Level Up: Next-Gen Leaders – Pamela Morris-Thornton

At the 2024 NextUp Executive Symposium & Forum, we had the honor of hearing from a panel of HR executives who are dedicated to solving the pipeline challenge while mentoring the next generation of leaders. Research from the IBM Institute for Business Value shows that the pipeline of women leaders has weakened since 2019, with a worrisome trend of hollowing out the middle of the pipeline.1 Leaders such as Pamela Morris-Thornton, Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) of Advantage Solutions, are dedicated to solving the pipeline challenges and mentoring the next generation of leaders.

What drove you to become a CHRO? What is it about this role that you love?

I love that being a Chief Human Resources Officer is about the people and the ability to help them unlock their professional dreams. Helping an organization meet business goals with and through our people is important to me. It’s really not about the title, but about how I can have the greatest impact leveraging the one thing I’m most passionate about… PEOPLE!

What do you find most challenging about being a CHRO in 2024?

I find the ever-changing business demands, macroeconomics, and staying nimble to be the most challenging. You have to be able to pivot quickly and make fast decisions.

As you think about gender equity and inclusion in the workplace, what are your company’s ambitions and goals? 

Our ambition is to ensure that all teammates feel seen, heard, understood, respected, valued, and that they find a place where they can grow their careers and achieve their personal and professional dreams. This is why we have a focus on increasing our leadership representation for female and BIPOC leaders (director+). Many of our future leader programs are focusing on developing women and BIPOC talent. We value our thoughtful and strategic partnerships with organizations that share the same ambitions, such as NextUp, Halion, McKinsey, Mentorclick, and culture activation for culture supervision.

What do you consider to be some of the biggest challenges as you focus on the next generation of leaders?

One of the biggest challenges is meeting people’s aspirations and expectations of wanting to be promoted while balancing realities. People can have lateral opportunities that give them learning experiences, but that doesn’t necessarily result in promotions. However, this can create more pressure on retention.  The real question becomes: what are you hearing from your employee base through employee engagement surveys, and how do you balance your ability to meet those expectations? In some instances, it’s a ‘what’s in it for me’ culture.

Another challenge is standing for something that aligns with others’ morals and values, and being able to articulate what those things are as an organization. This presents an opportunity to attract, retain, and grow talent.

What’s one thing that you try to do every single day in your role? What’s one thing you try not to do?

One thing I do every single day is to seek to understand regardless of the complexity.  I also try not to let my emotions get the best of me by staying levelheaded and listening for the facts.

We’re reading a lot about DEI initiatives coming under fire, but broadly, we’re seeing that the business community still supports the underlying principle that diversity is good for business. What are your thoughts on the public conversation around DEI right now?

Companies have to stand for something.  It’s part of your identity.  Being bullish and not shrinking is more important now than ever.

Research is showing that women are dropping out of the leadership pipeline, particularly early in their careers. What is your company doing to keep the pipeline flowing? 

To keep the pipeline flowing, Advantage Solutions is focusing on leadership development and future leader programs. By having this leadership focus when you join the company, it means that we are being intentional about creating career paths.

Let’s move on to some light-hearted questions so our NextUp community can get to know you better. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

The best advice I’ve been given is to fail fast and apply the learnings so you don’t make the same mistake twice. There’s a quote by Maya Angelou that explains this beautifully.

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

  • Maya Angelou

How do you spend your plane time?

I usually use the time to work and think.

How do you feel about zoom calls – camera on or camera off? 

Camera on.

What’s the longest conference call you’ve ever been on?  

The longest conference call I’ve ever been on lasted six hours with Jack and Jill of America, Inc.

Interested in more from the Level Up: Next-Gen Leaders series? Click here to read the profile of Mike Thielmann, EVP and CHRO of Albertson Companies. Stay tuned for more CHROnicles from other HR executives who are actively working to solve pipeline challenges within their companies.


  1. IBM Institute for Business Value (2024)
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