TecHRseries Interview with Kelly Lockwood Primus, CEO & President, at Leading Women

Today’s typical HR leader has a lot more to focus on, besides the essential hiring and recruitment services to also ensuring gender equality and parity as well as diversity and inclusion norms and practices. While the role of HR and the responsibilities associated to it are rapidly evolving, Kelly Lockwood Primus, CEO & President, at Leading Women, a premier consulting firm for companies committed to achieving goals for women’s advancement joins us in this interview to share some thoughts.


Tell us a little about yourself Kelly…

I spent the first 20 years of my career working in the consumer products industry with a focus on marketing and communications roles, and was often the only woman at the table in the organization’s leadership team. My passion as an advocate for women turned into an opportunity to switch careers in 2010, and I joined a non-profit women’s leadership organization supporting the food service industry, where I helped establish them as an authority for women’s leadership development in that industry. It was that experience that led me to join Leading Women in 2013. I was appointed CEO earlier this year and what a year it has been!

What inspired the start of Leading Women?

Leading Women was founded in 2003 by Susan Colantuono, a leadership expert whose research identified The Missing 33% – the competencies necessary to be seen as a business leader – that conventional career advice to women did not include. This precipitated the creation of leadership development programs to address this missing information.

What are your observations when it comes to the gender misbalance in the SaaS / Tech industry?

There are multiple challenges to having more women leaders in this industry. The first, and most often cited by senior executives, it is the disproportionate amount of men vs. women graduating with technical degrees, making it more difficult to hire women. Second, most organizations have a culture that is not supportive of women, making it difficult to engage & retain them long enough to have them move up within the organization. Third, it is well known that managers like to hire and promote people who are like them, which in many cases means the promotions go to men over women. And finally, in general, men and women have very different leadership styles, which poses an issue for women as their collaborative style shows up as a lack of leadership in a male dominated organization.

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In what ways would you advise HR teams and other business leaders to contribute towards moving high-performing women through the leadership pipeline / hierarchy?

There are several ways organizations can engage and retain high performing women. First is fixing the culture. It is important to identify the Gender Dynamics that exist within the organization. These are the mindsets the leaders have, that drive talent decisions, that must be altered to level the playing field. This shift  in mindsets will help shift the culture of the organization to be more inclusive of women. Second, it is critical that the leadership of the organization demonstrate their commitment to gender balance in leadership.

Third, it is important to provide opportunities for leadership development for these women. And, they should also identify and train mentors to support these high potential women leaders.

What are your predictions when it comes to the future of work and gender misbalance: do you see this iron out in the next few years?

No. Changing organizational culture to be more inclusive takes time, and a commitment to consistent evolution. When your employee population is only 15 – 25% female, it will take time to recruit, hire, engage, develop, retain and promote enough women to alter that percentage throughout your talent pipeline. But it’s important to set a gender balance strategy with annual plans on how you will approach making this evolution happen.

What according to you are some of the basic age-old thoughts that companies may still foster when it comes to women’s pay (equal pay) and a seat at the executive table?

I think there are many companies who are trying to eliminate the wage gap, but there are a few mindsets that get in the way. The fact that men ask for raises (and receive them) more frequently than women also hampers this situation. It is critical for companies to use their data to drive their decisions on pay and fairness.

When senior leaders are committed to gender balance, and a successfully implemented strategy for achieving it is in place, then you will begin to see more women rise up through the ranks to join the executive team.

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What other facilities / support systems do you feel should be basic must-haves in organizations to help create a more conducive and balanced workplace culture for all genders?

A thorough review of their talent management and performance management programs and policies is necessary to eliminate gender bias. Updated policies on flexible working arrangements will be needed. Mentoring of high potential women leaders on business, strategic and financial acumen is crucial to their success.

Can you talk about some top women leaders that are a source of motivation for most?

In the SaaS / Tech industry that would include current leaders Sheryl Sandberg (COO, Facebook), Safra Catz (CEO, Oracle), and former leaders Ginni Rometty (former CEO, IBM) Donna Dubinsky (former CEO, Palm), Margaret Hamilton (MIT), Gladys West (IBM), Radia Pearlman, Grace Hopper.

A few tips for organizations to keep in mind when it comes to creating a workplace culture that supports genders and a diverse and inclusive model?

  • Focus on making performance reviews and succession plans fair and inclusive
  • Make sure there are gender diverse teams on projects and make sure the project leader allows female team members voices and ideas be heard in meetings
  • Engage senior leaders in demonstrating their support of gender diversity
  • Provide mentors for high potential female employees
  • Provide development opportunities for high potential female employees

And…a few last moment tips for businesses worldwide dealing with the current world pandemic

  • Recognize that not all voices will be heard on remote calls and actively seek input from those who are quiet
  • Understand that not all “work from home” situations are the same – women employees are baring the brunt of childcare duties when schools and daycares are closed
  • Encourage your team to take breaks during the day and care for themselves to help them manage the stress



Leading Women is shaping the future of workplace dynamics by advocating women’s advancement and engaging male allies to bring gender balance to leadership. Our proprietary groundbreaking global research that identified “The Missing 33%™” revolutionized Women’s Leadership Development. Combined with our Consulting Services and Gender Dynamics programs, we equip organizations for transformational workplace change. Our consultative and collaborative approach ensures that high-performing women are moving confidently and consistently through your leadership pipeline. For more than fifteen years, Leading Women’s innovative solutions have transformed leadership teams at a variety of organizations across diverse industries—worldwide.