Board Member Feature: Nancy Lyons explores the roles equity and intersectionality play in creating a healthy work environment.
Nancy Lyons cares about humanity — something she often feels is missing from many workplaces.
“I think we measure the success of organizations by their numbers, instead of by the health, satisfaction and connection to the purpose of the humans,” said the CEO of Clockwork. “That's a missed opportunity for most organizations.”
By shifting our focus to thinking about how people can have space to rest, reset, grow and connect, the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation board member believes organizations can create a place where people feel comfortable bringing their full selves to work.
In her role as CEO and co-founder of Clockwork, Nancy leads a small Minneapolis-based tech company dedicated to serving its community by providing digital consulting, product design and development to organizations across the country.
“One of the things that I've always said is when we focus on people, the business will be successful.”
Accidental Career in Tech
Before heading up her own tech business or writing books about business strategies and how to ‘work like a boss,’ Nancy had other plans for her career.
“I had dreams when I was young of being an actor and a comedian,” the Michigan native said. “My sense of humor is one of my superpowers and it's one of the things I appreciate about myself the most.”
While pursuing theatre in college, she began assisting on film production in marketing and industrial videos. Realizing there weren't many women in that space, she assessed her future and began to explore another hobby.
“AOL was just moving into the mainstream,” said Nancy. “That's when I started to play around on the internet and honestly, I saw that as an opportunity. I looked in that direction and thought, ‘I bet there’s a job here’.”
Nancy soon taught herself how to code HTML from a book, and eventually found herself by accident in the field of technology.
“I’m always interested in what people do with technology when they're not being paid for it,” said Nancy. “If you're programming your own little applications or you've got a side hustle, that’s interesting to me. That kind of curiosity is what's necessary to make people successful in this line of work.”
Creating an Equitable Work Environment
As a leader and founder, Nancy also strives to have a welcoming work environment that puts her employees’ and clients’ needs first.
“Clockwork incorporates very human-centered disciplines into the technology work that we do,” she said. “If you're not bringing people along with you or making them central to the technology that you're building, it will fail.”
As a woman in tech, Nancy understands how important it is to make people the priority.
“I think when we start really seeing the truth about the world in which we live, and the communities that we influence, and touch and impact each other, and we start embracing what's possible by embracing those intersections, I actually think the businesses will succeed and the humans will thrive too,” she said.
“ We spend a lot of time in this culture talking about diversity, but I wish we would talk more about inclusion and belonging and safety. Diversity happens when people feel included and like they belong.”
For Nancy, it is also valuable to have a space where everyone feels included. As an outgoing, fun-loving, queer, plus-size woman, she often felt like she didn’t fit the corporate mold.
“I never behaved the way I was supposed to,” said Nancy. “I never dressed the way I was supposed to, spoke or showed up the way I was supposed to and it was really hard to see myself in any sort of traditional way.”
That’s why she encourages others to create their own ideal safe space. As a speaker and leader, she believes each person has a responsibility to show up as their unique self.
“We spend a lot of time in this culture talking about diversity, but I wish we would talk more about inclusion and belonging and safety, '' Nancy said. “Diversity happens when people feel included and like they belong. It is the byproduct or organic result of caring about people.”
For her, it is important that people embrace each of the intersectionalities that make up the lives of one another, be it their race, identity, sexuality or beliefs.
“Thinking about intersectionality, accessibility, the variety of characteristics and aspects of identity that humans bring -- it’s enormous if we allow for it,” said Nancy. “Our products have to get better, our services have to get better, we get better and we learn from each other.”
Living an Equitable Life
These beliefs around intersectionality and acceptance carry over into Nancy’s personal life as well. As a parent to a 15-year-old Black son, she has had to learn that even in spite of her differences, she still has privileges her son doesn't.
“I had no idea the path my spouse and I were heading down when we adopted him,” said Nancy, who is dealing with the fear of her son being behind the wheel now that he’s about to take Driver’s Ed. “I drive a really nice car and my Black son behind the wheel of my car is a straight-up target. How am I going to feel every time he leaves the house from the moment he gets his driver's license?”
Harsh realities like these have led Nancy to have open honest conversations with her son and his friends, as well as passionate conversations with others around anti-racism, equity and inclusion.
“I tend to be a little bit of a firestarter,” she said. “I want to be the person in the room who's saying, it's OK to be uncomfortable, because we're not going to change if we aren't willing to be uncomfortable.”
The commitment to change is one of the things that led Nancy to joining the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation’s board.
“I think the leadership of the Foundation really has its collective finger on the pulse of the community in a way that not many other organizations do,” said Nancy. “There is a real impact from the work and it can sometimes be seen almost immediately in the community. That's something that I really appreciate about being involved with something that is so purposeful.”
As we move into the future, Nancy’s hope is that individuals put less focus into capitalism and numbers and more into equity, opportunity, equity and dignity; that we must get back to the things that matter.
“I want the world we’re leaving to be better for our children. I want it to be better for my son.”
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