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Women’s Summit: The Power of Diversity

Yvonne Cook at Women’s Summit event holding program that says “The Power of Diversity”

Yvonne Cook, president of the Highmark Foundation and Highmark Health VP – Community Health and Programs, introduces the Women’s Summit: Power of Diversity event.

Highmark Health hosted its first Women’s Summit Series event, The Power of Diversity, in 2018 at the Heinz Field Champions Club.

The inaugural event brought together senior leaders at some of western Pennsylvania’s largest and most influential businesses to discuss equity and opportunity in the workplace for women and engage in meaningful conversation around how businesses and leaders can elevate women and diversity across all sectors and industries in the region.

Yvonne Cook, president of the Highmark Foundation and Highmark Health VP – Community Health and Programs, introduced the event. She also served as co-moderator with Melanie Harrington, president and CEO, Vibrant Pittsburgh, for a panel discussion on women in the workplace.

The panel discussion was followed by a “fireside chat” between Highmark Health COO Karen Hanlon, Highmark SVP — Health Plan Operations Patricia Howard, and Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments and Starbucks vice chair. An expert in financial literacy and community outreach, Hobson is a prominent national speaker and advocate on the topic of diversity and women in the workplace. Her “Color blind or color brave?” TED talk has had more than 600,000 views.

“With this series, our goal is to spark the ideas, collaboration, and action necessary to build a more inclusive workplace and region,” explains Dr. Lonie Haynes, vice president of diversity and inclusion, Highmark Health. “When we’re inclusive, companies not only perform better, but our whole city and talent pool becomes better.”

Concluding the event, Deb Rice-Johnson, president, Highmark Inc., was awarded the first Highmark Health Sara Oliver-Carter Award. Named after Highmark’s first diversity officer, the Sara Oliver-Carter Award honors a leader who sets standards and priorities around diversity and inclusion, who is a sponsor and champion to diverse individuals, and who has gone above and beyond to create a more inclusive workforce, marketplace, and community.

The highlights below will give you a small taste of this first event’s thought-provoking dialogue and powerful messages on how individuals and corporations can take responsibility in shaping a more inclusive workplace, marketplace, and community. Additional Women’s Summit events are in the works for 2019!

Women in the Workplace, Equity, and Opportunity


  • Cindy Donohoe, chief marketing officer, Highmark Health
  • Titina Ott, senior vice president of customer operations, HM Health Solutions
  • Marsha Jones, executive vice president and chief diversity officer, PNC Financial Services Group
  • Amanda Green Hawkins, associate counsel, United Steelworkers Union


Work-Life Balance

Titina Ott, SVP of customer operations at HM Health Solutions, addresses a question about balancing time between your employer, your family, and your personal interests

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Here’s what I learned, and I learned this later in life. First of all, it’s ok to say no. As women, we feel guilty about saying no. So the first thing is you have to get comfortable with saying no. That’s my first tip.

When you think about your career, you think about your family — I actually do compartmentalize. That’s really important. I think about my career in five-year journeys. At the point at which my dad got really, really sick, I actually, at my former employer, passed up a major promotion. You have to have enough confidence in yourself to know that if you’re really good, that promotion is going to be there again. You have to organize your life and organize your goals in a way that you can have it, but it just may not be all at the same time. It was actually very difficult for me to pass up that promotion, but at that time I knew it was the right thing. And then two years later I was offered a chief operating officer role of our marketing cloud division. The point is that if you’re good, it will be there. It’s really important to be upfront with your employer around what is right for you at the right time, and be open and transparent and honest about that with yourself and your employer and have that dialogue so you can manage through.

The last part of this that I want to add is that this is not only true of women but of men. My husband, before we were married, he’s a shareholder with a firm here in the city, but he was divorced for 20 years. And when the girls were young, he made a very conscious decision to pass up promotions and put becoming partner on hold to have that time with the girls. It’s not a gender-specific thing — it’s choices that we make, and you have to be okay with those choices and get comfortable with them. When he got a little older and he knew the girls were set and he had instilled the values in them, he made the decision that he was ready to rebalance his time and he did, and very quickly he was on a partner track and became a partner.

Talking with Male Colleagues

Highmark Health chief marketing officer Cindy Donohoe shares her thoughts on helping male colleagues to be aware of unconscious bias and how to approach a male mentor or sponsor

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I started talking about unconscious bias, and I think part of it is pointing out when they might say something where they’re holding women to a different standard. Even with some of the men I’ve worked with, you might be talking about who to promote or who to put on a special, high-visibility project, and a man will say, well, so and so is pregnant, so she’s out. It’s like, no, she’s not. She may be out for a few weeks, and we’ll have to get someone else in there temporarily, but that’s her choice. If she’s the right person, let’s talk to her and see if she’s willing to take that on.

I also recently went to a conference, and people were giving advice and saying you need to remind folks to think of women. So, another example — we were looking for another board member at Highmark in a specific region. I had a colleague, a male, who lived in that region, so I asked, do you know anybody, who would you recommend? And he starts spouting off a lot of men’s names, so then I just said, what about women? And immediately the women’s names came to mind, but it just needed that little kick and reminder.

My other advice, advice I often give to women I’m mentoring, is give the man a task. Not to stereotype, but men are very task-oriented. If you want help in your career, you want to get to the next step, you don’t just walk in and go, what should I be doing next? You say, I’m looking for this, I want to get on a nonprofit board in the community so I can get more visibility, can you help me do that? And then you get some real quick action, because it’s more specific what you’re looking for and you’ve made it very clear how they can help.

Fireside Chat with Mellody Hobson

Keynote Guest:

  • Mellody Hobson Lucas is president of Ariel Investments, a Chicago-based investment firm that manages over $13 billion in assets and is one of the largest African American-owned money management and mutual fund companies in the United States. She is a regular contributor on financial issues on CBS This Morning and a spokesperson for the annual Ariel/Schwab Black Investor Survey. She is the former chairman of DreamWorks Animation, negotiating the acquisition of DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc., by NBCUniversal in 2016. Hobson serves on the board of many organizations, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., the Chicago Public Education Fund, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art and the Sundance Institute. She is also vice chair of the Starbucks Corporation. Hobson has been acclaimed in Time’s 2015 Time 100 List, the magazine’s annual list of the one hundred most influential people in the world. She was named to head the Economic Club of Chicago in 2017, the first African-American woman to do so.


“Do or do not, there is no try.”

Mellody Hobson Lucas is “married to Yoda’s dad” (George Lucas) — and explains the importance of one of Yoda’s best-known proverbs when it comes to diversity and inclusion

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Yoda says, “do or do not, there is no try.” I think that’s a very powerful statement around this issue. There is no try. You either did or you didn’t. And the thing that worries me about the conversation around diversity is that people think they should get credit for trying. Nothing else that we do, do we get credit for trying. You either made the deadline or you didn’t. You made your earnings or you didn’t. The product came out on the date it was supposed to, or it didn’t. You could lose your job if you don’t get those things done. You either got the goals that were given to you for the year done, or you didn’t, when it’s time for your annual review, and that affects your compensation, it affects your ability to get a promotion.

But in diversity, it’s like, I tried…and that’s good enough. That’s why I’ve been really pushing this idea, similar to the Nike slogan, just do it, we have to actually put some real meaning behind what the goals are. There have to be numbers. People will say, well, I don’t like quotas, but who ever hit a target that they didn’t know what the goal was? You need a goal. You need actual numbers as opposed to speaking in generalities. We don’t speak in generalities in anything else in business. In the health care business, you know rates of people passing away or errors in the hospital, customer service inside the hospital, waiting time in the emergency room, and you’re working against that to improve. But in this area, we can have these fuzzy goals — that’s number one, you need a target.

And the second thing is that I love the saying that you get what you incent — you have to have incentives around it. The thing is, if you say, well, the person has really delivered on all these other things — if you say diversity is truly important to you, it truly is, and that person can be a superstar without having a diverse team, then it’s not important.

So, I’m tired of people saying how important it is and nothing happening. That’s what I’m tired of. I’m saying we’ve admired this problem long enough, and we are either going to do something about it or we aren’t. And if we aren’t going to do something about it — and I’ve been to companies where this is not in their top 100 issues, they don’t pretend it is. And then I go to companies where you open up their annual report — because we’re an investor at Ariel, that’s what we do is read annual reports — and they’ve got 10 pages on diversity, and then you look in the back and look at the senior leadership team and there are no people of color, and I’m like, what is this? Honestly, that is the part that becomes more offensive than actually saying “not my issue.” If you say it’s not your issue, it’s not in your mission and values, you don’t talk about it, however it falls out is how it falls out, I’m disappointed, but I don’t expect any more. But if you actually sing and talk and say how important this is, and preach the merits of it, and put it in your mission statement and have it on signs around the office, and nothing happens, then you have to be held accountable for that.

The Courage to Do the Right Thing

Mellody Hobson responds to Patricia Howard’s thoughts on the commitment, courage and challenges in taking diversity and inclusion to a higher level

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Patricia Howard: Internally, we have a strategic team that’s responsible for diversity and inclusion. Our president and CEO sits on that team. We also have an advisory council, and he sits on the advisory council. So we’re about it. We’re having this conversation because we want to continue to shape this space. Mellody, you have spoken in the past about the importance of courage. What challenge would you leave with us, this room filled with women and men, our allies who are important to this equation, to ensure that we drive and advocate for diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

Mellody Hobson: I think at times it can feel really, really risky. I say this and people will say that’s easy for you to say because you’re this, that or the other, but I wasn’t always. I started as an intern in my office. I didn’t come out like this. I slugged away and slaved away for a very long time, working seven days a week at Ariel and just really putting the shoulder to the wheel, as we still do.

It’s important that we speak up. We have to stand for something. And I think there are times when fear will take over because we’ll say, this may threaten my career, but it’s important for people to know. So I’ll give you an example. There have been times in my own firm where we’ve been presenting and I’ll literally write a note to one of my colleagues and say, make eye contact with the woman. I can see it. And the person doesn’t even know that their eyes subconsciously go to what they perceive as the power in the room. And we’ve all been there, where we’re sitting in the chair and no eye contact comes to us. These are well-meaning, fantastic people that I know in no way are consciously doing anything, but I do say it, and I said it before I was president. I would send the note over because, one, we want to win. We don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot. But the other thing is it’s the right thing to do. And if they don’t know that they’re doing it, it’s my job to point it out instead of just sitting there and pretending as if everything is ok.

How Organizational Leaders Can Promote Women in the Workforce

Karen Hanlon invites Mellody Hobson’s thoughts on how organizational leaders can best help women in the workforce to succeed

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Karen Hanlon: I consider myself lucky — at Highmark Health about 70 percent of our workforce is women, we talked about that earlier, including a number at the executive level. You’ve met some of us today. When we as leaders think about how we should promote women in the workforce, I’m just wondering your thoughts on that and the approach you take.

Mellody Hobson: I think this is an interesting and important question, because a lot of the rules are changing in terms of how things work. But I want to start with the most basic thing, which is pay equity. I think companies really looking at pay equity on an annual basis is incredibly important, and I think that, at least the companies that I’ve talked to, they’ve made it clear to me that the delta is never giant. It’s not like some huge hole that you’re trying to plug. It tends to be that it exists and whatever the gap is, it needs to be fixed.

There are new stats that came out that said women make actually 49 cents on the dollar of a man, because they factored in a flaw in the way they were measuring, which was that the number we had before was based on the fact that they would look at who was working at the company at the beginning of the year and the end of the year, and anyone who left got thrown out of the math. So this new work says if you left we have to actually keep you in the math to suggest that there was an issue. Or if you stepped out for any period of time, like to have a child, and then came back, that period was a period where you didn’t have pay equity because obviously a lot of companies don’t pay for the full maternity leave, you might just get a certain amount paid for, and that takes your numbers down when you look dollar for dollar. I think these nuances are really important and something we need to think about, but pay equity — if you’re paid the same, you have a lot more flexibility.

Obviously families come in different shapes and sizes these days, and I do think some of the flexibility is needed that wasn’t needed before. Some of these companies, you are a health care concern, and just having these care centers, you have them in a very specific way, but just so that you have the ability to bring a child in or for yourself to be seen by someone in these critical care centers that help to make sure you don’t get sick and have to take a long amount of time off. There are a lot of things that feel to me like low-hanging fruit that are very important.

In our world at Ariel, maybe it’s because we’re professional services and we don’t punch a clock. And I mean that in the best of ways — we have the luxury of a lot of flexibility. We don’t write about it or talk about it, it just exists — no one is asked what time they’re showing up or what time they’re leaving, we just don’t run our firm that way. And I think that gives a lot of the women, and we have a lot of women in the office, two thirds of our senior leaders are women — our CFO is a woman, our general counsel is a woman, our head trader of domestic equities is a woman, our head of client services and marketing is a woman, me, the head of client service operations, our head of mutual funds — we have a very strong contingency of women — head of research operations, our chief investment officer of international and global equities. We’ve all been able to rise up in the organization and many of us have been there for a long time, because it’s just understood that we do whatever it takes, but we also understand all the unique things that a person has to do to lead their life.

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