SVP at Audible Ara Tucker talks about creating a sense of belonging in the workplace: “I try to lead from the middle”

By Jennifer Barton

New York-based Ara Tucker, a business leader who’s a Senior Vice President, Head of Talent at Audible, believes that stories have always had the power to change the world.

Her own story is filled with interesting adventures that have led her down the path to business leadership: she studied visual arts and history of art at Princeton University, and continues to indulge her creative side as a filmmaker and an author. After university, she joined a corporate law firm as a junior associate.

She then held various Diversity and Inclusion leadership roles in the legal, financial and higher education sectors before joining Audible, where she leads a group committed to hiring and developing a broad spectrum of talent.

“My portfolio at Audible really does focus on that end-to-end employee journey from the time of attraction or even curiosity about Audible as a potential employer all the way through somebody’s next chapter as an alum who might come back,” she said in an interview for Yahoo Finance UK’s Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded show, a series highlighting female leaders from around the world.

As a child, Tucker was always telling stories, dreaming of becoming a screenwriter or a psychologist. She feels her current role of helping to find and nurture diverse talent and perspectives taps into aspects of both of those careers as she strives to create a progressive workplace where employees are united by a strong sense of belonging.

Ara Tucker
Senior Vice President, Head of Talent at Audible, Ara Tucker

It’s her time as a lawyer, however, that she credits with teaching her one of the biggest lessons of success in the workplace: the value of apprenticeship.

“Every role I’ve had where I’ve been successful, somebody above me has reached down and said, ‘I see something in you’, or has trusted me when I’ve said, ‘hey, I see something in myself’ - and then they championed me just as much as if it was their own idea.

“So I think I try to lead from the middle so that I can get to the front if I need to and so that I can also recede in the back, but I’m always trying to get people to focus on the mission and use their expertise,” she said.

Tucker believes one of the secrets of success at Audible is that new employees are nurtured, given a sense of support and a total immersion in the company culture and history. Transparency is also key when it comes to bringing in the right talent.

“Transparency about who you are as an organisation so that you can attract - or nicely repel - so people can self-select in and understand this is the business we’re in, these are the customers we serve, these are the communities that are important to us, inside and out of our walls, and this is the meaning that we want to have in the world,” Tucker told Brinded.

Ultimately, creating a workplace that caters to, respects and represents a broad swathe of human experiences comes down to being able to learn from your colleagues and being unafraid to think differently, as well as mentoring and coaching individuals who will in turn pay it forward.

Ara Tucker speaking with Lianna Brinded for Global Change Agents
Ara Tucker speaking with Lianna Brinded for Global Change Agents

“We all have these different dimensions where at one point or another we might be the only person representing that confluence and it’s that intersectionality that makes these things so rich and complex and nuanced… I’m always cognisant you can’t focus on fixing people if you’re not also going to focus on fixing the systems, the traditions, the rituals that have gotten us to this place,” she said.

Tucker is a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community as well as a minority leader (she shares her personal stories on the website I’m Here Too), although she doesn’t consider herself an activist.

She’s aware that her own experience of being black in America is in no way stereotypical, and the subject of black affluence is one she explores in her documentary, Black Like Us.

“I remember kind of thinking I didn’t really feel black until I got to law school and realised just how few lawyers were African American… It was truly trying to understand why it was that I felt so much like an outsider in a community where I felt like I should just automatically belong,” she said.

Tucker, who is married to a white artist from Michigan, Hilary Harkness, also opens up in the interview about how coming out was transformational for her.

“In some ways, coming out freed me to actually be the best version of who I wanted to be and who I was born to be,” she said in the interview.

“I don’t think of myself as an activist but I do think that within the space that I am, I have an opportunity to have an activist spirit, in terms of questioning, in terms of disrupting, in terms of dismantling and rebuilding the things that I’m curious about, which are talent and culture.”

Watch the full Ara Tucker Global Change Agents interview for:

● How Tucker transitioned from visual arts major to corporate lawyer

● Tucker on the value of bringing people - especially juniors - into the conversation

● Tucker speaking about the value of taking risks - especially when it comes to believing in another individual

● Tucker on how the success of corporations ultimately comes down to their people

● Tucker discussing our growing awareness that the push for diversity doesn’t begin and end in the workplace

● Tucker on how her artist wife uses paintings as a force for change

Global Change Agents with Lianna Brinded explores the stories of some of the most inspirational women across business, tech, and academia. Catch up on all the latest episodes here.