Erica Good is a co-founder and COO at Amp Human. Naomi Clarkson is CCO at Amp Human. Both are not only passionate about the inclusivity pillar of the Amp Human brand, but dedicated to upholding it as a necessary transformational change in the world through the way they lead.
In terms of both economic success and social equality, why is it important for businesses to make space for female leadership?
Erica: The simple answer is because it's the right thing to do to correct the imbalance. Women hold half of the talent and more than half the college educated workforce is female. Since the talent pool is there and has been there for a very long time, half of leadership positions and economic success should sit with women too.
The real question then is what factors are businesses contributing to that such that leadership roles don't reflect parity? Ultimately companies need to remove the bias and inequities that lead to a footrace of equals ending in a massive divide.
Naomi: It’s said a lot, but you can’t be what you can’t see. If we don't have women in leadership positions then it's impossible to envision that for yourself or seek mentorship to succeed and thrive.
Additionally, having people from different backgrounds with different experiences, whether that be gender, race or sexuality, ultimately creates a much richer work environment for ideas and innovation that speak to a diverse society. If a company is dominated by one perspective, it’s capacity to succeed will be limited.
When you first entered the business world, what obstacles did you face that were directly related to being a woman?
Naomi: I was a journalist at the start of my career, and I really wanted to specialize in politics or foreign affairs. I was working really hard to prove myself on the news desk when an opening at the entertainment desk for a maternity cover popped up. We were in our usual morning meeting when the Editor said they needed someone to cover it. They looked around the room, 10 people, 8 men, 2 females (one already established on the news team and the other, me) so they decided that I was the best fit, just by looking at me. I left after 6 weeks of being reassigned as I was pretty miserable, there was nothing I knew less about and having spent 4 years studying politics, a year in a journalism masters, here I was, being stereotyped into a role. This type of stereotyping and assumption based on age, looks and gender is what’s plagued me throughout my career. People need to ask questions, get curious and not make assumptions to ensure they retain great talent and help rid the plague of unconscious bias.
What obstacles do you still face or see other women still facing? Have circumstances changed in the years since you first joined the business world?
Erica: There's still a massive amount of unconscious bias that plays out in the workplace, including language problems. There is a lot of assuming who I am and what my skills are and where my interests lie when first meeting me that are very different from the assumptions made about my male co-founder. There’s a different path he and I take in conversation to gain respect. It's initially granted to him, but I have to be on my toes and make sure that I really earn it. What I think is really needed is a way to get to a more gender neutral understanding of what leadership and strength are. The language around strength is masculine: alpha male, stud. And then on the weak side, the words are feminine - you know the words I mean. That sets up an environment where it's very easy to associate strength with masculinity and weakness with femininity. It’s a very big problem that ultimately will need to be rooted out of the work environment.
Naomi: 100% things have changed. You can now have conversations that were previously very difficult to have. When I first joined the professional world, if I had ever raised the idea of unconscious bias training, I would have been cast out as some “crazy feminist” and would have been put in the box of “antagonist”, cast out from the “boys club”. There have been some huge movements and conversation shifts, which have opened up a huge learning opportunity for people to uncover their unconscious bias and be an ally.
As a team at Amp Human, we focus on internal training so we have a common language. If we see or hear anything, we welcome our team to address it. We use it as a learning opportunity. Unfortunately, it is so rare to be in an environment where that is championed and accepted, and everybody is open to learning. It’s my hope that all businesses move towards cultures where emotional safety and learning are placed above ego and privilege.
Can you think of a moment in your professional journey that was pivotal in your understanding of the inequalities women often face?
Erica: In my mind, there are big moments and there are small moments. And sometimes I think there's an overemphasis on the big moments. There was a time when I sought removal of a director due to sexism, and still my fellow directors speak of it as a one moment instead of a year of an ongoing pattern of behavior that negatively affected me and slipped their radar. It is so important to me that people realize how pervasive the constant drip, drip, drip of gender bias is and that it is not rare. It’s not like you deal with sexism once a year. You deal with sexism at least once a week.
Change will come when more and more people (women and men) proactively strengthen their awareness and understanding of gender bias and take the next step to speak up and act in both the small and big moments. In our team we talk about the need to build up our ability to speak up like a muscle. It’s always hardest at the beginning and becomes more automatic to speak up and act over time.
Naomi: I’m so sad to say I've witnessed the same issues (pay inequality, stereotyping, sexual harassment) play out at multiple workplaces. Looking back, I feel ashamed that I didn't have the confidence in myself to call it our for what it was. I didn't want to potentially lose my job or be seen as “difficult,” I was too worried about my own path and privilege.
This is why I think education and training is so important; there needs to be a common language and an ability to call it out for exactly what it is, and to have the support of your company and team.
How are you personally continuing to help pave the way for more women to secure leadership roles? How is Amp Human doing this?
Naomi: Being a mentor/advisor/friend where possible is crucial. I've always been really open about that, whether that be on LinkedIn or with people I know personally to always say “I'm here to support you, how can I be of help?”
Additionally, It’s really important to me when hiring for any position that there is a really good balance of resumes, whether that be gender, race or ethnicity, so we have a diverse workforce. When you're responsible for any sort of recruitment within a company, you have to be proactive in making sure you've got the best talent from different backgrounds, and that doesn’t always just happen, so you must be proactive.
Erica: I've worked hard to be a lifelong learner on this issue, and I share a lot with those around me to create a ripple effect. As I continue to build my understanding in these areas, it is really important to me that I help build that understanding in other people. I've led gender equality training at my company. I’ve built up awareness among my co-founder, my partner, my friends and my colleagues. More people with more knowledge means more people to contribute to a cultural shift and provide better environments for other women.
Secondly, I speak up and use my voice. It was a conscious goal for me last year to use my voice more around gender, and it continues to be a goal this year. Again, it is something that is built like a muscle. The first time pausing a meeting to call something out - that was hard for me. It's hard for everyone, but it is important for people to actually take this step from learning into acting and setting boundaries and pushing the behavior that they want to see from others. And it gets so much easier and faster.
The other piece that I do is try to support female entrepreneurs. Most people enjoy networking with people who are very similar to them, and that tends to tilt the financial resources and mentorship for entrepreneurs towards men. So I really consistently and consciously network with women and find ways to support, partner and share resources.
Any final thoughts?
Erica: I’m proud and humbled to be in a position to to build a company around strong values, and to be able to inspire change in others. My hope for the future is that as we all collectively go through a cultural sea change around gender that we each have spaces open up where we can make an impact.