AmpEquity Speaker Series — Nancy Green

By Kira Mikityanskaya

On May 2nd, Nancy Green, President & CEO of Athleta, delivered several inspiring and authentic messages to UC Berkeley students at the Haas School of Business. Nancy, the latest guest in the Center for Equity Gender and Leadership’s (EGAL) AmEquity Speaker Series, spoke with Executive Director Kellie McElhaney about the intersection of her career and personal life, about what Equity Fluent Leadership means to her, and about the importance of responsible business. As a full-time MBA candidate, about to graduate and re-enter the working world, I found three core messages to be the most poignant from Nancy’s talk:

Kellie McElhaney (left) and Nancy Green (right) | Photo by Kelley Cox

1. Know your personal values, then find work opportunities and life partners that align with those values

Nancy wasn’t shy about sharing all the ways in which Athleta’s values align with her personal ones. Nor did she waste any time getting to the difficult conversation about balancing work and life, and making tradeoffs with your life partner. Nancy recounted a vulnerable time in her life when she made the choice to take a new job, uprooting her entire family, only to discover that the company’s ethics and values weren’t aligned with her own. She had trusted others’ perspective and guidance, which ultimately failed her. Through this experience, Nancy learned that doing your own due diligence when it comes to values is key — “values and energy must be closely aligned in your professional and personal life.” She emphasized the interconnectedness between values and energy in the workplace, encouraging us to find meaningful work, to invest our time improving a company or a product that we truly believe in. She also reminded us to be mindful, to know what depletes our energy and to consciously turn those situations around.

As an aspiring business leader, who is about to marry another MBA graduate with ambitious goals, Nancy’s openness about personal trade-offs really struck a chord with me. Nancy spoke about a time in her life when both she and her husband where top executives at different companies, and even though they were fortunate enough to have hired help, they were spending too little time with their kids. Knowing that they needed to make a change, her husband stepped down from his successful career and started his own business with a more flexible schedule. Nancy underscored that, even as she kept her ambitious career, she focused on creating meaningful time with her kids — being fully present when she was with them. She also reminded us that we have to appreciate the small things that our life partners do to keep a household together — if one partner spends more time at home than the other, don’t forget to acknowledge their efforts and show appreciation for all that they do. The seemingly little things add up to big things that matter in keeping your family intact.

2. Be conscious, aware, and compassionate

When Kellie asked Nancy what graduates of UC Berkeley should be doing to promote equity fluent leadership, Nancy didn’t waiver in her response — “Show vulnerability…enter the world with compassion and lead with your heart.” Nancy encouraged every graduate to bring what they’ve learned at Berkeley about promoting equity and inclusion and share it in their workplace. Though she acknowledged that not every company may be as progressive or inclusive as we might want, it is our responsibility to be vulnerable — to take a risk, to share our lived experience, to challenge the status quo — in the hopes of advancing change. Nancy described that her increased awareness around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion has been, and continues to be, a journey. She has actively worked to be more consciously aware of her language choices and how she shows up in meetings, in times of crisis, and in difficult situations. Along similar lines, Athleta is focusing resources on unconscious bias training.

Nancy Green | Photo by Kelley Cox

As a female CEO of a public company, Nancy serves as a role model for other women who aspire to be leaders. As the head of a women’s apparel company, Nancy is passionate about pushing the inclusion conversation from a corporate perspective, and empowering women with Athleta’s products and brand. When she took the helm, Nancy wanted to use media to promote inclusion and diversity of all ages and body types to counter the often negative impact of media on women’s self esteem and body image. Walking the talk, Athleta is featuring a transgender woman in their catalog for the first time this Fall. “When you’re super clear on your North Star, the team can come up with powerful ideas,” Nancy said. Her comments sent a clear message to all of Berkeley’s future leaders — lead with your values, with compassion, and with your eyes wide open. Do so, and your teams will thrive and your companies will deliver better products and financial results for stakeholders.

3. Profit, people, and planet are not in conflict with each other

One of Nancy’s core values with respect to business, which I share, is the belief that business is a force for good. As businesses grow, so does their footprint and that footprint shouldn’t be in conflict with making money and having a positive impact in the world. Last year, Athleta became a B Corporation — a certification earned by companies “that meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.” As a B Corp, Athleta is taking its corporate responsibility in our communities and our world seriously. It’s clear that Nancy has oriented her team and her company toward a bright North Star, a star that puts women’s empowerment and inclusion at the center, promotes programs that improve the lives of factory workers, and strives to achieve aggressive sustainability goals.

Under Nancy’s leadership and responsible business orientation, Athleta continues to grow and customers are affirming the company’s direction, especially when it comes to portraying all types of women in a positive light. It’s no surprise that Athleta is so closely aligned with Nancy’s personal values — she learned that lesson early in life and spends her energy on the things that bring her joy and the things she knows will have a positive impact in the world.

I know I speak for many of my fellow classmates when I say that Nancy inspired us in more ways than one. Perhaps most importantly, she led by example, even in the short hour we had together. She showed us that, as scary as sharing your lived experience can be, vulnerability can bring out compassion in others and encourage others to do the same. As I graduate from Haas, I can only hope to become the type of leader that Nancy appears to be and to bring the same level of energy, awareness, and purpose to my workplace and my life.

Photos by Kelley Cox

At the heart of UC Berkeley's Business School, the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership educates equity-fluent leaders to ignite and accelerate change.

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