“I stand alone, but I come as 10,000” With Amelia Ransom and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Yes, I’m optimistic. I think most people from underrepresented groups are. I don’t know that Stonewall, the Civil Rights movement, or any other sustained protests happen without optimism that the world can and should be different than it is now. I am also a realist and know that a more perfect union will take a […]

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Yes, I’m optimistic. I think most people from underrepresented groups are. I don’t know that Stonewall, the Civil Rights movement, or any other sustained protests happen without optimism that the world can and should be different than it is now. I am also a realist and know that a more perfect union will take a lot of work. People have literally died fighting for a more equitable society so we can’t just give up now.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Amelia Ransom.

Amelia is a dynamic executive with over 20 years of expertise building strategy and delivering impactful results in business operations and human resources. Amelia recently joined Avalara as the Sr. Director of Engagement and Diversity at Avalara. Prior to this role, Amelia spent 26 years at Nordstrom where she held team, regional and enterprise-wide leadership positions including Store Manager, Corporate Learning and Development Director, Director of Talent and VP Diversity Affairs. Her areas of expertise include leadership development, early in career and millennial engagement, executive level mentorship and advisement and diversity and inclusion strategy and execution. Amelia serves on the boards of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Seattle Goodwill, The Institute for Sustainable Diversity and Inclusion and Building Changes. She is also on the advisory board for the Seattle chapter of the Association of Latino Professionals in America (ALPFA). Amelia is also a thought leader, a sought after mentor and an inspirational public speaker.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

If I could distill my childhood down to one maxim it would be, “To whom much is given, much is required. It’s actually a scripture, but I was definitely taught that service and giving back is an essential part of life. I stand on the shoulders of so many elders and ancestors who died dreaming of the world I exist in. The world is still deeply flawed but they’ve left me a roadmap to follow. I’m very blessed that I was deeply loved, allowed to express myself and expected to excel.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. As a young child I didn’t speak much. A man at my church gave me the book and told me that while Maya Angelou was a renowned author now (this was in the 70’s) that she didn’t speak for several years. He told me that one day, just like Dr. Angelou, I would come into my own and that I shouldn’t worry about being like everyone else. It made me feel like somebody understood me. The content of the book still inspires me, too. The line, “Words mean more than what is set on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.” still resonates today.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

One of my favorite quotes is also from Maya Angelou who said “I stand alone, but I come as 10,000.” It reminds me of two things, one that I’m truly never alone. Like many BIPOC women, I frequently find myself in situations where I’m the only woman or black person — or both — in the room. Remembering that people quite literally gave their life for me to be in the situations I sometimes find myself, reminds me to speak up even when it’s hard or uncomfortable. It also reminds me to be careful of my message. I’m not just speaking for myself, I’m sometimes in the position to speak on behalf of others who may not be represented “. So while I’m fighting to make access for them in the room I need to be sure I don’t center my message on myself. I find comfort in knowing that I have a tribe of people who are there to support me and have my back with everything I do.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Great leadership should start with great followership, which doesn’t get talked about enough. Jeff Bezos wrote about this in one of his annual letters to shareholders. There are rare opportunities that everybody agrees on something, so being a leader in times when your idea or perspective isn’t being used means that you have to commit to giving your all to somebody else’s idea — even when you disagree. Leaders often need to be willing to get behind other people’s ideas and initiatives and help make them successful. I’ve seen too many leaders fail because they think they have to have the best ideas and they can’t put ego aside in favor of something that will benefit the company, even if they don’t get the gold star.. Leaders should be focused on collectively winning as a team, not individual wins.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

The best way I can prepare is to understand what my purpose is. Why am I making this presentation? If I’m clear about what I’m doing and why that takes a lot of the stress away. This also helps me to understand when I’m not needed in a conversation. I remember sitting with two executives who were trying to come to a decision. I was there to give them data and information to help inform the decision. After a time, I realized that it wasn’t clear which of them actually owned the decision and quite frankly were just requesting more data from me to avoid coming to a decision.It was a tense and stressful meeting. Rather than talking to each other, they were talking at each other through me. Halfway through the meeting, I informed them that I was going to leave so they could have the professional disagreement they needed to have without an audience. They did and we moved forward. My lesson — sometimes walking away is the best thing I can do for both my stress level and better business outcomes..”

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

The short answer is no, I can’t. There is no brief way to boil down a topic we’ve been dealing with since 1619 and something that is built into the systems that our nation thrives and survives on. There is no shortcut or crash diet to dealing with this topic because this problem demands that we face it full on. This problem is not inexorable but we are at a boiling point because the water has been on the fire since 1619 — it’s been boiling a long time. And knowing this, we have let the pot spill over. We do not get to be surprised. This boiling pot has done exactly what boiling pots do.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?

I like to be clear about my role going in. My role is not to make people in the majority comfortable, my job is to amplify the voices of the marginalized and bring those voices to the table to effectuate organizational change. The reason to have D&I initiatives within a company is to ensure market success. The people with the best skills and ideas may have kinky hair or a name you’ll need to learn to pronounce. If you want them to work with you, you’ll need an environment where they can thrive. While working with leadership teams to develop D&I initiatives and having conversations with colleagues I can often see people wrestling with their preconceived notions that they were taught since birth, which is a good outcome for me because that shows they are willing to consider changing.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

If you think about sports teams, you have people that play different positions because they are the best at that. You don’t have the same person play every position. Teams need different sets of ideas, backgrounds, experiences to ensure they have a competitive advantage. .This isn’t something you do for optics. A friend once told me “I can help you feel better or I can help you be better, but I don’t know how to do both.” To feel better businesses will go out and hire somebody convenient to fill the position quickly, but if they truly want to be better they need to be intentional about hiring people that will bring different perspectives and skills to help develop their business.

You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

Again, this isn’t a topic that can be boiled down to 5 steps, but I can tell you some things that it takes:

  • It’s going to take true learning and not just learning to validate your own ideas. We have to learn about other people’s ideas and experiences without being defensive or dismissive. This requires suspending what you think you know to be willing to learn something new.
  • After you learn something new, you also have to do something new. Learning isn’t the work, it’s just the warm up. Real growth is just on the other side of the discomfort and awkwardness you may feel while trying out your new muscles. For example, many of our leaders are doing a 21 day racial equity challenge Having learned more, many of our leaders are making commitments to more deeply engage BIPOC on their existing teams while creating plans to improve diversity on their teams as well.
  • Organizations should avoid putting the responsibility for the change the organization’s culture needs on training alone. Training isn’t the end all, be all — the best way to make the training effective is to make it a practice. We have to give managers and employees an opportunity to use what they learn in the training. That would be like watching a cooking video without getting in the kitchen and making a meal., Yes, you’re going to make mistakes. You don’t stop eating because you burned one dish, right? Keep practicing the skills of inclusion, I promise you’ll get better over time. .
  • Challenge your own ideas and be willing to be wrong. You should actively be searching for ways that you might be wrong, so that you can correct your behavior if you want a society that is truly equitable for all.
  • Taking action and advocating is everybody’s job, not just the job of people in marginalized groups To truly be an ally you need to be doing the work to create change in your organization. This means calling it out when you see sameness or discrimination and challenging it.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

Yes, I’m optimistic. I think most people from underrepresented groups are. I don’t know that Stonewall, the Civil Rights movement, or any other sustained protests happen without optimism that the world can and should be different than it is now. I am also a realist and know that a more perfect union will take a lot of work. People have literally died fighting for a more equitable society so we can’t just give up now.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

I can’t think of a person right now, but whoever it is please wear a mask.

How can our readers follow you online?

Twitter: @ameliajransom

IG page: @ameliaransom

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