5 Minutes with The Honorable LaDoris “Dot” Harris

Blazing Trails in Diversity 

Ever wondered what it’s like to be a “first”? The Honorable LaDoris “Dot” Harris knows. After starting her career as a field service engineer in a male-dominated industry sector, Harris would become the first Black female officer at electrical engineering firm ABB Inc. During the Obama administration, she served as chief diversity officer at the Department of Energy—the highest-ranking person of color at the agency.

In her latest role, Harris is not only a first but is also making sure that other women have the opportunity to be firsts. As chief diversity officer for the global company Orbital Energy Group and chief executive officer of the company’s Orbital Solar Services division, her mandate is to create a culture “that gets a person promoted and engaged with the company.”

Diversity Woman spoke with Harris about her new role, diversifying the STEM fields, and the challenge of bringing more women into the C-suite.

Diversity Woman: What do you find most rewarding about DE&I?

LaDoris “Dot” Harris: I consider it an honor when each and every employee brings their strength, their talent, the vibe from their rich cultural heritage,
and their ideas and experience. I don’t want people to check their ethnic selves at the door.

DW: How do your past experiences working in government and the private sector influence your work in diversity and inclusion?

LDH: I can leverage all the relationships and networks that I have at all levels.
For example, I’ll be working with Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL) again because he heads the Energy Subcommittee for the House Committee on Energy & Commerce. I worked with all of the presidents of HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] while at the Department of Energy; I worked with women’s groups. I can relate to D&I as an engineer, a manager, a corporate officer, and a chief diversity officer.

DW: Why did you decide to take on the new role at Orbital Energy Group?

LDH: Jim O’Neil, the CEO, and Bill Clough, the executive chairman, are committed to diversity. They want to be a disruptive force in the energy industry by having the most diverse energy company in the country. That got my attention. That’s what I will be helping this company accelerate.

DW: What is your No. 1 recommendation to those who are seeking to increase the number of women and people of color in STEM fields?

LDH: I’ve heard it 50,000 times: “I can’t find Hispanic women engineers.” Or
“I can’t find any Black chemists.” It’s
where they’re looking. For example, go
to HBCUs—they’re chock-full of students dying to have a summer internship or
job offer.

DW: What steps should companies be taking to advance women in the C-suite?

LDH: Offer stretch assignments. Say a company has an assignment that is new and innovative. Typically, who do they give it to? They give it to someone they’re comfortable with. They don’t want to take a risk by giving it to a minority or a woman. To get women prepared for C-suite positions, companies have to take that risk. DW

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