Founder of the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign, Meena Harris ’12 is now Uber’s head of strategy and leadership, and she serves on the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She was a senior adviser on policy and communications for the 2016 campaign of her aunt, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris.
On coming from Oakland and Stanford to Harvard:
There’s a certain intensity on the East Coast that was new for me, but it’s something I really came to love: the intellectual rigor of being in a place like Harvard Law School, a shared sense of work ethic—maybe over-work ethic. Maybe I appreciate it a little bit more after the fact, but it was really formative for me. That’s not to say we’re not hardworking in California. It just has a different vibe.
What sticks with her most about HLS:
Being surrounded by extraordinary minds, interesting people with diverse backgrounds, who in some way, shape, or form were committed to ideals of justice and using their law degrees for good in the world. Although a lot of us obviously went into corporate law to pay off student debt, it’s really a feeling of commitment to something bigger than us.
Why she attended Celebration 65:
I’m inspired by what we’re seeing across the country in terms of women’s empowerment. I believe it’s a movement, not just a moment. Celebration 65 is a piece of that. It’s creating spaces to honor and uplift women and their professions and, most important, to make meaningful connections. It’s easy to forget the importance of establishing that connectivity.
On social change in the digital age:
Social media and digital platforms have played a powerful role in influencing and catalyzing social movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. I reject that notion of it being “slacktivism” or hashtag activism.
Her Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign:
For someone who had not previously engaged in politics, the small act of buying a $35 T-shirt, knowing it benefits women’s organizations, and perhaps posting it on Twitter or Instagram and talking about women’s equality, is an act of activism. In this era of purity tests and litmus tests of whether or not somebody qualifies as “woke,” so to speak, or as an activist, we should be encouraging every single form of it.
Diversity and inclusion takes a lot of work. It’s difficult, it’s frustrating. It’s something you have to stick with for the long term.
How she’s changing Uber’s corporate culture:
We had a program and speaker series, a networking, social atmosphere for women, [with] conversations that highlight women and leadership. We launched an executive education program, piloted [in] fall , offering Harvard Business School education to employees around topics such as building trust and leadership. We were able to get 6,000 employees to sign up for the first pilot. It’s offered to all employees, but we know it will benefit women when we talk about building trust and leadership and helping to amplify their impact and status in the workplace.
On getting more women into tech, and retaining them:
In tech, we have a general disposition of immediate gratification: move fast, break things, and things have to happen quickly, and it’s all about the product. But diversity and inclusion takes a lot of work, it takes a long-term investment, it’s difficult, it’s frustrating. It’s something you have to stick with for the long term. It has to be baked into every single thing that you do.
Lessons she’s learned from her interview series with women of color running for office:
Women who are running are getting outspent by corporate dollars 3 to 1, sometimes 10 to 1. But they are outworking their opponents, they’re out there knocking on doors, competing for every single vote, and they’re winning.
Many have been told to be someone else, not their authentic selves: Don’t be too controversial. Don’t lead with the fact that you’re a Palestinian-American. One was told, “You’re a little quirky—act more like a liberal white guy.” Another was told she’s too serious and needs to lighten up a little bit. Every single one of them said, “I only know how to be me.” And once again, they’re winning.