January 25, 2018 — Below is a blog from our Catalyst CEO Champions For Change storytelling series, "Spotlight Stories." Over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing these stories to show what’s working at Catalyst Champion companies that help to advance women into leadership.
Denise Morrison, President and CEO of Campbell Soup Company, has long been passionate about seeing more women in leadership roles. As one of very few women CEOs in the Fortune 500, and the first woman CEO in Campbell’s history, Morrison has all too often had the experience of being the only woman in the room—and she is fully committed to changing this.
She has demonstrated her commitment to elevating women in the workplace again and again, including by co-founding the now extensive Women of Campbell network back in 2003 and acting as its executive sponsor today. Morrison’s most recent effort—Be Real Mentoring Circles—is truly reflective of who she is as a leader. The program leverages her personal experiences, insights, and guiding principles that have shaped her career. Principles like this one, from Morrison:
"Some of the wisest words ever spoken to me were from my mother, who told me that ambition is part of femininity. These words have been a powerful insight for me throughout my career, and I hope they inspire women everywhere."
Launched on International Women’s Day in March 2017, the Be Real program was born out of Morrison’s acknowledgment that Campbell simply did not have enough women or women of color at the most senior levels. It was developed specifically to solve this problem by cultivating and retaining women leaders by enhancing leadership capabilities, broadening professional networks, promoting learning and development, and building confidence. According to Morrison:
"We know that diverse leadership teams and workforces with a wide array of backgrounds, perspectives, and ideas are a not-so-secret recipe for success. Diversity offers a competitive advantage in a global economy, helps us forge stronger connections with our consumers, and is the underpinning of a culture of innovation. The path to diversity begins with supporting, mentoring, and sponsoring our people to be leaders and entrepreneurs."
For her part, Morrison has committed to dedicate one of her most limited resources, her time, by acting as personal mentor to 20 women leaders at Campbell. During their in-depth bimonthly meetings, she and her mentees work through the fundamentals that have served her so well over the years. They establish personal missions, create critical career pathways, identify where they need to fill experience gaps, and work together to expand their networks and advocacy bases. As Morrison regularly reminds the women she works with, “networking is working.”
In exchange, she has asked her mentees to commit in kind by establishing and facilitating their own mentoring circles—creating a multiplier effect across the organization. These spin-off circles meet every other month, and while facilitators are provided with a guide to help them frame discussions, they are also encouraged to use and share what they have learned from their sessions with Morrison. Above all, facilitators and participants are charged with being “real.” That means bringing their authentic selves, issues, aspirations, and concerns—about work and life—to the group.
The women of Campbell are embracing this opportunity. While the program is still in a pilot, at roughly six months in, 132 women have already taken part in 18 Be Real circles. Program leads report that participants’ enthusiasm has been overwhelming. Tara Smith, Deputy Corporate Secretary and Corporate Counsel, who was recognized as one of the Profiles in Diversity Journal’s “Women Worth Watching” in 2016, says this program is perfectly reflective of Denise Morrison and the company as a whole:
"I've been privileged to be one of the women mentored by Denise, and now I'm ‘paying it forward’ by leading a Be Real circle. The commitment from our CEO and the creation of the circles embody our Campbell Purpose and Values, and are having a direct, positive impact on the career development and advancement of women at Campbell."
Another of Morrison’s mentees, Connie Sadowski, Director, Demand and Supply Planning, U.S. Biscuit and Bakery, puts it this way:
"Participating in a Be Real mentoring circle enabled a deeper and more meaningful connection to other thoughtful, caring, and inspiring women at Campbell. Our daily lives are completely full, juggling the requirements of work and home, and the Be Real mentoring circle gave permission to set aside time to take a step back, connect, and identify potential areas of both personal and professional growth. A deeper connection to ourselves and to our co-workers drives Campbell’s mission to live with purpose."
To Morrison, seeing this personal passion come to fruition is incredibly rewarding.
"Taking the time to share the lessons I’ve learned, to mentor and sponsor the next generation of female leaders so they can navigate their careers and achieve their dreams, is incredibly rewarding. I’m so excited about the potential these women have to lead smart business change within Campbell and beyond."
The legacy of this program will have far-reaching positive impact as these women prepare to follow in Morrison’s footsteps to the top of the corporate ladder, while also making time to take the next generation along with them.