- By Erin Tapahe
- Higher Education
In addition to helping develop and market a line of high-end cosmetics, beauty industry executive Amber Garrison has a passion for assisting Native American students in building a strong foundation through education.
Garrison (Choctaw) recently joined the board of directors for the American Indian Graduate Center, one of the largest scholarship providers to Native students across the country, where she hopes to advance the nonprofit’s mission by helping to secure additional funding.
While the organization wants to help all Native Americans pursue their education, the AIGC is only able to fund scholarships for 18 percent of applicants, with an annual award of $15 million.
“I plan to work with the American Indian Graduate Center’s passionate, dedicated team and Board to accelerate those objectives,” Garrison said. “I am committed to doing everything I can with AIGC to help Native students achieve their academic pursuits and goals.”
In her professional career, Garrison serves as the senior vice president and global general manager for Bumble and bumble, a part of New York City-based The Estée Lauder Companies Inc., where she’s worked primarily in strategy, growth and business development for the past eight years.
Garrison credits her education as playing a key role in her professional success. In college, she became enthralled by strategy consulting, an interest which later led to her joining Boston Consulting Group, where she dove into problem solving in a team setting. She went on to serve as vice president of corporate strategy of The Estée Lauder Companies, where he helped develop and implement the firm’s 10-year “Strategic Compass.”
Garrison spoke with Tribal Business News about her career and her passion for education.
How did you get into your career?
I was introduced to strategy consulting, and it seemed like a way to learn and develop quickly while also gaining exposure to different industries and getting a better idea of what I might like to do long term. I joined Boston Consulting Group after I graduated from college and soon found how much I loved problem solving in teams. Bringing analysis, expertise, and creativity together to build a strategy is at the foundation of helping a business to thrive, and I’ve been very lucky to develop and apply those fundamental skills throughout my career.
How has your Native American culture influenced you professionally?
I am proud to be Choctaw and reflect often on what our ancestors endured so that we could be here. There are times in every person’s life and career that require resilience and grit to navigate and overcome challenges, and I draw inspiration and strength from my family’s stories, especially in those moments.
How do you approach working for one of the largest brands in the beauty industry?
I love that the beauty industry is a combination of art and science, understanding the market and what different consumers need and want and then creating amazing products and experiences to exceed their expectations. Beauty is an incredible vehicle for self-expression and self-care, and I relish using my favorite products and trying new ones. I also believe deeply in the power of diverse teams to drive better results, and like everyone, my perspective is unique and informed by all the facets of my identity and experiences.
What can the beauty industry do to be more inclusive of Native people?
This is an exciting time in the beauty industry, when inclusivity and representation are truly at the forefront of the conversation. It’s wonderful to see both established brands connecting with diverse audiences and entrepreneurs launching new brands that are informed by their unique perspectives. There are several Native-owned beauty brands that I admire, and there have recently been some powerful moments of visibility for Native people in the beauty industry. Having said that, I still see so much opportunity for greater and more diverse representation, especially given the beautiful diversity within Indian Country.
What’s your opportunity to help bridge the gap with Native American communities?
Education has been such an important part of my story, which is why I’m honored to serve Native American students through my appointment on the board of directors of the American Indian Graduate Center. Our goal is to connect every Native student who wants to pursue higher education with the funding they need to do so, and yet today the American Indian Graduate Center is only able to fund 18 percent of students who apply for scholarships. There is still an enormous gap, and I am committed to doing everything I can with AIGC to help Native students achieve their academic pursuits and goals.
What convinced you to become a board member for the American Indian Graduate Center?
Our mission (is) to fulfill the financial need of all Native students across the United States in their pursuit of undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees, building on our organization’s 50-year track record of impact. … This is personally meaningful to me. Education has an enduring generational impact for individuals, families, and communities — as it has for my own — and I want to honor the past by supporting the next generation of Native students.
What are your goals as a board member?
Because the American Indian Graduate Center is only able to fund 18 percent of scholars who apply at present, we see a significant opportunity to have a greater impact for students. This will come in part through increased funding and partnerships, particularly in the corporate sector, to advance American Indian Graduate Center’s goals. I plan to work with American Indian Graduate Center’s passionate, dedicated team and Board to accelerate those objectives.
The youth are essential in continuing our lineage. What inspiration or words of encouragement do you have for the youth?
Your voice matters. I encourage you to bring your whole self to your career — your personal story, your family and community context, your struggles, and triumphs. That unique collection of experiences and perspectives that each young person has is so valuable and so necessary.
What has personally helped me over the years is a strong belief in curiosity and a growth mindset, that when challenges come, which they inevitably do, we can learn and change to meet the moment.
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