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HR Execs: 14 Most Influential HR Women in 2015

Just like many career fields, the field of human resources was once populated largely, when not exclusively, by men. However, the unstated company policy against employing women in executive HR positions has changed, and the glass ceiling women once faced in the upper echelons of human resources has been breached by many highly-skilled and talented women.

Women have gone from signing employment contracts to negotiating sales agreements, but there is still quite a bit of progress to be made before women achieve true parity with men in the HR field.

The fourteen women profiled below are examples of gifted, driven HR professionals that have made impressive and valuable contributions to their respective firms and the HR field in general. They also show the range of assets that women can bring to the top levels of HR leadership.

Marcia J. Avedon

Marcia J. Avedon is senior vice president of Human Resources, Communications and Corporate Affairs at Ingersoll Rand. She has served as such for over eight years, and her current responsibilities include leading global human resources as well as corporate communications, brand management, government affairs, and community relations. Avedon is also the vice chair of the board of governors for the Center for Creative Leadership.

Prior to these prestigious positions, Avedon served as the chief HR officer of Merck & Co. after holding progressively higher positions in human resources and communications with Honeywell and Anheuser-Busch. Avedon started her Human Resources journey as a consultant to Booz, Allen & Hamilton. She was named a fellow of the National Academy of Human Resources in 2013.

Marcia holds a M.Phil., a Ph.D. in industrial/organizational psychology from George Washington University as well as a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

Katy Barclay

Katy Barclay is the senior vice president of Human Resources at The Kroger Co. She joined Kroger in 2010, after having previously been the vice president of global human resources for General Motors Corp (GM). At GM she led the automaker’s global HR organization, focusing on building the company’s strategic HR capability worldwide.

Barclay also leads all HR functions within the organization at Kroger, including leadership development, succession planning, associate engagement, talent development and total rewards.

Barclay was inducted into the National Academy of Human Resources in its 2000 Class of Fellows. She also serves as chair of the NAHR board of directors, and has been named to Human Resource Executive’s HR Honor Roll.

Barclay has also been included on Automotive News’ 100 Leading Women list three different times. Previously a board member of The Hispanic Scholarship Fund and the Henry Ford Health Care system, she also serves on the board of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and was the 2013 recipient of the YWCA's Career Woman of Achievement Award. Barclay holds an MBA from MIT and a Bachelor’s degree in business from Michigan State University.

Susan Chambers

Susan Chambers is the executive vice president of the Global People Division for Walmart Stores Inc. Chambers, as Walmart's chief human resource officer, has more than 27 years of experience in the manufacturing and retailing industries, and is responsible for managing, attracting and retaining the largest private U.S. workforce of 1.3 million associates (more than 2 million worldwide).

At her present position, Chambers spearheads compensation, recruiting, development and retention initiatives as well as benefits and communications. In addition, she is responsible for human resource technology, culture and regulatory issues. She is also head of Walmart's global diversity office.

Before joining Walmart in 1999, she worked for fourteen years with Hallmark Cards Inc. as the director of applications development. She was named on Fortune magazine's list of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” for five consecutive years.

Chambers is also involved in several different areas, including regional workforce development and education. She also serves on the board of trustees at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, and on Duke University's board of visitors of the Fuqua School of Business.

Diane Gherson

Diane Gherson is the senior vice president of Human Resources at IBM. Gherson is responsible for IBM’s quality of leadership and talent, workforce strategies and global HR operations. Before IBM, Gherson was vice president of talent at IBM.

In that position, she led its leadership development and succession planning, learning, career development, workforce management, global mobility and recruitment functions worldwide. As vice president of talent, IBM was the first company to be twice named No. 1 in Fortune magazine’s “Global Top Company for Leaders” study.

She was also awarded a U.S. patent in the field of predictive analytics. Before that, Gherson led the HR department for IBM Global Business Services, where she was responsible for global HR strategy and execution. While there, she built out the firm’s global IT delivery centers. From 2002 to 2005, Gherson was vice president of compensation and benefits for IBM, where she renovated IBM’s portfolio to drive greater value for the enterprise.

Gherson joined IBM in 2002 after working for consulting firm Towers Watson, where she led their worldwide employee and performance management compensation practice. She holds a Master’s degree in industrial and labor relations from Cornell University and completed coursework toward a Ph.D. in management at M.I.T. Sloan School of Management. She also serves on the HR Policy Association board of directors.

Mirian M. Graddick-Weir

Mirian M. Graddick-Weir is the executive vice president of Human Resources at Merck & Co. She began at Merck in 2006 after a stint with AT&T, where she was executive vice president of human resources and employee communications for five years. She is a member of the boards of Yum! Brands Inc., the HR Policy Association (chair) and the Cornell Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies.

Graddick-Weir is also a fellow at the National Academy of Human Resources and a member of the Personnel Roundtable. Among the awards she has garnered in her career are the Distinguished Psychologist in Management award in 2003, HRE’s HR Executive of the Year award in 2001, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of Michigan in 2012, and the 2014 Academy of Management’s Distinguished HR Executive Award.

Tracy Keogh

Tracy Keogh is executive vice president of Human Resources at Hewlett-Packard Co. Keogh began at Hewlett-Packard Co. in 2011 after coming from Hewitt Associates, where she was the senior vice president of human resources.

As Hewlett-Packard’s HR leader, Keogh has responsibility for HP’s strategic global HR activities, including workforce development and organization effectiveness, benefits and compensation, staffing, global inclusion and diversity, and HR processes and information management.

Keogh was named a global Top 10 Breakaway Leader in Human Resources by the leadership-development academy Evanta in 2013. She also sits on the boards of the Anita Borg Institute, the HR Policy Association and the Cornell Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies at Cornell University.

Keogh has a Master's degree in Business Administration from the Harvard Business School and a Bachelor's degree in psychology from Smith College. She also attended the University of Geneva in Switzerland.

Pamela O. Kimmet

Pamela O. Kimmet is the senior vice president of Human Resources at Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. Kimmet's time with Coca-Cola Enterprises has included shepherding the revamping of the HR department’s service-delivery model and effectively integrating CCE’s acquisition of Coca-Cola's Norwegian and Swedish bottlers to become the world's third-largest independent Coca-Cola bottler.

Kimmet chairs the board of the National Business Group on Health, and also sits on the boards of the HR Policy Association and Cornell University’s Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies.

Prior to Coca-Cola, Kimmet held the position of senior managing director and head of global human resources administration for Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc. From 2001 to 2006, she was senior vice president of Human Resources for Lucent Technologies. Kimmet was also the vice president of compensation, benefits and health services at Lucent Technologies.

While at Citigroup, from 1996 to 2000, she was in several leadership positions of increasing responsibility in the company's compensation and benefits department, ending as vice president and director of compensation and benefits.

Kimmet began at General Motors Corporation, working in a number of human resources roles. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University and her MBA from Michigan State University.

Mary George Opperman

Mary George Opperman is the vice president for Human Resources and Safety Services at Cornell University. She has been a central organizational strategist and policy maker for Cornell University for almost two decades. She collaborates with HR professionals within the colleges and other units, and the university’s leaders, including Cornell’s president, provost and board of trustees, on a wide variety of human resources issues.

Cornell has received numerous workplace awards during Opperman’s tenure there, including recognition as a best employer for working mothers, prospective and adoptive parents, IT professionals, veterans, workers over age 50 and women executives.

Opperman has also shown a significant commitment to volunteer services, and serves on several boards of local organizations. Before coming to Cornell, Opperman spent 13 years in the human resource function at Harvard University. She is certified as a senior professional in human resources and is a graduate of SUNY Oneonta.

Susan P. Peters

Susan P. Peters is the senior vice president of Human Resources at General Electric. Peters oversees a department that is key to the success of GE’s renowned leadership development program, a program that has produced leaders who have gone on to make significant contributions at other companies, in addition to improving GE.

Before becoming senior vice president, Peters was highly instrumental in training GE’s up-and-coming leadership as its chief learning officer and vice president for executive development.

Peters came to GE through its HR management program at GE Appliances in 1979, transitioning into HR management positions at its air-conditioning and plastics businesses prior to promotion to the senior HR manager for GE Appliances in Louisville, Kentucky.

Before taking charge of GE’s executive development program in 2001, Peters was the executive vice president of HR for NBC. She is also on the board of directors of Girl Scouts USA.

Peters graduated from St. Mary's College, Notre Dame, with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, and from the University of Virginia with a Master's of Education.

Mara Swan

Mara Swan is the executive vice president of Global Strategy and Talent at ManpowerGroup. Not only does Swan lead the human resources department at ManpowerGroup, one of the world's largest staffing firms, she also manages the company’s Right Management consulting business.

Swan was named HRE’s HR Executive of the Year in 2012, and one of the 15 Most Powerful Women in HR by the same magazine in 2015. She is a perennial speaker at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and co-chairs the WEF's Global Agenda Council on Gender Parity. She also holds leadership positions at the Personnel Roundtable and the HR Policy Association.

Swan is on the Board of GOJO Industries Inc., and became a Fellow of the National Academy of Human Resources (NAHR) in 2012. In addition to her professional work, Swan chairs the compensation committee of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee. Swan holds a Bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Buffalo and a Master's degree in industrial relations from the University of Minnesota.

Sharon C. Taylor

Sharon C. Taylor is the senior vice president of human resources at Prudential Financial Inc. She has been the head of human resources at Prudential since 2002, reporting to the company's chairman.

At Prudential she manages the HR policies, strategies, programs and infrastructure that support the company’s domestic and international businesses. Additionally, Taylor has oversight of Prudential’s Office of Corporate Social Responsibility and is chair of the Prudential Foundation. She is also the chair of the Newark Alliance, and serves on several boards, including the American Repertory Ballet, the HR Policy Association and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

Prior to Taylor’s current position, she was the corporate vice president of Human Resources, accountable for leading Human Resources’ 13 Centers of Excellence. Taylor has also been corporate vice president of Human Resources and ethics officer for Prudential’s Domestic Insurance Group, and vice president of Human Resources for Prudential Financial’s Operations and Systems Group.

Taylor has held leadership roles in Prudential Financial’s Minority Interchange and is a founding member of the company’s Black Leadership Forum. Taylor graduated magna cum laude from Temple University, where she earned a Bachelor's degree in foreign languages.

Johnna G. Torsone

Johnna G. Torsone is the executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Pitney Bowes Inc. Torsone's duties consist of developing HR business strategies, strategic talent management and succession planning, diversity, total rewards and analytics, employee relations and shared professional and transactional services.

Previously an attorney, she has served in her current role since 1993. She has also been the interim general counsel and currently serves as chair of the Pitney Bowes Foundation. Torsone is a member of the National Academy of Human Resources and the governing body of the NY HR Forum.

She serves or has served on the boards of the HR Policy Association, Albany Law School, the American Health Policy Institute and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. Torsone graduated from both Vassar College and Albany Law School with honors, finishing in the top 5% of her class at Albany and serving as managing director of the Law Review in her last year.

Cynthia M. Trudell

Cynthia M. Trudell is the executive vice president of HR and chief HR officer at PepsiCo. Trudell has led the company’s HR department since 2007.

As executive vice president, she oversees the company’s HR strategy and partners with PepsiCo’s businesses around the globe to develop the talent and leadership needed to increase innovation and spur sustainable growth.

Before joining PepsiCo, Trudell served as president of Sea Ray Group and held general management roles at General Motors. Trudell also served on PepsiCo's board of directors from 2000 to 2007, when she resigned to accept her current position. She also served on PepsiCo Bottling's board of directors from 2008 to 2010, leading up to that company's acquisition by PepsiCo.

She began her career with the Ford Motor Co. as a chemical process engineer. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Acadia University in Nova Scotia, and a Doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Windsor.

Gretchen Zech

Gretchen Zech is the senior vice president of global human resources for Arrow Electronics Inc. Since assuming the position in 2011, Zech's achievements have included leading Arrow's talent identification and retention strategy for key leadership roles, collaborating with various committees and Arrow CEO Michael J. Long to design and implement executive compensation programs, and directing the design and delivery of Arrow's HR product-and-service portfolio.

Previously a mentor and coach in Menttium 100’s cross-company mentoring program for high-performing women, and sitting on the board of directors of the Girl Scouts of Colorado, Zech also serves on the board of the Society for Human Resource Management, which has 275,000 members in more than 160 countries.

Zech holds a Bachelor's degree in human resources management from The University of Michigan. She also holds professional designations including senior certified professional (SHRM-SCP) from the Society for Human Resource Management, as well as senior professional in human resources (SPHR) and global professional in human resources (GPHR) from the Human Resource Certification Institute.

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