When Human Resources (HR) Director and HR Business Partner Agnes Clarke was 16, she wasn’t flipping burgers or lifeguarding or doing any of the other jobs typical of a teenager first entering the workforce.
Instead, she was gaining professional work experience at a branch office of a multinational consumer bank.
“Growing up, I loved numbers, and I was good at math,” said Agnes, whose early interest in finance led to an internship and ultimately a five-year stint at the bank. “I believed that finance could be something I would enjoy doing.”
She continued to work at the bank after enrolling at Florida International University (FIU) as a full-time student majoring in accounting.
Toward the end of Agnes’s sophomore year, one of her accounting professors shared that he wasn’t convinced accounting was the right path for her.
“He told me I talked too much,” Agnes said, laughing. “He said I was too interested in engaging with people and was worried that accounting might not be the perfect fit for me. And to be honest, I thought he had a point.”
At the time, in addition to working at the bank, Agnes had a paid internship with the accounting professor.
“I was raised by a single mother, who worked very hard to give me every opportunity she could,” she said. “There was no way I was going to put the financial burden of my college education on her. So, it was very important to me that I pivot quickly and line up another paid internship in a field that I was more likely to pursue.”
Agnes reflected on her first interview – with Human Resources at the bank – and remembered being struck by the interviewer’s ability to glean that a candidate would be a great fit for a role based on a conversation. She was intrigued by that skill set and wanted to learn more.
She switched her major to Business Administration with a concentration in HR and transitioned to a Federal Work Study program with FIU’s Human Resources Department.
Upon completion, Agnes was offered and accepted a full-time position in the University’s Human Resources Customer Service Center.
“Working in the Human Resources Customer Service Center was an amazing introduction to HR,” said Agnes. “The questions that I received from callers varied; it always related to some different function of HR. Researching and interpreting policies made me realize that there were multiple areas of focus. I really appreciated the variety the function offers.”
Within a year of working at the HR Customer Service Center, a new opportunity arose at the University’s College of Medicine. She jumped at the opportunity to learn a new industry and gain exposure in the area of recruiting – both doctors and professors.
“It was a brand-new program and felt like a start-up type of culture because I was involved in everything related to HR,” Agnes said. “It was so exciting to immerse myself into a new industry and learn about all the opportunities within medicine, outside the obvious – being a doctor. It’s very similar to aviation in that way; there are so many different career paths available in our industry, but you don’t really know that unless you’re already exposed to it.”
Working in this generalist capacity (learning and executing multiple functions of HR) prompted Agnes to pursue her Master of Business Administration (MBA) immediately after graduating with her bachelor’s degree, so she could eventually work on the corporate side.
In 2015, with her MBA and her Professional in Human Resources (PHR) Certification in hand – and a young, growing family at home – Agnes received a pivotal call from a recruiter.
The opportunity was with Atlas.
“The role sounded perfect,” Agnes said. “It was a little bit of everything – Benefits, Recruitment and more. After meeting with the HR Leadership Team, I fell in love with the company. I knew this was the place for me.”
Today, Agnes has HR responsibilities over all of flight operations – ground and crew. Additionally, as the HR Business Partner, she serves as the liaison between the business and HR, working very closely with Flight Ops leadership to identify and execute strategic initiatives.
Agnes is quick to highlight the significant influence her mother has had throughout her life and on the evolution of her career.
“My mother is my biggest supporter. She has always been a source of inspiration for me,” said Agnes. “She left her family and her entire support system in Haiti to come here to the United States because she wanted a better life for me and my brother, and I have always admired that. It’s not that her life was horrible in Haiti, but she realized there was more opportunity here, and she wanted to make sure we had access to that.
“My mother has always believed in me and encouraged me to do the same and not doubt my ability. Whenever I was overwhelmed and thought I couldn’t possibly finish what I had started she always reassured me that if I had made it this far, I could do it. When I was studying for my MBA, I became pregnant with my daughter. I had awful morning sickness, I was working full time and battling a long commute to and from work. I just didn’t think I could do it all. But my mom told me I could. She always said, ‘This is the hard part. Trust me, things will get easier.’ My mother always had more faith in me than I had in myself, and that always motivated me to keep going.”
Agnes draws inspiration from the other women who came before her. The observation of Women’s History Month – particularly here at Atlas – has opened her eyes to the trailblazers who helped make it possible for her to be in the space she is in right now.
“I fully recognize that where I am today as a woman – a director in a corporate environment that values my voice – is because of the women who came before me and who were brave enough to be disruptors. And I won’t take that for granted. The opportunity before me is such a privilege, and I’m determined to make the most of it.”