This is Me: Amber
I am a black woman, wife, mother, friend, writer, business leader, co-founder and strategist. Because of the spaces I occupy in this world, I know firsthand why there’s a need for an intersectional perspective when it comes to how we view, understand and treat women.
So, I guess it’s kind of ironic that I have two white men from Utah to thank for revealing the direction my life was meant to take.
The Beginning: Black female in tech
Let me back up. My story starts years ago, when I was in the midst of a thriving tech career. On paper, I was doing great. But internally I was struggling to find my place in a system that wasn’t designed for me. It’s well documented now, but when I started my career, I didn’t know how much systemic racism was impacting my experiences as a young black girl in tech — that coworkers feeling “physically threatened” by my presence and having my work consistently scrutinized and ripped apart wasn’t normal.
I thought I could prove them wrong, if I worked harder and performed better than my peers. So I put in long hours and took on more work, thinking things would eventually change. They never did.
But this isn’t new. If you’re a woman (especially a woman of color) reading this, you know we are constantly being tested, underestimated, mislabeled, stuck in boxes that don’t fit — and that’s why most of us quit.
The Turning Point: Where Work Meets Life
The premature birth of my son was the turning point for me. I was working for a small tech startup at the time and putting in extra hours to show that even though I was a soon-to-be mother, I could still compete. I worked long hours and traveled throughout my pregnancy until one day, two months early, my water broke while I was at work. I didn’t want to disturb anyone, so I quietly left, drove myself to the hospital and delivered the next day.
Our beautiful son was born fighting for his life, and my husband and I were thrown into the hardest work we’d ever faced. Even after we got to bring him home, away from the needles and alarms and trauma of the NICU, I couldn’t relax or shake the feeling that he might not be okay. I struggled to come to grips with what had happened. My son had almost died and we didn’t know what the future would entail.
Midway through my maternity leave, my boss reached out to see when I would be ready to return to work. I remember that moment so vividly, seeing his name pop up on my caller ID while my baby slept in my arms. I was unbelievably sleep-deprived and, like one out of five new mothers, battling a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder — in my case, postpartum depression.
And no one seemed to care. My peers and boss had moved on and were focusing on growing their business. They were out of touch with my reality, with one telling me, “If you would just put your son in daycare, things would be a lot easier.”
The Decision to Break Away
The disconnect between my business and personal life was getting to be too hard to manage. Yes, I was an employee, but I was a wife and a mother too. I scheduled a meeting with my boss to let him know that I would not be returning to work after my maternity leave. This was a major decision that surprised even me. All of the sacrifices I’d made up until that point had been so I could keep growing my career at his company. He was civil, but resented me for leaving. It was clear he felt that motherhood had revealed my true colors, and that this would be the end of me.
His coldness hurt, especially after all the sacrifices that I had made. I had to remind myself that I was the one who had pulled off the amazing wins in my career — not him. I’d led initiatives for Fortune 500 companies, driven global programs and landed some of his biggest clients. I was still the same person; I just needed to find a way to focus my energy on what was important to me. People. Communities. Empathy.
Which brings me to the two white guys in Utah. Spencer and Brent are two brilliant technologists who hired me to lead strategy on a micropayment payment platform. This was a project targeting the newly discovered, influential sphere of mommy bloggers. It opened up a whole new world for me: I realized that mothers just like me were actually driving the national economy.
The Power of Women
Women as a whole influence over 85% of all purchasing decisions and control over $20 trillion in worldwide spending — a number that’s growing every year. We lead the way in almost every consumer goods category. And that’s when it clicked.
Why was I as a working woman made to feel so small and insignificant when women as a whole are driving this economy?
I was inspired to start MORE, a community helping other working parents integrate work and family. I knew other parents had to be craving spaces where you can be social without leaving your children behind. I’ve made waves by bringing my family to conferences, speaking out about the needs of working mothers and changing what it means to be a working parent. I’ve been featured in Forbes, Inc., NPR, Huffington Post and many other media outlets.
Focus with an Intersectional Lens
I’ve continued to study women, our needs and our individual journeys, alongside running MORE and my consulting business. The insights I’ve gained have led me to where I am today. My son, family, business, and my own confidence are all thriving, and I’m thrilled to relaunch our consulting agency as Tote + Pears.
Tote + Pears is a female-focused, full-service agency. We’re working with tech companies, marketers, and employers to help widen the lens that women are seen through and better understand the complexity and diverse needs of women.
This black woman, who many doubted in the past, has created a portfolio that makes or saves my clients more than $1 billion per day. I have built a business that is shining a light on the many women who have been in the shadows for too long.
And to my old boss, I say: You were right. Motherhood did change me. I’m stronger. Smarter. Braver. More committed than ever before. And I’m just getting started.