her actions as a leader, and it’s helped her earn the trust of her team members and form authentic relationships,” said one of her nominators. “These relationships allow women to feel more confident in their roles, motivate them to take on new opportunities and provide them with increased exposure to other leaders. All of these things will ultimately elevate their careers.”

Dena is a member of CHIEF, International Women’s Forum, and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. She has served on the boards of the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation, Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, Pittsburgh Opera and Carnegie Museum of Art, and is a member of the Robert Morris University President Council, The Pittsburgh Promise Foundation. In 2020, she was recognized as a Woman of Excellence by the new Pittsburgh Courier.

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Women in Leadership Institute

NOV. 13–16, 2023 | Orlando, Florida, or Virtual
A 4-day immersive learning experience designed to equip women leaders with actionable strategies to overcome the hurdles women often face in the workplace.

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