Tech& Women: Interview with Ashley Andersen Zantop

SIIA is celebrating Women’s History Month by profiling innovative women thought leaders in the AI, ed tech and the privacy space. We’re proud to profile Ashley Andersen Zantop, Chief Operating Officer at Cambium Learning Group. Ashley also serves on the SIIA’s government affairs council. She has served on SIIA’s board of directors, ed tech executive committee and co-chaired the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. She has worked in education, technology and media for more than 25 years and is the co-founder and former co-president of the Fairfield University MFA Alumni Association. What is your current role? I serve as Chief Operating Officer at Cambium Learning Group, leading and serving curriculum, supplemental instruction, professional development and assessment portfolio businesses, business enablement operations, M&A and integrations. What’s your favorite part of the role? People. People are “the whole ball game” and are by far my favorite part of any role. I love helping people find and develop confidence in their unique strengths, assets and superpowers so they can create meaningful impact. Is there anything you would go back and do differently? How long is this profile? So many things…I find at least one thing I’d go back and do differently each day. That’s the nature of trying, retrospection, learning, growing and starting the cycle over again. Spend a few minutes each day identifying one or two things you could do differently. It’s not only healthy, but essential for effective leadership in a dynamic environment. You can’t lead if you don’t try. This is true whether you’re leading teams of people or leading in subject matter expertise, or both. You can’t make meaningful impact if you don’t try, and when you try you are bound to make some mistakes. Sometimes, that means failing or achieving less or something entirely different than you set out to achieve. Be ready and willing to learn from those experiences so you can use what you learn to build success. What is something unique about your work style? I have a few guiding principles I strive to hold myself accountable to: We bring our own assets to any situation; empathy is the key to better execution; and kindness is a strength, not a weakness. How/why did you get interested in technology? I began my career in education. First, as an elementary school classroom teacher and collegiate coach. When I was in high school and college, I volunteered and then worked in PreK and early childhood education. I come from a family of educators and entrepreneurs; they inspired my interest in education, technology, media and the power of business to combine all three into something special. Because of that inspiration, I’ve devoted my career to closing the opportunity gap and creating great outcomes in education through the power of social enterprise and innovation. What are your top predictions for ed tech in 2022?
  1. Continued teacher burnout and shortages;
  2. Wider opportunity gap;
  3. Greater need to accelerate academic outcomes;
  4. Greater need for balanced academic measurement and progress monitoring;
  5. Greater imperative for wellness supports for students and educators;
  6. Continued adoption of effective EdTech solutions.
How do you think we can advance opportunities and recruitment for women, who are traditionally underrepresented in privacy, AI, and tech policy? We must address some of the underlying conditions (organizational culture, compensation and benefits as well as flexibility, trust and respect) that keep women from fully participating in the workforce — especially as this gap has grown significantly over the course of the pandemic. The very definition of the “workplace” is changing as more and more people work remotely: As the workplace evolves, we have to ensure it becomes more welcoming, inclusive and supportive for women, historically marginalized communities and all workers. In education, we need to challenge ourselves to provide inclusive experiences with STEAM and entrepreneurship to encourage more young women in the classroom today.  They will help us drive sustainable change into the future. What is one piece of advice you wish you had known when you were starting out? Here are three important lessons I wish I had known before starting my leadership journey: It’s not your job to have every answer — it’s your job to bring the right voices to the table, especially those who disagree with you. Being right matters less than what you achieve and much less than what you help others to achieve. And, don’t take yourself too seriously. Have the self-confidence to be humble, to hear others out, to recognize and admit your own mistakes so you can learn from them. By doing this, you’ll show others how to do the same. What is Cambium doing to build mentorship opportunities for women and minorities? Last year, more than a third of the new team members who joined Cambium Learning Group are BIPOC employees, and over 60% of new employees hired are women. We strive for diverse talent and work to cultivate a welcoming, inclusive and equitable organization – including mentorship programs in some of our business units. We’ve also expanded and added Employee Resource Groups to foster connection, support and growth. Continuous learning and professional development are part of our DNA. We recently made a seven-figure investment in employee training, tuition reimbursement and licensing/certifications for our employees and plan a similar trajectory for 2022. We’ve moved to a Remote First work model – more than 85% of Cambium employees can work remotely, allowing our employees to create the best work-life blend for themselves and offering our best to the students and educators we serve. We’ve expanded health, wellness and leave benefits that support working caregivers in remote, hybrid and in-person work models. In 2022 and beyond, we are working on cultivating connection and belonging that makes our workplace work for all team members. What are some of the professional development opportunities or people that have made the greatest difference to you and your career?
  • Ask someone you admire or respect to be your mentor. Invest the time to mentor others—both mentors and mentees learn from one another.
  • All types of continuing education have energized my thinking and sparked my creativity.
  • Volunteering and participation. It’s so easy to say “I don’t have time” to volunteer, and it is important to invest your time intentionally. Volunteering should be part of an intentional strategy for investing your time: Some of the strongest professional relationships in my career have been fostered by volunteering and connecting with other leaders and contributors who care about similar issues and causes.
How does your organization contribute to the industry at large? Cambium strives to close the opportunity gap in PreK – 12 education with a focus on a common purpose across our curated portfolio of companies. We help every student and every teacher feel seen, valued and supported. Cambium now serves more than 20 million students and 30% of U.S. teachers across 94% of U.S. districts and more than 170 countries with curriculum, supplemental instruction, formative, interim and summative assessments, and professional development. Do you do anything outside of work that lifts up women professionally? In addition to volunteering, I like to shop to support entrepreneurs and emerging artists. It’s exciting to contribute in small, everyday ways to growing the economic opportunity for people trying to lead and contribute something new. Any inspiring book recommendations? The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson stuck with me long after I finished it. A thoughtful exploration of privilege, power and belonging seamlessly set in a smart, suspenseful SciFi-murder-mystery-thriller romp through a believable multi-verse. I mean, what’s not to love? It checks all my boxes. The audiobook is also beautifully narrated by Nicole Lewis. What’s something people might not know about you? I’m a SciFi and superhero nerd. I love thought-provoking ScFi reads from Asimov to Jemisin. Our household has been in DC, Marvel, BSG and StarTrek fan nation longer than it’s been cool. Hidden under boots, chances are good that I’m wearing “statement socks.” My favorite pair says, “Nerdy by Nature.”

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