2021 Top Women Influencers in HR

Impactful women shaping, challenging, and influencing the HR sphere

by Nikhil Bendre - March 31, 2021

March is a special time of the year. It’s the month where we recognize the significance and the contributions of the women in our lives. Is designating one month out of the year enough for this? Absolutely not, but here at GoCo, we’d like to use this opportunity to celebrate women who are making a difference in the businesses they serve, and in the HR profession as a whole.

The issue of gender inequality in the workplace is one that has persisted for far too long and is still prevalent today. From undeniable wage gaps to glaring differences in opportunities, women often have to work twice as hard to get half as far as their male counterparts. In 2019, women made up 74.8% of the HR industry in the United States. However, organizations are still overwhelmingly patriarchal, so it’s important to recognize women who are making an impact in the space. In order to better support women in the workforce (and in general), we’re highlighting some key female players in the HR industry that you should be following.

Tara Furiani

CEO of Not the HR Lady

Tara holds several certifications, including Predictive Index, DiSC, Dale Carnegie, Franklin Covey, Meyers-Briggs and more. She also has her BBA in Marketing, her MS in Organizational Leadership, and her 2nd MS in Psychology.

She spends her free time with her seven children, her NTHRL co-host and partner Justin Boggs, and her mom and aunt, who round out their multigenerational household of 11. Their fun family team enjoys traveling (before COVID-19), dark hide and seek, going to the lake, making music together, dance parties, roller coasters, and cooking as a family.

What advice do you have for other women in HR?

Don’t compromise your own morals and sweep bad behavior under the rug. HR has a difficult job… to both protect the company and to be a champion for all employees. With a role like ours, it can be easy to justify and even defend those in leadership roles, who are doing wrong things, out of fear. You don’t want to lose your job and you may be put into situations where it’s clear that you will, if you say something… but if HR isn’t saying something, who is? If you want to be in HR or you’re in it now… Be a champion for the fair and equitable treatment of everyone. Be a champion for anti-racism. Be a champion for anti-harassment.

Call out, even the biggest names… Because you have to. Because if you don’t, more people suffer. Over the course of my career I didn’t yell loud enough at times and I look back on that with regret. Don’t be like me, in that way… you don’t HAVE to do anything and there are resources that can help you, if you’re in fear of losing your job for doing the right thing.

What are some of the biggest challenges that women are facing in the workplace, and what’s HR’s role in that? How have you personally been affected by patriarchy in the workplace?

A company I used to work for asked me if I’d go to court for them against a CFO’s theft, which I uncovered. Soon after, I was fired without cause or severance, because “The guys don’t like you. You have too much to say.” Women face challenges ranging from sexual harassment (yes, still), pay inequity, a lack of respect, and bullying. The world of work, especially the higher you climb, is filled with narcissism, egos and a touch of psychopathic tendencies. I’ve seen it first hand. Most leaders have a bit of these traits. The smart ones know how to leverage support, get help and use self care to manage theirs. That’s the work I do now and a little bit about the why. The white male patriarchy has the opportunity to continue to oppress or, to realize they don’t have to do things the way their daddies did before them. Allyship, if you prefer that to being called a feminist, is critical, especially with white male executives, who still hold so much of the power.

See what Tara’s up to at Not the HR Lady!

Katie Chaney

Founder, SVP of Client Strategy at BetterGrowth

Katie is a talent acquisition leader known for building high-growth startup teams. A Human Resources specialist for nearly 10 years, she serves BetterGrowth and their clients as a strategic partner to human resources, management and executive leadership teams during the scaling process. In addition, Katie is an employee champion and a torchbearer of company culture. Her skills as a collaborative team player as well as a disciplined leader – coupled with the ability to build strategic solutions that streamline complex business processes are key to client success.

Committed to community and equality, Katie is always willing to give her time and talent towards worthy causes.

What made you decide to get into HR? What do you love about it?

I actually entered HR through recruitment. I decided to move over because I wanted to make sure everyone I had recruited was having an amazing experience at my company! Seeing an employee through their lifecycle is so exciting and rewarding.

What advice do you have for other women in HR?

I think women in HR should make their work as data-driven and revenue-focused as possible. When we have a seat at the revenue table, we can accomplish amazing feats within companies. We deserve to have a voice as strong as a sales or development leader, because if we can’t hire, retain, and grow great talent within our organizations, there won’t be an organization left! And of course, I think we can all do a better job supporting one another in this field. And I mean tangible support – helping each other find a new role, giving praise to someone who may seem to be in competition with you, promoting someone’s post on LinkedIn so they get exposure. I think community over competition is a really powerful sentiment.

See what Katie’s up to at BetterGrowth!

Gemma Toth

Human Resources Manager at Epsen Hillmer Graphics Co.

Gemma Toth has 20+ years of combined experience in Human Resources as a Chief HR Consultant, HR Generalist, and HRIS Project Manager with top companies in various industries with multiple locations nationwide. Gemma is a Senior Certified HR professional with a proven history of implementing HR infrastructures, policies, procedures, and highly effective human capital strategies. She is the President of DisruptHR Omaha and currently works for Epsen Hillmer Graphics, Co. in Omaha, Nebraska.

How has the role of HR changed since the pandemic? How will it continue to evolve in the coming years?

The role of HR during the pandemic has become more transparent in showing agility, flexibility, and preparedness, showing resourcefulness and really staying on top of things while taking care of employees’ well being.

HR will continue to evolve simply because of the world of work as we know it can change without much notice. We have to be prepared no matter what. Have a contingency plan. I actually worked onsite the entire time and I was at a new job one week before the pandemic shift.

How do you think HR can make a meaningful impact on DEI in 2021? What are the most important priorities?

Be truthful with the intention. It’s not about the numbers or trends. It’s about inclusion and belonging. When we hire people, do they feel connected to the company, their team, are they contributing, are they being heard? Do they see themselves making an impact?

See what Gemma’s up to at Epsen Hillmer Graphics Co.!

LeAnne Legasse and Joy O’Steen

Consultants and Co-Founders of ROI Talent Development

LeAnne Lagasse and Joy O’Steen are both former Communication Professors and Staff Directors at Texas Tech University, and both have a profound passion for workplace strategy and communication, but each brings something unique to the table, which makes ROI Talent Development the right choice for leaders looking for a customized and thorough approach.

Together, Joy & LeAnne have over 30 years of higher education teaching experience and over 20 years of combined management and training experience. In addition, both are certified through the Gallup Organization as CliftonStrengths® Coaches.

What made you decide to get into HR? What do you love about it?

In our previous roles as Communication Professors we became increasingly interested in the areas where the Communication discipline intersected with the diverse role of the HR leader. In fact, after developing and instructing courses in organizational communication and leadership development, many of our students and former graduate teaching staff would go on to work in the HR field, but it wasn’t until we launched ROI Talent Development, an HR consulting and training firm in 2017 that we officially joined the HR community. Our very favorite thing about the HR field is getting to meet so many talented HR leaders who make it their aim every single day to contribute to the thriving and flourishing of their people.

How has the role of HR changed since the pandemic? How will it continue to evolve in the coming years?

In many ways, the pandemic shone a bright light on the crucial role that HR plays in any organization. While we’ve been encouraged to hear many HR leaders express that they’ve felt more respected and valued in the past year than ever before, there’s no question that many organizations that hadn’t prioritized their workplace culture and employee experience were faced with the consequences of their prior lack of investment in HR and culture. On the flip side, those organizations that had long invested in their people and culture with a robust HR presence found themselves in a much better position to weather the storm.

Our hope is that this experience has opened the eyes of many leaders and stakeholders who had yet to view and treat HR as trusted business partners. Moving forward, we think businesses will work harder to align HR with their strategic goals.

See what LeAnne and Joy are up to at ROI Talent Development!

Elizabeth Amaro

Director of Client Success at GoCo

Elizabeth Amaro is the Director of Client Success for GoCo and she’s responsible for all aspects of the post-sale customer journey. Her roles involve maintaining customer engagement, product adoption, retention, growth, and building a world-class team of customer-centric GoConuts.

Elizabeth has more than 15 years of HR and benefits solutions experience. She’s known for driving operational excellence in process development that drives product efficiencies and customer satisfaction. Elizabeth holds an MBA from Texas Woman’s University and a Bachelor of Science degree from University of Houston.

What advice do you have for other women in HR?

Understand that you’re meant to lead and capable of being a leader. Traditionally the HR industry has a poor history of executive level female representation. My advice for women in HR is to continue to strive to be the decision maker at your organization.

HR should have check ins with employees and allow more flexibility for working mothers. Employers should be more understanding if meetings are missed or if mothers who are working remotely are unreachable because they have to step away to care for her child.

What are some of the biggest challenges that women are facing in the workplace, and what’s HR’s role in that?

COVID has pushed mothers to take on more responsibilities at home with juggling housework and child care. Taking on more can lead to stress and burn out forcing women to reconsider their careers. Women are already underrepresented in leadership roles and companies are at risk of losing them. As a result, it leaves companies with a less diverse workforce.

See what Elizabeth’s up to here at GoCo!

Jessica Merrell

Founder of Workology

Jessica Miller-Merrell is the Founder of Workology, a workplace resource for HR, recruiting professionals and business leaders. The site was listed twice as a top 75 career resource by Forbes Magazine. Jessica is the president and CEO of Xceptional HR, a human capital strategy and consulting agency, and a published author of Tweet This! and her new book Digitizing Talent: Creative Strategies for the Digital Recruiting Age. Jessica is listed by Forbes as a top 50 social media power user. Because of vast industry expertise and knowledge, Jessica’s professional opinions and expertise are sought after and sourced by publications and media including: the Economist, Forbes, CIO Magazine, CBS, Entrepreneur Magazine, and SHRM’s HR Magazine.

What advice do you have for other women in HR?

We tend to see HR as a touchy-feely profession in which our desire to help others can be channeled into supporting teams of employees, training managers, creating programs and processes that translate into a better environment for all. Which is great. But we have to understand that, for HR leaders, HR is also very much a data-driven role. We have to be able to collect data that help us make decisions, and new SEC filing requirements for public companies put HR metrics at the forefront for company leaders. My advice to women in HR who want to reach an executive level role like CHRO or VP of HR is to get really familiar with HR metrics and data.

What made you decide to get into HR? What do you love about it?

I fell in love with HR because it was a mystery to anyone but me within my organization just how critical my role was. If I did not hire the right staff and schedule them appropriately, not only would our customer service suffer, but it would also impact our store’s sales. I realized that unless we had the right people hired, trained, and developed to do their jobs, it did not matter how stocked or pretty our displays were, how wide and clean our aisles were, or how strong our advertising and brand was. Without me, as a leader in HR anticipating, planning, and scheduling the right people in the right place, our business would not be successful.

I’m a bit of an internet evangelist or enthusiast when it comes to recruitment and human resources. In 2001 after just graduating from college, I was new in my HR role working as a store HR leader for Target.

My store location had a budget of $250 for the quarter for recruiting and job ads, and I invested all of our budget on job advertising in the classified section of the newspaper. While candidates did apply at my store location, I didn’t make a single hire for the sales associate, order puller, and cashier roles that were open at my store.

Having spent our entire budget in two ads and 12 inches, I set out to find a creative and cost-effective way to reach my candidate community. I was broke and I didn’t want to lose my job 3 months into my new role so I looked to the internet. In 2001, the two main reasons you were on the internet were that you were looking for love or looking at p0rn. I decided to use the former rather than the latter in my recruiting efforts and began using free online dating websites to source candidates that fit my job openings.

I saw these online dating websites as digital rolodexes searchable not unlike how we use LinkedIn to search by city, job title, and/or company name. Once I had my search criteria figured out and a few qualified candidates sourced, I reached out to them via private message letting them know I was a recruiter and I had a job opening they might be interested in. The response was amazing, and I quickly made hires for all types of positions at our store from assistant manager to cashier at no cost with my creative digital sourcing.

My digital love affair (no pun intended) with the internet continued and I expanded my internet sourcing and recruiting to forums, chat rooms, and social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. At around the same time I started my job search blog in 2005. Originally called BloggingforJobs (now, I started blogging about the job search from a recruiting and hiring manager perspective and people started writing me back, and emailing me and I was able to create a candidate funnel that could quickly fill my job openings.

In early 2010, I gave my first talk at the SHRM National Conference that discussed the use of social media and technology to drive innovation and change within the HR industry, but my first love has been recruiting since 2001 when I found myself the HR Manager at a rural Target store in Garden City, Kansas.

See what Jessica’s up to at Workology!

Wendy Dailey

Talent Acquisition Professional and HR Blogger

Wendy Dailey is an experienced talent acquisition professional, and Girl Scout mom. She’s also an HR blogger & podcaster, providing her insights on the HR community, her own HR experience, and information about other HR professionals!

How has the role of HR changed since the pandemic? How will it continue to evolve in the coming years?

HR became a lot more flexible since the pandemic! HR was there to interpret the changing laws and adapting workspaces. HR became the go-to for updates. HR professionals that were already staying up to date with what was happening in the world, who were learning and growing and always striving to be better professionals, were ready to jump in and help the rest of the organization adjust. Those HR professionals are going to continue to succeed.

How do you think HR can make a meaningful impact on DEI in 2021? What are the most important priorities?

We need to be intentional about DEI. We cannot hide behind “we just want the best person for the job.” We need to look internally and ask, “Who can we promote? Who isn’t represented in our leadership teams?” Once we know who is missing, we need to go out and find them. Once we bring them in, we need to make them feel welcome and a part of the team. We need to ensure our onboarding feels the same whether in person or remote so that they feel they are a part of the team.

See what Wendy’s up to at My Dailey Journey and on her Twitter!

Madison Butler

VP, People+ Impact at GRAV®

Madison Butler is a New Englander at heart but moved to Austin in 2017. Her work is focused around creating equitable spaces and creating scalable strategies to achieve psychological safety. She is an outspoken advocate for mental health, removing the stigma around trauma, DEI and the ability to be “human at work”. She is passionate about facilitating hard conversations through storytelling, data and tough empathy.

She has a background in talent development and attraction paired with a deep knowledge of DEI and culture.

What made you decide to get into HR? What do you love about it?

To be transparent, I don’t refer to myself as HR but typically use the “People” umbrella. I initially started in recruiting and continued to want to create impact on larger scales. I love that I can help craft and shape organizations to make them safe for all people.

What advice do you have for other women in HR?

Stand in your truth. Oftentimes it feels as if the world is asking us to shrink, to make others comfortable- do not shrink. Doing the right thing, and standing for the right things will not always make others comfortable.

See what Madison’s up to at GRAV® !

Tracie Sponeburg

CPO of The Granite Group

Tracie Sponenberg is Chief People Officer of The Granite Group, a wholesale distributor with nearly 50 locations across New England. She has spent her career working with CEOs to align people & business strategies, working in industries like publishing, health and wellness, and professional services. Formerly a paper-pushing, compliance-driven HR person, she became a people-first business leader several years ago, and has since made it a mission to help others do the same, through speaking around globe, co-founding DisruptHRNH and HRRebooted, and writing daily short LinkedIn blogs. A bookworm & introvert, several years ago started getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and it changed her life for the better.

How do you think HR can make a meaningful impact on DEI in 2021? What are the most important priorities?

If you are doing nothing surrounding DEI, start now. Start by learning and educating yourself. Remember DEI is not an initiative. It is the work of a lifetime, and you will continue to learn and grow every single day. And REALLY DO THE WORK. Being bold and brave comes in handy here, since you cannot just “be diverse, equitable and inclusive.” You need to fund it. DEI committees and ERG need money to make things happen. Every company has different focus areas, but if you aren’t developing a diverse pipeline of candidates already, start there. If you continue to just throw an ad out on your normal sites, nothing is going to change. Go to where candidates are. You’re really missing out on some incredible talent if you don’t.

What are some of the biggest challenges that women are facing in the workplace, and what’s HR’s role in that? How have you personally been affected by patriarchy in the workplace?

This past year has seen women, particularly mothers, leave the workplace at an alarming rate. That is going to have a far-reaching impact on pay equity, and it is going to have a huge impact on our businesses by losing so much talent.

It’s going to have a greater impact on the professional future of these women. As businesses, we need to stop fitting people into our companies, our cultures, and start designing work and our companies around our people and our future people. If a job allows for remote work, there is no reason why that shouldn’t be an option. Flexibility is critical, and is possible even with front line workers. For companies with mostly office workers, view work as a thing, not a place. And let your people decide when, where and how to do it.

My introduction to patriarchy in the workplace started at the age of 15, when I got my first job at a grocery store where the male employees were baggers and the female employees were cashiers or clerks. I was assigned to the full service bakery and was told, “that way you don’t have to handle money!” with probably a “honey” thrown on at the end. In my first full-time job, I was marked as “not professional” on my review for wearing a skirt that was shorter than regulation. I’ve been shut down, shut up, told not to speak, criticized for my appearance, attire, attitude, and more. Everywhere, except for at my current company. It’s the most welcoming, embracing place I’ve ever worked. And it is, ironically, and for now, 85% male. It’s not only possible to eliminate the patriarchy in the workplace, it’s necessary.

See what Tracie’s up to at The Granite Group !

These are some of the women that are dedicated to their field and are making sure to take up space in a male-dominated workforce. They make sure that their voices are heard loud and clear so that other women may do the same. We hope you gained something from this look at these inspirational ladies, and that you do your part to support the women in your organization.

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