From the outset of her legal career, Heidi Naunton wanted to make a difference. At first, she thought it might be in criminal law, attracted to the idea of impacting her community by helping people navigate the legal system.
But when she joined Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP as a paralegal, she discovered a love for corporate law and an ability to pursue pro bono work, satisfying her urge to give back to the community and help those in need. Since then, these passions have run hand-in-hand and continue to drive the leader, who currently serves as senior vice president, senior counsel, and assistant secretary at Paramount Global.
“I approach my day job with true dedication and commitment, but I think it’s also important to make my individual contribution,” says Naunton, who has worked for Paramount Global (or its predecessor) for nearly seventeen years. “Real people are impacted by the success of the company, but when you’re working with an individual directly on an issue that really matters in that person’s life, it takes on a whole different meaning.”
Through Naunton’s longstanding commitment to pro bono work, she has helped obtain new identities for a domestic violence victim and her minor children; advocated on behalf of a mentally ill inmate facing the death penalty; helped secure US asylum for a family politically persecuted in their home country; and obtained a legal name change for a transgender individual. She has also co-chaired her company’s pro bono committee and helped organize pro bono programming for the rest of the organization.
Heidi Naunton on Her Passion for Climate and Sustainability
Those experiences are inseparable from the leader she is today, she says.
Naunton’s work with a broad spectrum of people and personalities, from diverse backgrounds and with different life experiences, influences the way she interacts with her key business stakeholders, her department colleagues, and her team.
“Between my pro bono clients, lawyers at all levels with whom I’ve worked, and other personal and professional relationships, I’ve met people with many different kinds of personalities, dynamics, workstyles, and emotional needs. And I’ve learned that, as a leader, it helps to meet people where they are,” Naunton advises. “I try to remember that everyone comes from different backgrounds and sets of circumstances that have shaped the way they approach and perceive the world. If we can remember that, it helps foster empathy and collaboration.” To her, maintaining that mindset makes business conversations, especially difficult ones, more effective and productive.
In running a team of six, Naunton must remember each person comes with individual assets. “As a group, my team is consistently performing at the highest level, but it’s important to recognize that each person has different strengths,” she emphasizes. “The more we can lean into those, the better equipped we are as a team.”
By leveraging her team members’ individual strengths, Naunton is able to stay on top of the influx of regulatory activity from the SEC and other regulation-setting bodies.
The SEC has been busy issuing extensive new rules and interpretive guidance on a variety of matters like cybersecurity, executive compensation, and sustainability initiatives, Naunton explains. “It’s our job to stay on top of it all, so I’m very fortunate to have a terrific team to support me and help navigate through it,” she says.
Another area the leader and her team have dialed into has been supporting Paramount’s Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) work. Naunton and her colleagues have spent time helping investors understand why ESG initiatives are good for business and in investors’ best interests.
3 ESG Goals
- On-Screen Content and Social Impact: Pursue original research to better understand effective ways of portraying underrepresented communities.
- Workforce and Culture: Improve organizational engagement from seventy-four percent to eighty-one percent favorable by 2025.
- Sustainable Production and Operations: Assess what it would take for Paramount to reach net-zero GHG emissions across global value chain.
Source: 2022-2023 Paramount ESG Report
“The way we see it is that by focusing on things like diversity, inclusion, and sustainability, we are being the most value-driven company that we can be. For example, as a content powerhouse, we are uniquely positioned to both reflect and influence culture,” Naunton emphasizes. “We use our content and platforms not only to entertain, but to engage, represent, and champion issues that resonate with our consumers, such as social justice, civic engagement, and climate change.”
Outside of work, Naunton is serving her community in other ways. She serves on the board of Get Schooled, a nonprofit that helps young people get into college, find first jobs, and succeed in their endeavors.
“Heidi is a decisive and solution-focused leader, and her ability to build strong, highly diverse teams is remarkable. We have been lucky to partner with Heidi and her Paramount Global team for many years.”
—Lona Nallengara and Gillian Emmett Moldowan, Partners