In honor of Black History Month, NBCUniversal is spotlighting Joint Diversity Council (JDC) member Carla Harris, Vice Chairman, Wealth Management, Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley.
Ms. Harris executed one of the largest biotechnology common stock transactions in U.S. history and was appointed by former President Barack Obama to chair the National Women’s Business Council in 2013. Her many accolades include “The 50 Most Powerful Black Executives in Corporate America” by Fortune Magazine and the U.S. Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Finance for three years in a row.
Created in 2011, the JDC provides advice and support to the Comcast NBCUniversal executive teams as the company continues as an industry leader in diversity. The JDC consists of national leaders in business, politics, and civil rights representing the interests of African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, Women, veterans, Native Americans, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ community.
Q: Please tell us about how your family, heritage and culture have influenced your career path and who you are as a leader today.
My family has been instrumental in my outlook, demeanor, and execution as a professional. My parents brought me up in a “no excuses” household where there was a focus on always excelling, no matter what my endeavor was – from my academic pursuits to bowling in a citywide league!! They never allowed me to use excuses around race, gender or any other parameter where inequities in the world, community or classroom existed. They made it clear that they EXPECTED me to do well (make A’s) and that there was nothing extraordinary about doing so, I simply was just supposed to do so!
My paternal grandmother was also a real influence because she stressed that if you were going to do ANYTHING, you should always make sure to do your absolute best and to BE the best at whatever you were attempting to do. These learnings have governed my college, B-school and Wall Street career. I have never let anyone’s suggestion or pre-conceived notions of who I am or what I can do drive my intentions or output in the marketplace.
Q: You have said that "we are blessed so that we can be a blessing to someone else.” Please tell us how that philosophy has shaped your career and your life, and how you would advise others to live by that principle.
I am clear that I did not get to where I am on my own. There were many people, like my parents and grandmother who gave me direct advice; people, who along the way, gave me specific pieces of advice at a particular point in time; or people who supported or prayed for me. I believe strongly that I, therefore, have a responsibility and, frankly, obligation to do the same for others. I have also learned over time that the way to grow one’s power is to give it away. The more you empower other people with your intellect, experiential capital, relationships, or sponsorship, the more powerful YOU become.
Q: In your book “Expect to Win: 10 Proven Strategies for Thriving in the Workplace”, you discuss some personal missteps while climbing the corporate ladder. Can you tell us about one of those situations and what others could learn from that experience?
One of the missteps that I write about in Chapter 6 of “Expect To Win” is around promotion. One year, I did not get promoted when I thought I should, nor had I gone into my boss to talk about a promotion prior to the decision. When I did not get promoted, I was really surprised and angry, and I stewed about it for more than two weeks. Finally, I went into my boss’s office to have the discussion. His response? “Carla, I am glad that you came in. Your colleagues have been coming into my office for a few months demanding their promotion, but I haven’t heard from you. I had to make some tough decisions this year, so I took the path of least resistance. Didn’t you know that we are the captain of our own ship?”
I could no longer be angry; I got the message right away. You should never leave it to chance with respect to your promotion or compensation expectations. It is YOUR responsibility to make sure that your boss or the leadership is aware of your expectations. You must ASK FOR THE ORDER; don’t assume that people know…
Q: What role do you think the media can play in telling the stories of the African American community?
I believe that media plays a very important role in telling the stories of African Americans. The media is the dominant influence in our society in shaping perceptions and in delivering “intelligence” today. I believe that the media can be influential in mending some of the breaks in our society today (race relations, police/community relationships, etc.). The more stories that are told about the past and present contributions of different demographics to the success of our communities and country, the greater the contributions will be from these different demographics on both the gender and ethnic fronts.
Q: You were appointed by President Obama to chair the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) in August 2013. During your time in that role, what are you most proud of? And what advice would you give to the next chair of the Council?
There are many things that I am proud of as a member and Chair of the Council. One of the accomplishments includes the creation of GrowHerBiz, an on-line resource for women entrepreneurs at various stages of their business’s development. I was astounded when I came into the role that there was one place where a woman who was starting a business or looking to scale a business could go to understand the resources that were available to her. I am also proud of the role that NWBC played in support of the National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2015 passage, as well as the quality of the content and resources that we offered in each of our public meetings. In each of our public meetings over the last three years, we had a strong group of speakers from the White House, the U.S. Small Business Administration, or private industry that offered high-value add content to entrepreneurs who attended or listened in our meetings.
Q: You are one of the original members of the Comcast NBCUniversal Joint Diversity Council, which was formed in 2011. Describe what that experience has been like for you.
Being a member of the Comcast NBCUniversal Joint Diversity Council has been a unique and valuable experience. I believe and I have said, publicly, that it is a best-in-class tool in Corporate America. The Council brings together outstanding professionals from every demographic and a diverse set of industries to offer, at the margin, valuable perspective on a well-developed corporate diversity and inclusion strategy. I think that it says a lot about the company that it is willing to listen and act upon outside perspectives to ensure its leadership in this space. I have enjoyed helping to develop thoughts and suggestions around specific questions and to offer feedback that might be helpful to the company.
To learn more about the Joint Diversity Council or about our diversity and inclusion efforts, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.