Amal Clooney Shows the Power of Individual Storytelling

By Emily Payne

We were thrilled to wrap up an incredibly successful WorkHuman 2018 with a keynote from international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney. As the curtains opened on the final talk of the event, attendees ran to their seats, as eager as day one’s opening address.

As a compassionate human rights lawyer and equality advocate, Amal has dedicated her career to giving a voice to those who are neglected and exploited. At WorkHuman, she talked with Globoforce CHRO Steve Pemberton and shared what drives her to follow her passions every day, as well as how she’s able to maintain work-life balance after recently welcoming twins to the family.

“I don’t think that anyone will ever feel that they’ve got the perfect balance. But I do my best,” she said, talking about daily pajama parties at home and how being a parent has shaped her decisions to take on certain projects, clients, or travel opportunities.

Throughout her impressive career, Amal has fearlessly followed her passions and works to incorporate humanity into her everyday work. She began at a corporate law firm in New York City. “They definitely didn’t organize conferences like this there,” she laughed.

After a while, she realized that she cared much more about the outcome of the pro bono cases she was taking on during this time, and she thought, how can I do more of this? From then to now, the common denominator for Amal has been trying to give a legal voice to those who don’t have one.

Steve Pemberton asked, “Would it be fair to say one of the biggest challenges you face is awareness?” Amal explained that sometimes there’s a lack of awareness, sometimes there’s a lack of empathy. Not because people don’t care, but because we’re given all these big numbers – such as the millions of refugees who are suffering – and it can be hard to make sense of it. Some may feel that they don’t have the time to care about certain issues, or that they can’t possibly do anything about it.

That’s where speaking up makes an impact. Telling individual stories – whether it be of civil rights violations or harassment in the workplace – make the issues easier to understand. People start to care when they find a connection. Maybe their sister experienced sexual assault, or, as Amal deals with in her humanitarian work, they hear personal stories of those affected by a terrorist attack.

But there’s a difference between awareness and action. Amal mentioned, referring to conferences such as WorkHuman, that she often hears people say, “Well we do care, but we don’t really know what to do.” Look to current news for examples of people creating revolutions every day, she said. Between the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and the recent March for Our Lives demonstrations, “it shows the power of individual people coming out and telling their story.”

“You’re all professionals in seeking out talent, and I think there’s extraordinary talent within our businesses,” she added. “There’s now an expectation that people have, whether they work for these companies or are customers of these companies, that companies are a part of this debate,” and that should inspire us all, she said.

We can’t solve these problems on our own, but if each individual or company can do just one thing to help pivot in the right direction, leaps and bounds can be made. Amal referred to Lyft giving free rides to those wanting to attend March for Our Lives, or Bumble no longer showing profiles on their app that include photos of guns, “Everyone is doing it in their own way.”

Amal and Steve talked extensively about stories of people taking tragedy and turning it into some very powerful advocacy – something that Steve’s own story exemplifies well.

But coming out with personal stories of tragedy is a choice, Amal emphasized. While some might say it’s a form of betrayal to keep a story to oneself – a story of sexual harassment amidst the #MeToo movement, for example – there shouldn’t be pressure to come out publicly with it.

After speaking for a while about the decline in free speech and rise of hate speech we’re seeing worldwide, particularly in the White House, Amal ended on a note of positivity.

If you zoom out and see the big picture, we are living in a time when fewer people of dying of disease, more minority groups have equal rights, and more people are being empowered to make change. “Try to make a difference in a way that’s the most meaningful to you,” she said, mimicking the mindset which guided her through her entire career. “Don’t worry about whether something’s been done before or whether someone is doing something the same way, just forge your own path.”

“My parents named me Amal because it means hope in Arabic, so I’m destined to be an optimist,” she laughed.

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Emily Payne is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn.