Recognition of women leaders

The Top Women in Wellness and Human Resources, Class of 2021, work hard to ensure employee health, morale and productivity are at their highest, a feat during (and post) the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Kacey Larsen      
Top Women in Wellness and HR

Ragan’s Top Women in Wellness and Human Resources (HR), Class of 2021, honorees are leading the charge around employee health, DE&I, performance management, training and development, and so much more. The Class of 2021 recognizes 53 women for their ongoing work and accomplishments, as well as three Rising Stars. Four women also are named as Hall of Fame honorees in Ragan’s Top Women in Wellness and HR Awards.  

Each year, winners are recognized in an array of categories, including “Innovator,” “Dynamic Do-er,” “Rewards and Benefits Leader” and “Team Leader.” The category with the most 2021 honorees is the “Workplace Culture Leader.”  Five women from various departments at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) are recognized in the Top Women in Wellness and HR Awards, the most of any organization.

Here, some of this year’s award winner highlights:

  • Ann Beck, CFO of Renown Health, remained optimistic throughout the COVID-19 pandemic while also being transparent about the organization’s financial status with employees. Beck is an honoree in the “Financial Well-being Leader” category.
  • Kristina Ewing, wellness and benefits leader at Andersen Construction Company, is a certified trainer in mental health first aid and Question, Persuade and Refer (QPR)—a suicide prevention training program—who has the intention of training every employee. Ewing is an honoree in the “Mental Health Leader” category.
  • Teshia Davis, vice president, people and culture at SECU of Maryland, took on developing the organization’s internal messaging and its DE&I stance, resulting in the creation of a comprehensive road map to infuse DE&I into all SECU programs and efforts while keeping employees top of mind. Davis is an honoree in the “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leader” and “Trailblazer” categories.
  • Sally Smith, director of wellness services at Amazon, launched a range of diverse health and wellness solutions, including the WorkingWell program that aims to educate employees about body mechanics, wellness and injury prevention and has led to a decrease in musculoskeletal disorders at the company since launching globally. Smith is an honoree in the “Workplace Safety Leader” category.                                                                   

These inspirational women—and so many others recognized—champion their organizations’ employees and work hard to ensure quality, productivity, employee health and morale are at their highest.

Lessons in Leading

Four women also were recognized as Hall of Fame honorees in Ragan’s Top Women in Wellness and HR for the Class of 2021.

Margaret-Ann Cole

Margaret-Ann Cole, formerly Porter Novelli’s chief people and transformation officer, led Project Monarch in 2020-21, an organizational transformation effort. She also shifted the company from performance management to performance achievement, redesigning processes, implementing new technology and overseeing behavior change.

Under her leadership, the company implemented tools around DE&I recruiting, employee coaching and skills assessment. Additionally, Cole’s vision of bringing wellness programming to each employee manifested with offerings like Summer Fridays, No-Meeting Fridays and premium access to the Calm app.

Sandra Martinez

As the pandemic disrupted operations and lives around the world, Sandra Martinez, vice president of HR for supply chain and operations, technology for Samsung Electronics subsidiary HARMAN International, led business continuity efforts for a global workforce of 12,000 people across 12 sites in five countries. In her role, Martinez developed protocols to protect employees from the global health crisis and made plans to ensure operations continued.

Martinez institutionalized HARMAN’s DE&I strategy, framework and targets for the supply chain leadership, furthering executives’ awareness of company DE&I standards and values as they relate to organizational recruitment goals.

Michelle Sanchez-Bickley

As the chief human resources officer at Renown Health for nearly 19 years, Michelle Sanchez-Bickley has instituted a wide range of improvements in employee recruitment. Employee benefits at Renown also have been enhanced with Sanchez-Bickley’s guidance, including on-site career and rewards counseling sessions to maximize employee retention.

Sanchez-Bickley and the Renown team jumped into action on Feb. 25, 2020—earlier than most companies across the U.S. around the COVID-19 pandemic—with the establishment of Renown’s Hospital Incident Command System (HICS). This system organized response personnel and resources, as well as managed operations during emergencies and crisis.

Jacqueline Welch

Jacqueline Welch, The New York Times executive vice president and chief human resources officer, believes her biggest learning curve as an HR professional came during a four-year period between jobs when she spent two years as primary caregiver for her dad. This experience led Welch to think about wellness as an idea, supporting people who are caregivers and offerings that could help prepare people for such an event.

The intersection of physical, mental and financial health drive Welch’s thinking around wellness, especially that employees can’t be healthy if they’re worried about money. She also cautions to “avoid shiny objects,” and instead consider if a perk or benefit will actually serve and positively impact employees.


Learn more about the four Hall of Fame honorees and all the Top Women in Wellness and HR recipients in a complimentary special edition that highlights the influential work of all these women leaders.