Olympian Julia Clukey's career coaching business taps her experiences to empower girls, women

BY Maureen Milliken

Photo / Tim Greenway
Photo / Tim Greenway
Julia Clukey, a senior recruiter at WEX, is an Augusta native and Olympian. She started a career/confidence coaching business, working primarily with female professionals.

Clukey recently talked to Mainebiz about some of her recent initiatives. An edited transcript follows.
Augusta native and Olympian Julia Clukey, a senior recruiter for WEX Inc., is also founder of summer camps for girls and recently started a career/confidence coaching business for female professionals.

Mainebiz: You're a senior recruiter at WEX, but you also have a camp for girls — what's behind that?

Julia Clukey: I moved home to Maine in 2010 … [I'd] just reached the pinnacle of my sport, competing in the 2010 Winter Olympics, [but that was] coupled with the devastating loss of my younger sister, Olivia, to suicide. I've always been very passionate about female empowerment, and there are still many areas (politics, sports, business) where females are branded as inferior. Losing my sister was a reflection point … on how I wanted to spend my time. Much of my involvement with youth and community pivots back to this loss. New this year was the Empow-her Leadership conference for grade 8-10 girls. Strong communities help us feel a part of something authentic, unified, tangible; they bring out the best in us and help us recognize, indisputably, that we all belong.

MB: How does your career fit with that?

JC: WEX is deeply committed to the community. I sit on our philanthropic committee; a significant part of my professional satisfaction comes from our interaction with the community. WEX also invests heavily in their people and works to provide avenues for professional growth. Last year, I started a career/confidence coaching business working primarily with female professionals on everything from public speaking skills to personal styling. The twinkle in someone's eye when they gain the confidence to go after their goals is the same at any age. Transitioning out of my sport was hard, but sharing my experience and vulnerabilities with other women — I hope it continues to inspire them never to hold back.

MB: How does your luge background inform your career?

JC: I had to figure out who I was away from the sport. It took a while to get a clear sense of what I wanted professionally and personally. There are two lessons I learned as an athlete that I continue to revisit: I fell in love with luge at 11 and remained passionate about it until the very end. I know to be successful I have to be excited about [my work]. When you love what you do, the daily grind/hard work, the challenges, the persistence needed, are all easier. Luge also taught me that you can't succeed without failure/rejection. I failed in my sport, often quite publicly, but I was able to springboard to more significant accomplishments. Remaining vulnerable to failure is critical to growth. I remind myself of that frequently.

MB: You're getting an MBA from Johns Hopkins; your thesis is about the unintended consequences of big data in perpetuating poverty and reinforcing social inequalities. What's driven your interest?

JC: I'm a tech enthusiast who's passionate about socioeconomic issues within our community. I wanted to blend the two. Algorithms help us make more efficient and effective choices. But algorithms are only as good as the data. If biased data is fed into an algorithm, discriminatory results will follow. Algorithms are generally secretive and not well understood. This alone isn't surprising, but if the results are disproportionally negatively affecting an already marginalized group, I'd like to think we want more from businesses, policies. As consumers continue to demand transparency, I believe we're moving towards an auditing process that asks companies to open up technology for evaluation. Technologies like blockchain excite me — they're allowing us to more feasibly use data and tech for good, not just profit.

MB: You were a 2018 Olympics TV analyst!

JC: Working with NBC was a great experience. I knew nothing about the TV world and walked away in awe of everything and everyone that needs to come together to create two-minute segments that are entertaining. I enjoyed helping share the stories of my teammates. It was the perfect footnote to my career.