We’re kicking off Women’s History Month by introducing our Global Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Paulette Gerkovich. Paulette tells us more about her new role, why she joined Simon-Kucher, and what she enjoys doing in her free time.
Paulette, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us today. Firstly, could you tell us a little about your role at Simon-Kucher & Partners and when you started?
Sure, it’s my pleasure! I joined Simon-Kucher two months ago as the Global Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I). My primary goal in this role is to ensure that our culture, systems, and practices are equitable and inclusive. We want our diverse workforce to achieve their career goals and create the opportunities for that to happen.
Why is DE&I important to you personally? And what value does it bring to businesses?
DE&I is a personal passion that probably first became real in high school. I always felt a bit out of place in my hometown. I think that made me more aware of others who might be feeling excluded. So, I did what seemed like small things, e.g., lobbying to create a more inclusive yearbook that featured photos of and stories about students who often seemed overlooked.
When I started working in the diversity field and began to learn about the tremendous benefits that arise from including disparate voices in all aspects of a business – more creative decision making, better solutions, an increased bottom line – things clicked. I could be a businesswoman doing work that felt incredibly meaningful!
What excites you most about joining Simon-Kucher & Partners and our particular DE&I journey?
Simon-Kucher has an excellent reputation and is continuously growing. There is no question that these things were important to my joining. But what really stands out and excites me about working here is the culture and the people.
The recruiting and interview process was impressive, and everyone I met was incredibly thoughtful, welcoming, and genuine – it was so refreshing, especially working in a field in which people often work hard to say what they think is the “right thing.”
I’m excited about Simon-Kucher’s DE&I journey for all these reasons: the genuine and forthcoming nature of its leadership, the thoughtfulness with which understanding the company’s own DE&I challenges was undertaken, and the clear commitment of those on the DE&I Committee to the work ahead.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you’ve seen organizations struggle with in the areas of DE&I?
Every organization is a bit different, but there are a few challenges that often crop up. First, is the mere concept of change. Change is a difficult process for human beings – our brains are literally wired to resist it. This is particularly true in DE&I which can feel like such a sensitive area. Helping associates understand that DE&I change is good for everyone is key. That’s a big undertaking but is absolutely critical.
A lot of companies also struggle with embracing the long-term nature of DE&I change. We’re accustomed to seeing business results on a quarterly or annual basis. Some of the change that DE&I seeks to make doesn’t occur in a month or even a year. Creating a strategy that includes short- and medium-term wins, in addition to sustaining commitment to long-term progress, is also key.
Another common issue is keeping attention on DE&I not just when business is good but when challenges crop up. Research shows that companies that maintain DE&I efforts during economic downturns come out in much better positions than those that don’t. That can be hard to remember when there are so many business challenges to address.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I like working cross-functionally and in teams of people who think and solve problems differently. We’re all better when we work with someone who has a different style or sees things from a different perspective. I try to create teams that reflect that. I then work with them to more deeply understand those differences and how they can be helpful to getting great work done.
For example, introverts often prefer time to quietly process before sharing ideas, while extroverts would often rather talk to someone to refine their ideas. I like to find out what conditions help each person be their best. I also like to help people understand how the work that they’re doing connects to the bigger picture of a project or overall business goal. Our individual roles are all connected to something greater and that can be incredibly motivational.
What is the best piece of career advice you’ve received, and what advice would you give to people on the same career path?
I was raised with a tremendous respect for people who work hard. It was later that someone helped me understand that hard work (1) doesn’t matter if no one knows about or understands what you’re doing, and (2) isn’t strategically directed.
In terms of advice, I’d share something that took me a long time to get comfortable with: you can have a very clear path set out for yourself, but it’s ok to deviate from that path and even create a brand-new one. That’s what it means to take advantage of opportunity and experience growth.
What are your passions outside of work?
My animals are my greatest passion! I ride and show dressage – I absolutely adore my two show horses, but there is something extra special about my rescue horse and two rescue dogs.
I also love to hike, do Pilates, take cycling classes, and travel (especially Norway and Iceland). You can almost always find me listening to music, but of course nothing beats live music, so I love going to concerts and operas.
That said, my absolute favorite times are sitting quietly with my husband while we each read a good book.
Paulette, thanks again for sharing your story with us! We are so excited to have you at Simon-Kucher and look forward to all the brilliant changes ahead.