London Recap: Changemaker Chat with Doina Harris

Photography by: @amanda.june.photography

Quirky and colourful, Doina Harris started her career in finance and consulting, industries where she didn’t always fit the cultural mould. She later took a chance and moved into technology, an area where she didn’t have any prior experience. Rather than confining yourself to a set industry, Doina passionately believes that you should instead look for companies where you can truly be yourself because these are the places where you will thrive. Here is a quick rundown of other key insights we gleaned from Doina as she spoke at our London Changemaker Chat last week.

Embrace A Non-Linear LifeIf you’d asked Doina what she would be doing at the age of forty when she was twenty, she would have said, “CEO of a commercial bank in Romania, married to my childhood sweetheart, with kids and a dog.” Doina didn’t believe she would get accepted into Harvard, but after some very persistent nudging from a friend, she thought ‘why not’ and applied. One BA from Harvard University and an MBA from Harvard Business School later, she now sees the merit in being open to opportunities. Fast forward a few years into her career, a headhunter called Doina to ask her to consider a position at Google. She hesitated at first because she had very little familiarity with the technology industry, but again she thought to herself ‘why not’. She went on to spend many years at Google in various fulfilling positions. Whilst it is great to have plans for the future, it is also important to live life in a non-linear fashion, allowing your plans to change as you do. Doina recommends “having a north star, but if it doesn’t match who you’ve become – drop it and find something else.”

A Dash Of Fear.  Of course, with the excitement of exploring new frontiers, there is also a dash of fear. “There is always the fear that maybe I’m not good enough or maybe I’ll fail. But it’s healthy to try things that you’re not confident you’ll succeed at.” Despite several rocky starts when starting new roles over the year, Doina has learned perseverance and resilience, and has become more attune to the importance of workplace dynamics.

Search For Sponsors.  Throughout the evening Doina advocated strongly for what she called “sponsors”. Mentors, she explained, are those individuals that will coach you and help you to distil feedback. Sponsors are a step further. “These are people who will use their own personal connections and credentials to help advance your career.” Basically they have your back. At different points in Doina’s career she had benefited from the generosity of sponsors, and she now enjoys looking for ways to advance the careers of others.

Stretch And Shrink. Early in her career, Doina found it difficult to know how to fit into the mainstream cultures of investment banking and consulting. More assertive personality types were preferred and Doina’s collaborative approach often set her apart. She would find herself reflecting on the tale of Procrustes, a villain in Ancient Greek mythology who went around maiming people so that they would conform to a specific physically archetype. Like Procrustes’ victims, how much was Doina willing to stretch or shrink to fit the workplace mould? “A little bit of stretch is useful. We all want to grow and evolve. But it’s also important to know when you’ve stretched too far, and when you’ve given up too much of yourself.” Doina is grateful to have found a workplace where her personality is welcome and she is free to be herself. As a result she is happy, more efficient in her work and has a renewed sense of energy.

Welcome Feedback.  Doina loves feedback and regularly seeks it out. However, she feels strongly that you need to be able to discern the type of feedback that will help you grow, from the type that will turn you into a Frankenstein – someone you don’t actually want to be. Early in her career, Doina was told that was too collaborative and needed to be more aggressive, and have more “gravitas”. At first, she took this feedback into account, but over time it just didn’t feel true to her personality and it ended up making her less productive. Having learned from that experience, these days she still considers every piece of feedback but then she carefully decides whether or not she will recalibrate. “I don’t think you can disregard feedback you don’t like, you need to take a really good look in the mirror. It’s also important to have a few people you trust who will hold the mirror for you.”