Women in Leadership: Diane Pearse

Diane Pearse CEO Hickory Farms (MBA ’86)
Diane Pearse
Hickory Farms
(MBA ’86)

Good leaders need to be strong, smart, decisive and authentic.”

Was there a delicious basket of goodies from Hickory Farms shared at one of your holiday gatherings last year? Is there a Redbox DVD sitting on your counter? Do you get excited when you get a gift in the iconic black-and-white box from Crate & Barrel? Have you filled your tank with BP Amoco gas recently?

These are some of the omnipresent brands Diane Pearse has helped shape during her career. Currently the CEO and president of Hickory Farms, LLC, Pearse has witnessed a world of change for women employees and women leaders during her 35-plus years in business.

“Earlier in my career, I needed to fit the mold to show I was part of the team,” she explains. There were times she compromised who she was to fit in, she says, like the time in her late 20s, in the male-dominated world of oil and gas, when an offensive cartoon of a Playboy bunny was shown at a meeting to make a point.

“I had to laugh along, despite the fact that I was mortified,” she says. “I couldn’t go to HR and make a complaint. I had to be one of the boys and go along. It was a time when women were patiently gaining momentum in the workplace.”

At times, she stifled her warm personality. “I hug people,” she confesses, but that was not acceptable in the business environment of the 1980s.

The business environment has evolved since then. “It is OK to show vulnerability and say that I don’t know how to do (this thing) or that I need someone’s help,” she notes, and she does these things without hesitation in her career today. This is a stark contrast to the business atmosphere three decades ago. Then, she recalls, “Leaders thought that strength came from a façade and that they couldn’t show weakness.”

That’s one reason why authenticity is so important to her. “Authenticity lets people know who you are, what they can expect from you and that you are being true to your word.” It’s the reason people she worked with at previous jobs followed her to Hickory Farms. “They say, ‘I’m here because of Diane. I’m doing this for you.’” Being genuine motivates staff to give something extra to get the job done right, she believes.

“Millennial women don’t realize how different it is now,” Pearse says. “Today, women are looked at for our work. We have an equal opportunity to rise in our careers, just as the man sitting next to us does. We share household and child responsibilities with our partner and don’t have to choose whose career will be put on hold. Millennial women can relish the fact that so many women before them made the opportunities of today possible.”

Yet, Pearse believed the traits of a good leader are the same no matter one’s gender. “Good leaders need to be strong, smart, decisive and authentic.

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