Women’s History Month at Cambium Learning Group
A Reflection through an Education Technology Lens
According to McKinsey's Women in the Workplace 2022 report, only one in four C-suite leaders are women, and according to HolonIQ, women make up 16% of edtech CEOs and just 5.4% of CEOs leading companies with $1 billion or more in annual revenue. In this same landscape, women account for 77% of US public school teachers.
In 2018, our senior executive team at Cambium Learning Group included one woman (14%). Today, six of the twelve senior executive leaders (50%) and 61% of employees at Cambium are women. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made in recent years and hopeful for the future. At the same time, we have more work to do to create equitable access to opportunity for all.
When I’m asked what actions are most important for helping women succeed in the workplace, my answer begins with the fundamentals. We have to start by asking ourselves “what are the challenges that limit women’s ability to participate fully in the workforce in general?” Then, we have to look and relook in the mirror continuously. This means reconsidering everything from norms and practices to policies and benefits. For example, at Cambium we scrutinized and adjusted benefits and supports like parental and caregiver leave—not only for women, but for all people. Women can remain in and return to work when they and their partners have equitable access to family leave. When women can remain in and return to work, they can invest in their careers.
We also have to look at how we do our work, including the principles we strive to hold ourselves accountable to as we pursue our purpose. Over the years, I’ve learned that tenacity, empathy and allyship are critical to driving sustained change, durable success and meaningful impact. When we lead with empathy, we learn more about the perspectives and needs of everyone in our stakeholder community. This helps us solve for the actual challenges we face, not the ones we assume we should be facing. When we lead with allyship, we provide authentic support, advocacy and access to those around us, and in doing so, we build strong communities of allies who support us. When we lead with tenacity, we are not paralyzed by challenges or defined by our mistakes. We learn from them and are defined by the success we create for one another and the communities we serve.
As we continue to learn and grow, it’s important to understand our recent living history, as well as the history of the women that came before us. That is why for Women’s History Month, we asked some women and allies from our senior leadership teams at Cambium to share their insights about experiences that helped them break through barriers, the women who inspired them along the way, and advice for future generations of leaders.
I hope you find inspiration in these stories and lessons learned.
Kemi Akinsanya-Rose, COO of Cambium Learning Group
Who is one woman who inspired you and why/how?
The person that immediately came to mind is my grandmother, Thelma C. Kroske (aka “Nanny” as I called her). She was born in 1909 and lived during a time when women’s rights were non-existent. That didn’t stop her from working outside of the home. She had a job when most women her age, class, etc. didn’t, and – drum roll – she bought her own car and was so proud of being an independent professional supported by a loving husband, Grandfather Ray. I can still remember us cruising down the street in her beige Plymouth Champ car with cream leather seats! She taught me to be bold and color outside the lines so to speak – push societal norms that no longer worked for me/others with my same identity.
John Jorgenson, CMO of Cambium Learning Group
Share an example of how one woman helped you become the leader you are today?
Very early in my career, like many liberal arts graduates suddenly working in business, I questioned my ability to contribute. When I was hired into my first marketing position in Detroit, I wasn’t even sure what marketing was, let alone what I was supposed to do. Regardless, I had to attend our company’s biggest conference in Chicago. When I shared my apprehension and uncertainty with my VP of Marketing, she said, “Chicago is less than 5 hours away. Rather than fly, why don’t I drive us and we can talk along the way about the conference?” Not only did I get all my questions answered during that drive, but I experienced first-hand the power of creating safe spaces, spending meaningful time with people needing help, and being of service. Most importantly, I felt cared for as a person, not just a new employee, and that’s something I’ve worked hard to pay forward as a leader ever since.
Cheryl Dodge, President of Time4Learning
As a woman in business who has broken the glass ceiling, what advice would you offer to future generations of women?
Align yourself with powerful women who will support you and guide you. For me, there was the school principal who gave me the opportunity to take over a kindergarten class on an emergency credential in the middle of the school year. And there was the CEO, who pushed me outside my comfort zone to bring in more revenue for the organization than I thought I could. There were creative women, bright women, empathetic women, and even leaders who were hard on me, but each of them gave me gifts that have served me well.
Joel Kupperstein, SVP at Learning A-Z
What does being an ally to women mean to you?
As a father to two daughters, a brother to two sisters, a brother-in-law to four sisters-in-law, a nephew to two aunts, and a dedicated contributor to the field of early child education, it’s impossible to understate the influence women have had on my life. My grandmother was a math teacher in the 1930’s, and my mother was a kindergarten teacher in the 1970s, so I followed in their footsteps when I, too, became a teacher at the beginning of my career. For me, being an ally to women goes beyond providing whatever support and advocacy for them that I can. It also involves helping others benefit from their leadership and brilliance and, in turn, growing the ranks of allies around me.