Throughout the 2019 season, the Minnesota Lynx, in partnership with Rasmussen College, will be honoring inspiring women who have made incredible contributions in many different areas while motivating, encouraging and lifting up others through personal and professional leadership. At 2019 Pride Night, the Lynx recognized Nancy Lyons, a business and social justice leader who has built a lasting platform for change at her local design and technology agency, Clockwork.
Nancy Lyons isn’t satisfied with saying the right things. As the CEO of Clockwork, a design and technology company in Minneapolis, Lyons has made a career out of actively investing in people as well as championing equity in the workplace. She does more than advocate—she provides a blueprint for other individuals and companies to follow.
The way Lyons approaches doing business represents the gold standard for creating a healthy and successful business. She helped build Clockwork from the ground up into one of the most highly-regarded agencies in the area and she did it without compromising the things she believed in.
“What we wanted was to create a company that shared our values. Where we were able to express our values and really focus on people—put people first in everything,” she said. “What was interesting was starting Clockwork and focusing on profitability and people. Believing that if we cared about people, profitability would follow.”
Building Clockwork into a successful tech company and an influential platform for social change wasn’t always easy. It required courage, patience and a willingness to do what others wouldn’t. Becoming a leader in the Twin Cities LGBTQ+ and business communities required Lyons to overcome her personal fears first.
“I would say for the first half of my career I was closeted, because I was afraid we would lose clients,” said Lyons. “Somewhere in there what I realized was, as we achieved a certain amount of success, and as there was a certain amount of awareness of our brand, it made sense for me to use this company for more than just digital product. It made sense for me to stand on this as a springboard for different kinds of messages and representation.”
Lyons has used her success in her field to leverage her work supporting LGBTQ+ rights. After a difficult adoption process for her son, she was inspired to work towards making sure no other families had to go through what she did and joined the board of the Family Equality Counsel. She eventually became the chair and now serves as chair emeritus.
As an organization, Clockwork partners with dozens of organizations to try to make an impact in the local community in various ways. Their work is deeply steeped in intentionality, proactivity and intersectionality. In Lyons’ mind, championing equality and social justice is a mission that lifts everyone up, not just a few specific communities.
“There’s this idea that when we start doing the work to increase equity for marginalized communities, we all get invited to the table,” she said. “I don’t equate the experience of LGBTQ people to black people by any stretch of the imagination, but I do think that just focusing on these marginalized communities changes the energy and the likelihood that the businesses in our community will change too.”
That change starts within the walls of Clockwork—they started the Minnesota Tech Diversity Pledge which is focused on addressing inequities and underrepresentation in tech for traditionally marginalized groups. They’ve produced events, drawn other businesses of all sizes to pledge as well and taken steps towards increasing representation by creating an apprenticeship for women of color in tech. In short, they’re walking the walk.
“It used to be that a goal for us was to lead the conversation around diversity and inclusion in tech,” said Lyons. “We changed that because I didn’t feel it was brave enough, and we’ve decided that we want to demonstrate race equity in action.”
There’s a constant effort on the part of Lyons and Clockwork to practice what they preach inside their company and encourage other companies to take steps as well. By being bold and being unafraid, Clockwork shows other companies that building equity and diversity can be more than just an initiative—it can be a fundamental part of your identity.
“What we do is try to create safe spaces for conversations,” said Lyons. “Social justice happens when we’re willing to be uncomfortable and confront our internal biases or the things we don’t know or understand”
“It’s about learning, listening, reviewing, measuring, activating. Activating champions in the different departments at Clockwork, continuing to have these conversations and engaging outside networks and resources to ensure that we’re doing it right.”
There’s a role to play for organizations like the Lynx and WNBA in this mission. Seeing athletes that are out, proud and living their dreams has an impact both on adults like Lyons and on children who will grow up to set the course for the future.
“I look to the WNBA for additional role-models for [my son]. I think that’s significant,” said Lyons. “The players that are out and representing our community and our families and our children and a healthy relationship with the world in spite of some of the obstacles that are thrown in our direction, I think representation is everything.”
Looking at everything that Lyons has accomplished, it’s clear that she has brought about real, substantive change. The mission isn’t over and as long as there is injustice to be undone, Lyons will be right there fighting. With a platform like Clockwork to work from, Lyons has the ability to make a real impact. She won’t let that opportunity go to waste.