7 Questions for Andrea Learned, Climate Action Communications Strategist

You may think it is rare for people to really meet and make connections through Twitter, but it is not. That’s exactly how Green Alpha’s Betsy Moszeter and consultant Andrea Learned “met” and realized they had a lot of shared values and overlapping networks. Because both Betsy and Andrea also serve as “ambassadors for the power of Twitter” in network building, it seems their story is worth sharing. They’d both love to get even more impact investing and climate action leaders to join important conversations, including on Twitter!

So, here are our “7 Questions” and a conversation between the two:

Betsy: You and I met on Twitter, because we care deeply about so many of the same topics: leadership, women’s equality, social sustainability, the environment, climate change, and so many others. I know that Twitter and other social media platforms can seem daunting to many. What advice do you have for those who want to share their passion and knowledge with the world, but are intimidated to start?

Photo Credit: Michael B. Maine http://michaelbmaine.com/

Andrea: A couple of the key things I tell my clients – many of whom know they need to engage on Twitter, but are overwhelmed.

  1. Ignore the “B2C” rules and best practices of Twitter – they do not apply to a human being trying to build long-term, sustainable business connections over shared interests. In short, be your authentic self and don’t worry too much about rules you may have heard.
  2. Start super slow. If all you do is “lurk” (i.e. listen and learn) for a year, you will still benefit greatly.
  3. Spend the bulk of your curation “loving up” the smart people, great research and excellent articles around your 1-3 key topics. What you are doing is building social capital, not robbing a bank. You’re also doing a lot to augment your knowledge base in areas where you have interest.

Betsy: You started your career in marketing to women by co-authoring the book Don’t Think Pink in 2004, but are now you’re most visible in climate action spheres. Tell us a bit about that path and why climate action is your focus now.

Andrea: Well, like a lot of people I suppose, I seemed to fall into my first career without much intention. I followed an interest, and the book is a result of that. But, my deeper interest has always been figuring out “why.” Why do women make buying decisions the way they do? Then, my career evolved: What might it say about women as leaders? How do sustainability leaders leverage supposed “soft skills” for greater impact?

Because of a yearlong project with the We Mean Business Coalition in 2015, I started to use my strategic communications skills to build engagement around the topic of corporate sustainability as global climate action. It turns out, that focus area provides me the best platform, the one I can most leverage my personal values and enthusiasm around. I love finding new ways to leverage content, simply, and then use social media for big climate action influence.

Betsy: Interesting…that all makes a lot of sense. Let’s dig into women and leadership a bit more. What is the connection between how women lead and sustainability leadership, which also has implications for increasing both the amount and integrity of ESG-oriented investing?

Andrea: I did my Master’s Thesis on the particular traits of sustainability leaders. I had my suspicions that empathy and communications skills, for example, were the key for business leaders who were making the sustainability case…and I was right. I talked with just three, male (that is an important point), corporate sustainability leaders for my research, but also pulled lots of secondary research. As I continue on in my post-grad school interviewing and writing, I keep hearing from more sustainability leaders who agree. Many of them went to business school and got typical finance or operations education and work experience, but when push came to shove, they needed to better understand stakeholder audiences and figure out how to better communicate the sustainability message. If you look at those skills on paper, they look a lot like things that used to be considered low priority for leadership: nice-to-haves. With the increase in climate-related concerns, the deeper understanding of how to best narrate your sustainability case to stakeholder is a must-have. Traditional, top-down decisiveness or unilateral proclamations don’t work with this additional complexity and the necessity for a more systemic approach. It turns out that women’s ways of leading are extremely good business now. We just have to take the fact that “pink” is often perceived negatively out of the equation.

Betsy: I couldn’t agree more. I recently attended a discussion of Humility is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age, led by co-author Ed Hess, Professor of Strategy, Ethics & Entrepreneurship at the Darden School of Business. Ed’s research shows that to excel in the Smart Machine Age, leaders must quiet their ego, manage one’s own thinking and emotions, listen reflectively, and emotionally connect/relate to others. Those are obviously not the skills that made leaders successful in the past, but will in the future.

Important topics don’t live in silos. What do you wish more people knew about the intersection of leadership, women and climate concerns?

Just that – that there is an intersection. Leadership isn’t simply a hard “business” topic. Women isn’t just a topic for women to discuss or have conferences around. Zeroing in on women (as leaders, in their consumer insights, as corporate board members, etc) = super smart business. Our climate affects everyone and every business decision (duh!). I am not sure how the current White House, or those supporting it, can push away the fact that climate affects their investments and will impact the lives of their kids and grandkids “to infinity and beyond.” It’s short-sighted at the very least.

Betsy: Yes! At Green Alpha, we talk often about the importance of diversity among Management Teams and the Boards of Directors that oversee companies we invest in. Of course we think that diversity of experience is the most important, but that’s a hard set of data points to obtain. It’s more pragmatic to evaluate criteria like gender diversity, and it seems like more people are aware of its importance than ever before. However, is that increased knowledge leading to meaningful change? What are you seeing?

Andrea: That is a really good question, and a complex one to answer. But, anecdotally, I’d say I am not seeing meaningful change. I see pieces of research that revive hope, and I see rallying cries of key women’s leadership influencers and writers (thank goodness for them!), but then, things seem to go nowhere.

I’m stunned to see that conference sessions on women and leadership include the exact same talking points as they did back when I was out speaking about all of this over a decade ago. On the rare occasion that I see leadership events that do not call out women, but that highlight them as speakers – and do NOT go all girly with their promotion of women-focused efforts, I cheer loudly (and you’ll see me share those on Twitter)! Diversity of leadership, including strong women representation, is good business. That’s it. That should be enough for all organizations to dive FULLY into efforts on the gender equality front.

Betsy: Tell us about something you’ve noticed in the past decade that excites you the most?

Andrea: What excites me the most now, given what we are up against with the current White House, is this: power in the local. COP21 put some emphasis on regions, states and cities. Since November, I’ve been dialing into the nonprofit that I find to be amazingly solidarity-celebrating in my own (lovely) city of Seattle. KEXP is a nonprofit arts organization/radio station (that streams globally). As beloved as it is in Seattle, it is also extremely well known by musicians and music fans across the world. Their open, affirming and positive, community-building approach – all around the love of music – is transformative. I have met such a range of smart, caring folks while hanging out in their coffee shop space and in my doing a teeny bit of pro bono work with their staff. That sense of community aligns with a book I read last summer (highly recommend) by Melody Warnick, This Is Where You Belong. It’s like I looked up about mid-summer last year (in the heat of that awful presidential campaign) and thought – I need to dig into the world I interact with daily and find a way to amplify social good. I love where I live and know that what’s going on here is part of what collectively and positively impacts the globe.

Betsy: You’re such an outstanding role model! What advice do you wish you could shout through a megaphone?

Andrea: Wow; thank you very much! I can only think that I was raised by people who helped me feel safe exploring my passions and discovering my gifts. I realize that comes from some serious white privilege, for certain. But, what I shout through a megaphone, metaphorically, is this: who told you that you had to… go to college, get a “real” job, Tweet or post to FB like a maniac, have a “normal” life, have kids, buy a house…? Those are assumed to be good goals that we take in through our skin as we grow up. But, we need to question those assumptions, BIGTIME. My work with clients around using Twitter reflects a small example of this. I often need to give them explicit permission to think outside whatever imaginary box they’ve built inside their head about how they SHOULD do social media. I love releasing them from that misunderstanding!

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