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Four Exceptional Women Leaders | Linkage Announces Women in Leadership Executive Impact Award Recipients for 2020

September 1, 2020 Katharine Panessidi

COVID-19 has changed so much about how we live and lead every day, and we know that this unprecedented public health and economic crisis is disproportionately impacting women and other underrepresented groups. When the stakes get higher, the stress more intense, and our lives become more hectic than ever before, it can be easy to lose sight of our long-term and long-standing goals and aspirations.

But, the advancement of women in our organizations isn’t just an aspirational goal. It’s a business imperative. In fact, businesses with greater diversity see better results, and when inspiring leaders meaningfully engage and support women leaders, they drive big impact for their organizations.

This year, Linkage will recognize four exceptional leaders at the Women in Leadership Institute™ on November 9–12, 2020, for their recommitment to the important work of advancing women leaders at a critical time.

We are thrilled to announce the Women in Leadership Executive Impact award recipients for 2020:

Pamay, Paige, Lani and Courtney represent the best of the best. They are extraordinary women with unique stories of accomplishment and perseverance in the face of truly unprecedented times.

They are innovators and change-makers who are committed to developing and implementing new approaches to achieving gender parity within their organizations, and beyond. They work to advance and support women leaders at all levels in meaningful ways. And, their personal stories are case studies of what it takes to achieve results and make an impact.

Here is why I am personally inspired by each of the 2020 recipients:

Ekpedeme (Pamay) M. Bassey   

As Chief Learning Officer at Kraft Heinz, Pamay is committed to supporting women and other traditionally underrepresented groups, aligning with the Kraft Heinz company value: We Demand Diversity, when considering the demographics of their cohort-based programs.

Under her leadership, Kraft Heinz launched the first-ever leadership accelerator program for women called “The WE Network.” The global program is designed to ignite the spark for unstoppable career growth by focusing on the development and sponsorship of selected associate directors.

During her time at Kraft Heinz, the organization’s diversity, inclusion and belonging initiatives have expanded, including increased investment in business resource groups globally and unconscious bias learning experiences for managers. These investments, including participation in external benchmarking studies, have had a dramatic impact on the conversation and action plans at Kraft Heinz.

Pamay has risen to the challenge of serving as a strong voice for equality and change, as the country confronts years of systemic racism and prejudice. She is involved with her organization’s Black/African American BRG and has shared her insights as a Black woman during panels and speaking events. She created a speakers series that aligned with her #LearnLikeAnOwner initiative, in which she thoughtfully and intentionally highlighted diverse voices.

She leads by setting an example of excellence, inspiring others around her to recommit to their own leadership and development journeys. Her nominator said it best: “Pamay’s passion for learning is her true superpower, and that passion for learning has spurred a movement at Kraft Heinz. The number of employees who have made a #LearnLikeAnOwner learning commitment has doubled compared to last year and has inspired so many women at Kraft Heinz to make time to invest in their own development.”

Paige Olson   

As Deputy Chief Counsel at The Walt Disney Studios, Paige is committed to supporting her organization’s culture of inclusion and the advancement of women leaders.

She and her team helped lay the framework for the Disney Launchpad: Shorts Incubator project to aid in the development of up-and-coming filmmakers, including women. The project provides an opportunity for underrepresented directors with varied backgrounds to showcase diverse perspectives through the production of original, live-action shorts for exhibition on the company’s successful new streaming service, Disney+.

Most recently, she has risen to the challenge of leading and inspiring her teams during this unprecedented public health crisis which has directly impacted the entertainment and hospitality industry. The COVID-19 pandemic emerged, without warning, in the middle of filming various film productions around the world. With the safety of the production teams top of mind, Paige, with swift and effective communication and in close collaboration with production and studio executives, implemented critical policies and procedures to react to this global crisis.

Paige’s leadership has had a positive impact on her team, with her nominator writing: “Her leadership, empathy, clarity and ability to effectively manage business objectives and evaluate risk enabled the production legal teams across Lucasfilm, Marvel Studios, Disney, 20th Century Studios and Searchlight to provide second-to-none guidance to creative, production and business affairs executives in a time of great confusion.”

Paige sets the example for how to thoughtfully and purposefully lead during a time of crisis, allowing her teams to thrive.

Her nominator wrote: “Paige has provided full support and guidance to me (and many other female leaders) during a time of chaos and confusion. She has first made sure that all her team members are healthy and safe. Then, she placed a necessary focus for us to stay calm, to ensure that we use our voices to do the right thing and help the company emerge as a leader during these challenging times.”

Sherlaender (Lani) Phillips   

Lani, who is the Vice President of Channel Sales, US One Commercial Partner at Microsoft Corporation, is focused on elevating the women around her toward opportunities for advancement. As her nominator put it: “Lani is a woman who is not just a representation of having ‘made it.’ She is committed to pulling others up along with her. This is one of the most admirable qualities about her. She is devoted to all-around advancement and celebration of the achievements of women.”

At Microsoft, Lani is the executive sponsor for the Women at Microsoft Midwest Chapter Employee Resource Group and the Blacks at Microsoft Midwest Chapter. In 2019, she founded the Women Executive Channel Advisory Board, and currently serves as its president. The group is focused on creating more opportunities for women in the workplace and driving equity of share. She is an inspiring visionary, bringing her insights to hundreds of leaders by serving as a keynote speaker, most recently at the Women in Cloud Summit, and the annual Inspire Conference.

Lani is also committed to the advancement of other historically underrepresented groups. She serves on the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) D&I Advisory Board and was a trailblazer in the work to diversify the partner ecosystem, which Microsoft supports.

As a conscientious and thoughtful leader, she has also served as a voice for change and empathy during a time of social unrest. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, she took action and hosted a series of town halls, creating a safe space for those in attendance to share their thoughts and feelings.

Her nominator wrote: “Lani is not afraid to ask the difficult questions. She listens to women’s ideas, aspirations, and point of views, but always offers a deeper insight of analysis to allow for growth in every interaction with her. She is an individual who leaves others more inspired and energized for the work ahead. She makes us think outside of ourselves to what our impact is on the bigger picture.”

Courtney Gentleman Schill   

As SVP & Chief Marketing Officer, Payment Solutions at Synchrony, Courtney is focused on supporting her teams and driving results. Part of that commitment is supporting the advancement of women and other underrepresented groups at the organizational level.

Her nominator wrote: “Courtney is the definition of an inspiring leader. First and foremost, she cares about people. She is open and available to not only her directs but to her entire team—numbering nearly 100 people.”

She is the National Lead for Synchrony’s Women’s Network, the largest diversity network within the organization, which brings together men and women committed to women and diversity in the workplace. Before she took on this leadership position, she was active with the group for years, including serving as part of the “Grow and Promote” committee, which focused on developing opportunity for career advancement for diverse populations.

Courtney highlights her own experience as a woman senior leader to increase transparency. She has hired several women on her team in management-level roles and has used her position to give women exposure to executive management.

Courtney also has been a staunch advocate for the internal Women’s Empowerment Learning Circles, which have impacted hundreds of women, helping them to find their voice to “Play Big.”

“She is the definition of inspirational,” her nominator wrote. “Courtney’s energy is contagious and just being around her makes me want to be better. She is willing to talk to anyone to help them get to where they want to be.”

Most recently, she has empowered her teams to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic by helping them to adjust to family lifestyle changes and maintain work/life balance. She used the Synchrony Women’s Network to create space for women to connect and led the development of a virtual summer camp for the children of Synchrony employees. Courtney championed and launched the new Women’s Network podcast, during which she interviewed previous Women’s Network leaders to share their stories of living and leading amid a pandemic. She also promoted and supported the extension of the childcare expense benefit during a critical time for families.

Amid social unrest, Courtney hosted a Town Hall in June to continue the conversation about inclusion and equality. She also provided the opportunity for #ShareTheMicNow, which allows women from underrepresented racial groups to take over the social media feeds of white women, to amplify their voices and share their stories.

This fall, we will honor Pamay, Paige, Lani and Courtney during the 21st annual Women in Leadership Institute.

In 2020, the conference is more accessible than ever before, empowering women leaders to grow and learn together in a fully virtual environment.

The women in attendance will hear directly from these exceptional leaders. We have so much to learn from them, and I am thrilled to bring their insights to our audience of passionate and engaged women leaders.

We’ll be sharing more about this year’s recipients with you in the coming months, and if you’d like to join us virtually this November 9–12, you can claim your spot now.

Dark haired woman watches from audience of conference event

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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