Celebrating Diverse Leadership Journeys at Ellevation

The experiences of two Ellevation Education leaders showcase a culture that balances work-life priorities and drives impactful solutions for educators.

Written by Brigid Hogan
Published on May. 23, 2024
Celebrating Diverse Leadership Journeys at Ellevation
Image: Shutterstock
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Soon after joining Ellevation Education as the company’s chief operating officer in 2024, Shivani York was at a busy conference in Minneapolis, meeting with the administrators and educators that make up the company’s customer base.

“We are creating products and services that meet a need in the market,” she said. “I’ve always started with the problems we’re trying to solve before looking inwardly at the company — learning from the people we are serving allows us to not just build better products but run a better company.”
 

WHAT DOES ELLEVATION EDUCATION DO?

Ellevation Education is dedicated to helping English-language learners thrive. The company’s platform enables ELL educators to gain deeper insights into their students, streamline administrative processes, make informed instructional decisions and monitor student progress.

 

Learning from the educators Ellevation serves goes beyond understanding the needs of English learners in the classroom, though. Understanding who they are as whole people is key, as well.

“At the end of the day, you’re dealing with people,” she said. “Educators are multifaceted; they also have personal lives. Being able to understand the challenges that you’re solving for them at least from a product perspective helps.”

The human perspective is key internally at Ellevation, too. 

When Marion Kennedy Amos joined Ellevation over a decade ago, she joined a company of just ten people — and today is part of a team of 220 employees. A former teacher in Chelsea, Massachusetts, Amos was inspired to join Ellevation by her firsthand experience with English learners and the lack of tools available to support their education.

“Within 10 minutes of talking to our CEO, I was just so excited about the idea of working for a small startup with a mission I was passionate about,” said Amos, who now serves as president of Ellevation.
 

Read MoreWhy Ellevation Education is the Perfect Match for These Former Teachers

 

Along the way, Amos was continually supported as she transitioned from her role as Ellevation’s first sales representative to building and leading the business development and sales teams. Her deep connection with the customer base has been a cornerstone of her journey, culminating in her current role overseeing marketing, sales, support and services. 

As she evolved alongside the company, her personal life saw significant change, too, as Amos celebrated her marriage and welcomed two children into her family. She credits Ellevation’s supportive culture as enabling her continued advancement while balancing work and family priorities.

“It starts at the top,” she said. “Our co-founders have really thoughtful leadership about work-life balance and are sensitive about what it means to be your true self at work.”

As a leader, Amos has focused on ensuring the sales team is a great place for women to grow their careers. Specific initiatives include reviewing performance evaluation rubrics to eliminate gendered language and providing comprehensive maternity leave policies that ensure financial stability for new mothers.

Amos also saw this family-oriented approach in action while reporting into a leader with three young children at home.

“Sometimes, a leader has had to leave early to do pickups or had sick kids at home, and that set a great example for me,” she said. “I am pretty visible about my own parenting because I want other working parents to know that things come up, and it’s fine.”
 

“I am pretty visible about my own parenting because I want other working parents to know that things come up, and it’s fine.”

 

That transparency has been apparent to York since the day she joined the company, not just regarding obligations her colleagues have outside of work but also what they notice inside the organization, as well.

“It’s been only a few weeks, but I have been continually surprised by how open and honest the conversations have been about the challenges and what is needed in order to get to the next level,” she said. 

York, as a woman of color in a leadership position, feels a personal responsibility to advocate for inclusivity and empowerment.

“Building an inclusive environment is not just about organizational support but also individual contributions to drive change,” she asserts.
 

“Building an inclusive environment is not just about organizational support but also individual contributions to drive change.”

 

York’s own identity played a role in what drew her to the company, as well. When a recruiter called about a role at Ellevation, her interest was immediately piqued by the company’s mission to help English learners achieve their highest aspirations.

“As a child of immigrants and a first-generation immigrant myself, the company’s mission really spoke to me,” she shared.
 

Read MoreEllevation Education Is Thoughtfully Attracting Diverse Talent. Here’s How.  

 

Paired with her background was her experience in roles — ranging from software engineering to running her own consulting firm — and her expertise driving growth and impact in scaling organizations. York was a perfect fit for the COO role at Ellevation.

Both Amos and York emphasized the importance of alignment between personal values and professional missions. This alignment is a key factor that attracts and retains talent at Ellevation, and one that shines through the company’s remote-first culture and inclusive policies.

Whether through the company’s two annual off-site meetings that bring the entire team together to work cross-functionally or the virtual spaces created by employee resource groups, Ellevation has also stayed committed to making room for the “water cooler” connections often missed in a remote environment.

Amos also has found sales and services benefits to the distributed workforce at Ellevation, once again highlighting how the company integrates what at other companies may be seen as competing personal and professional priorities.

“We like to be with our partners. We like to be in the districts,” she explained. “Being remote-forward is a huge asset to understanding our market and our customers in a way we wouldn’t be able to if we were always just flying out from Boston.”
 

Read More ‘We’re Truly in This Together’ — How Ellevation Education ‘Ellevates’ Inclusion in its Remote Culture 

 

For York, finding a professional home that takes remote culture seriously was refreshing.

“Past remote experiences sometimes came with a lot more travel or unwritten expectations to be in office, but at Ellevation things really do start at the leadership level,” she said. “The leadership team really believes that being remote first allows us to better integrate work and family.”

In her first weeks at Ellevation, York has already seen how Ellevation’s culture supports her both as a leader and a parent.

“The flexibility to go get my kids or tend to a family matter without having to take time off makes me a more productive, engaged and better leader overall,” she said. “Like the educators we work with, we are multifaceted as people and professionals, and speaking for myself, Ellevation’s culture promotes both in such a way that allows me to bring my best self to work.”

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by Shutterstock and Ellevation Education.

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