March 4, 2022
Dr. Jill Tiefenthaler
CEO, National Geographic Society
President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Senior Vice President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Since its founding in 1888, The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that has been committed to exploring, illuminating, and protecting the wonders of Earth. Through world wars, social upheavals, and technological advancements, The National Geographic Society has continued to support explorers around the globe while pushing the boundaries of innovative leadership, especially for women in the workforce.
During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s 12th Annual International Women’s Day Forum, Dr. Jill Tiefenthaler, CEO of the National Geographic Society, discussed the Society’s impact, its diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts to support women leaders, and her own leadership lessons learned through her current role.
The National Geographic Society’s Commitment to Women in Leadership
One of the National Geographic Society’s key commitments in 2022 is diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) at every level of work. This focus is integral to the organization’s new strategic plan, NG Next.
“We're headed to a much more inclusive and accountable community and we've made great strides,” said Dr. Tiefenthaler, “In January we reached gender parity at the board level and our senior team is more than 60% women.”
In addition, Dr. Tiefenthaler noted that the Society has reached gender parity in its new explorers, with nearly half of its grants going to women.
National Geographic Society’s Social Impact
Since its inception, the National Geographic Society’s mission has been to “support explorers around the globe.” Under Dr. Tifenthaler’s leadership and the NG Next strategic plan, the National Geographic Society is much closer to achieving those goals.
“Sixty-five percent of our grants are now going to explorers around the world who are doing work in their own countries, rather than just sending Americans out to do work across the world,” beamed Dr. Tiefenthaler.
The impact doesn’t stop there, though. Over 130 years, the Society has awarded more than 15,000 grants to famous changemakers like Jane Goodall, as well as new explorers who are part of an incredibly diverse global community of scientists, conservationists, journalists, and educators.
In addition, Dr. Tiefenthaler mentioned the appointment of Dr. Paula Kahumbu to the Board of Trustees as the first-ever explorer trustee. “We're really proud of that work,” she added.
Listening and Collaboration Are the Keys to Leadership Success
Dr. Tiefenthaler came on board as the CEO of the National Geographic Society in early 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time of upheaval, she quickly developed and implemented a strategic plan to move forward, and she credits her success to listening and global collaboration.
“I'm a true believer in incredibly deep listening,” explained Dr. Tiefenthaler “When I got here, I … [took] about four months to do a listening tour … [and] I was able to reach out to our global community.”
After her listening tour, she shared back a 40-page summary of what she had heard and asked for feedback, which affirmed The Society’s strengths and what work it needed to do to improve.
“I led a very inclusive process,” explained Dr. Tiefenthaler. “We had five months, 400 people, and about 6,000 virtual sticky notes. Our collective input really resulted in our [current] mission.”
In regards to global collaboration, Dr. Tiefenthaler knows leadership is not a one-person job.
“[It’s] not just my strategy, right?” she said. “It's the entire community strategy and people own it and are a part of it.”