Angie Henderson is the co-founder and lead data analyst at The Avery Center, an organization that leads local and international change-makers to end commercial sexual exploitation with research that is used to reduce demand, convict traffickers, and decrease barriers for marginalized populations through evidence-based services.

You and Megan Lundstrom met each other in 2015 at the UNC Empathy Week and began collaborating on research projects for Free Our Girls. In 2018, you co-founded Avery Research & Consulting, and in 2020 merged the two organizations as The Avery Center. What motivated you to co-found The Avery Center – was there a significant moment or factor that made it a “hell yes!” decision?

ANGIE HENDERSON: The "hell yes!" decision came when I first met Megan, honestly. I've never reached out to an undergraduate student to ask if we can collaborate on research -- that's just typically not how it works. Typically professors have the big, innovative ideas and they seek out talented students to help on those projects. I knew immediately that with Megan, I was the one "applying" for the position. I saw such incredible depth and brilliance in her ideas and analytic skills that I offered to help write a grant to help her get answers to the questions she had. I felt honored she said yes and honestly, I still do!

What’s your Thinking Wavelength number? What superpowers does your number give you, and which things are a struggle and/or require conscious effort?

ANGIE HENDERSON: I am a 6 on the wavelength. I'm able to see the big picture, but my mind instantly fixates on all the details that it will take to accomplish that big vision. It's likely an adaptive skill I've honed working alongside Megan for so long! 🙂

Honestly though it's likely a product of my own professional background. As a professor, we have quite a bit of flexibility and freedom to dream big. But, having worked in a bureaucracy for so long, I am well aware of all the legal and other hurdles that exist to be able to achieve anything realistically. So I guess my superpower is being able to see very quickly what it will take to accomplish a big dream, and helping the big dreamers navigate what those steps are realistically.

Megan Lundstrom's favorite resource: Thinking WavelengthLearn more about The Thinking Wavelength

Developed by The Patterson Center, this quick quiz is about how individuals are hard-wired in their thinking. It’s about how people relate to change, risk, and opportunity. Every person has a hard-wired “high-contribution zone”, and there’s no right or wrong answer here. It's all about finding out where each person can make their greatest contribution.

Are you a Grinder, Minder, Keeper, Finder, or Conceiver? Find out with the Thinking Wavelength »

Are you and Megan often "12-ing" at the same time or do you each of you balance each other with one person focusing on more detail-oriented pieces while the other is looking at the big picture? In what ways do your personalities and work styles compliment each other?

"12" is a shorthand for saying that a person thrives focusing on the big picture and is okay taking larger risks to get there—check out The Thinking Wavelength resource linked above to learn more about where this "12" idea comes from.

ANGIE HENDERSON: I am usually the one focusing on the detail! There have been a couple occasions where I came to Megan with an idea and she was like, "NOE" 🙂 (I think we need some merch!) but those are few and far between.

The vast majority of the time we complement each other really well. From an organizational standpoint, she has a much stronger hold on what needs to happen in terms of the policies/procedures of the org. So in many ways, we complement each other in all aspects!

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through building The Avery Center (about yourself, business, or life generally)?

ANGIE HENDERSON: Since we've begun to scale what The Avery Center does, I've learned a ton of lessons. For the past 15 years in my role as a professor, I've learned how to separate the personal and professional. I'm good friends with many of my colleagues in sociology, so I've had a lot of practice navigating those boundaries. I love my colleagues at The Avery Center so I've been intentional about setting and honoring those boundaries there too.

When you love your colleagues and coworkers, boundaries are essential according to Angie Henderson.

In what ways do your two professional roles (Professor of Sociology at UNC and Lead Data Analyst at The Avery Center) compliment or inform each other? What tips do you have for balancing your two roles if priorities conflict?

ANGIE HENDERSON: At UNC, my duties are split between teaching (60%), service/advising (20%) and research (20%). I devote nearly all of my research time to TAC because it fits within those parameters. I also integrate the research into my teaching for courses like Sociology of Sex Trafficking & Global Perspectives of Prostitution.

Because UNC is my actual job, I have to prioritize it over TAC stuff. That has been really hard to do especially as TAC continues to grow. We are now moving into more financial sustainability which means TAC can "buy" my time from UNC, which we'll be doing in spring 2022. I've also applied for a sabbatical in the fall 2022, so fingers crossed I get that and can really pour myself into some big projects for TAC!

What is a skill you have that you don't consider a typical "résumé skill," but which has contributed to your success in a meaningful way?

ANGIE HENDERSON: Soft skills! I'm a middle child, authentic, and a peacemaker, and I know how to adapt to many different audiences. I think one of the reasons Megan and I have had so much success is because of how we complement each other and because we are charismatic and authentic.

Authenticity is so underestimated but it draws people in. If people feel safe being themselves with you, true, genuine connections can flourish. I really feel like people appreciate that about Megan and I. It helps that we're hilarious too (if you appreciate our sense of humor, which is grounded firmly in Dumber & Dumber & Monty Python films).

Angie Henderson: The more I know, the more I realize I don't know. Once you're able to view the things you don't know as an opportunity to learn, your entire perspective shifts.

Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome during your career? If so, how did you deal with it? And if not, why do you think that is?

ANGIE HENDERSON: I still do, every day! The way I deal with it is to continue to listen, learn, and adapt my perspective. The more I know, the more I realize I don't know. Once you're able to view the things you don't know as an opportunity to learn, your entire perspective shifts. It's not a deficit, it's just room for more growth. And, to quote the brilliant activist, poet and speaker Alok Vaid-Menon, "Learning is the most delightful thing about being alive."

The more I know, the more I realize I don't know. Once you're able to view the things you don't know as an opportunity to learn, your entire perspective shifts. It's not a deficit, it's just room for more growth.

What research project or topic is really capturing your attention right now?

ANGIE HENDERSON: MeSearch! I always knew that me answering Megan's pressing questions was healing for her, but when it's survivor researchers asking the questions and processing the answers with their survivor sisters in research interviews, a whole new level of connection, belonging, and healing is possible. The process becomes bidirectional; everyone heals because the shame that plagues survivors' sense of self dissipates.

To quote Brene Brown, "Shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot survive empathy." Survivor-led interviews with other survivors ARE empathy. There's no judgment, there's automatic rapport and trust. Everyone heals, stories are heard, often for the first time, and individuals are much more likely to reach out for help and services if it's survivors doing the outreach and research. It's phenomenal.

lightning round


How often do you get new ideas?

coming up with new ideas is a challenge

Scale of 1 to 10 - 10

my brain is always overflowing with new ideas

How hard is it for you to follow through on your ideas and make them happen?

I have to force myself to follow through on things

Scale of 1 to 10 - 6

I love carrying out tasks and completing things

How would you rank your work-life balance right now?

I live at work!

Scale of 1 to 10 - 2

I struggle to sit down and get work done.

What’s the #1 thing you recommend outsourcing so that you can focus on the parts of your business that really light you up?

Grading! My poor TA McKenna is so busy 🙂

What’s your favorite non-work thing right now?

The book "My Grandmother's Hands" - it's INCREDIBLE. Makes me want to teach a course on Society & Trauma.

CLOSING: Any other thoughts or tips you’d like to share with fellow leaders & entrepreneurs?

I'm slowly learning how to say "no" to things that end up costing me so much mental energy in the end. I wish I'd learned that sooner. My biggest advice to newer leaders & entrepreneurs is to work on this right away!

Thank you, Angie, for being generous with your time and sharing your perspective and advice!


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