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Ever consider becoming a business anthropologist? Tune in to sNAPAshots conversations with practicing professional and applied anthropologists. Let’s meet Emily Altimare.
[On Screen Text] Emily Altimare is a Business Anthropologist serving as Senior Advisor with FTE Performance Consulting, Inc.
Emily Altimare 0:30
So my name is Emily Altimire, and I’m a senior advisor with FTE Performance Consulting. It’s a consulting firm. And I do identify as a business anthropologist.
What was the anthropological background of your childhood?
Emily Altimare 0:40
Two things pop into my head. I don’t know if I really credit either one. We had an exchange students stayed with my family from Spain for several months. And I think that was early exposure to distinct language and culture, which I’ve gravitated towards and found very interesting. Also, I think it was probably sixth grade, seventh grade, something like that participated in a History Day. And I’m raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. And so we ended up focusing on the Amish, which are…live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. And so we did a whole history of a project about the Amish, the Amish, they were the title of the project was “Plain life in a complex world.” And I joke, but that was probably actually my first anthropology foray.
How did you get interested in studying anthropology?
Emily Altimare 1:32
So I was actually introduced to anthropology when I was a college student. So I went into University of Delaware, undeclared with a major, and I was taking all sorts of classes, and I did not see the pattern. So I was taking linguistics, physical anthropology, cultural anthropology, archaeology, and my advisor called me in and said, you know, you have to declare a major. And I said, okay, and they said, I’m reviewing your record, you’re only a few credits away from a degree in anthropology. And so I actually think that anthropology chose me. So with that knowledge, I chose anthropology. There was one course in particular, which was an applied anthropology course, with Dr. Irwinshorts at University of Delaware. And that was a really fascinating class, because it really demonstrated that the theory and the methods of anthropology had practical application, and you can do something with it. And there was a text by Van Willig, and I remember he had all these case studies of anthropologists doing things and impacting the world. And with that knowledge, I was hooked on the field.
How has the anthropological perspective or training enhanced your contribution to your workplace,
Emily Altimare 2:43
My current employer, so FTE Performance, I feel very fortunate one of the offerings that we contribute to to clients are organizational or workplace assessments. And so it’s kind of three different areas, we look at fundamental business systems, we look at lean manufacturing, a lot of the work we do is in manufacturing. And then we also do cultural assessments. And so the kind of the hat of culture I’m uniquely qualified for. So I feel fortunate that I found a firm that does have a specialization in manufacturing and lean. But they in fact, privilege and understand the value of contribution that understanding the current culture of a workplace and organization brings to bear. And so when we go into those assessments, I usually wear the hat of culture. And we get to do you know, open ended interviews, observations, kind of our normal methodology, asking questions that will of course bring insight and benefit to leaders in the organization that are looking most typically to make an improvement. And so that nuanced understanding is a benefit. And so I kind of fit fit as a contributor in the space of culture and those assessments. You know, I do other work beyond assessments, but the assessment work is closest to home for Anthropology and probably the thing I most enjoy.
What types of industry challenges do you get to help solve with this anthropological lens?
Emily Altimare 4:08
In the settings, kind of corporate setting, Short, short on time, what kind of what’s the so what tell me this, so let me tell you, tell me how you got there. And so being adept at summarizing effectively and then presenting it back in either very persuasive quotes that we’ve collected, and being very clear on the fact that these are words of your workforce.
Do you recall a moment that changed the way you practiced anthropology?
Emily Altimare 4:39
I would say it’s a category of moments and it has been when we are my team and myself are standing in front of a executive group offering descriptions of what we’ve found culturally in the assessment or what’s going on for employees. And it feels like a very I’m significant responsibility to get it right, because it has dot dawns on me every time I’m in that position, that what I say, can can and will have impact on decisions that these leaders make those decisions then impact 1000s of people. And so that is a real responsibility. And I attempt to get it right. And when I, you know, air air quotes, get it right. But I mean, really do justice to what people have shared, and try to present it in a meaningful way. So that Leadership isn’t left with a question, but in fact, now has insight that can help inform decisions.
What was one thing about anthropology that nobody told you as a student,
Emily Altimare 5:45
Be prepared to explain what anthropology is, and why you have a contribution to make. And I’ll say that in the nicest way, people are somewhat unfamiliar with the field, especially in a business setting. And so it really is advantageous to have, you know, one or two lines kind of prepared, so that you can very clearly and plainly describe, you know, who you are, and what you’re doing, I will tell you that in the world of consulting, I might be the first anthropologist they’re interacting with. And so the unlike maybe other fields, where they’ve tried that, and we didn’t have success, we kind of come into environments as a clean slate, where there are not kind of preconceived notions of what an anthropologist is, but you have to inform them of kind of what who you are and what you do and the expertise that you bring to bear.
What advice would you like to pass on to future anthropologist seeking roles in professional fields?
Emily Altimare 6:43
In terms of future students, I would say that they should have robust confidence in anthropology and what they bring to the table. I think that we are not as common as a discipline in a business setting, but we bring just as much and so I would tell them to be confident in the methods and the theory that that we are positioned within, I would also tell them that in a workplace where maybe, maybe the the software of choice is Excel or PowerPoint, and I would encourage them to get familiar and get comfortable if it’s not your ideal format for presenting data and information. But it’s okay if it’s your audience’s preferred or if it’s your, your, your employer’s preferred, get good at it. And don’t feel like that’s somehow losing your anthropology, identity. It’s in fact, being flexible, and being able to be an anthropologist in a workplace. And it does sometimes mean you know, getting savvy at Excel. And that’s okay. So that would be my my words of encouragement is to take an inventory of the workplace. And if there are particular software systems or way people present data, learn it, and you can potentially adopt it, and in fact, means that you might be communicating more effectively to your audience.
Thank you, Emily, for sharing your experience as a practicing business anthropologist. For more snapshots Find us at practicing anthropology.org Meta, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
[On Screen Text] Many Thanks to NAPA’s General Council for their Support! NAPA is a section of the American Anthropological Association. Practicing Anthropology.org Directors: Reshama Damle and Suanna Crowley Producers: Cathleen Crain, Niel Tashima, Joshua Liggett
Emily Altimare 8:34
[Outtake] Yeah, as a side story, a couple of years ago, I got involved, we were starting a dog park in our community. And I will tell you, I use my anthropology like no other because dog parks are apparently actually quite controversial. You have real people that are advocates and people that have all these reasons why they’re not a good idea, and there’s value on both sides. But I really did fulfill kind of translator and let’s understand what’s behind that resistance. We had a local township meeting where someone who was very opposed, stood up and had these points and some of what this woman feared, you know, just wasn’t backed up by kind of some of some of the data. And so you know, in community, in teams in work, I think your anthropology skill set is valuable.
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Transcribed by https://otter.ai