Marching Forward: Suni Harford - Bob Woodruff Foundation

Marching Forward: Suni Harford

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Women are helping to lead the Bob Woodruff Foundation into an exciting new future. Throughout the month of March, we’ll be sharing their stories.

Although we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8 and women’s history for the entire month, women are impacting positive change every day of the year. In the workplace, women help organizations increase revenue, serve as better mentors, and even acquire higher levels of education than their male counterparts. The Bob Woodruff Foundation has been benefiting from women in leadership roles since our inception. Throughout the month we will be featuring stories on women who have helped lead the foundation and find out what they have to say on issues including empowerment, mentorship, and gender equality.

Most successful leaders strive for simple solutions to complex issues. Unfortunately, simple is rarely a code word for easy.

In an age where there seems to be a digital tool or app for every problem, Suni Harford decided upon an unplugged approach to solving the issues employees were having at UBS Asset Management. Harford implemented her “Post-It challenge.” Employees were encouraged to write down the issues frustrating them in the workplace. Harford received hundreds of responses written on box-shaped notes. She created a wall full of the Post-Its.

This was not done merely as an exercise in unique qualitative research. Harford used the contents of these notes to focus on simplifying many elements of the firm’s work experience. One by one, as problems were addressed, Harford was able to remove the notes from the wall.

The success of this approach helps explain why Harford has been yielding results her entire career. The financial world can be a noisy place, but Harford knows that a simple and direct approach is best when trying to alleviate critical workplace problems.

“If the pandemic taught us anything, it is that the current state of progress is fragile and that we need to accelerate the rate at which we are bringing both diversity and inclusion into our workplaces.”

Harford has realized another simple truth. Those who ensure our safety deserve every opportunity for success once their service has ended. For years, Harford has been a strong advocate for veterans. She served on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Veterans’ Employment Advisory Council, worked with Michelle Obama’s Joining Forces initiative, and helped formalize Citi’s Veterans Initiative, CitiSalutes. Harford’s efforts have been recognized by the military and she was awarded the U.S. Army’s Outstanding Civilian Service Award, one of the highest civilian awards issued by the Army. She is also a current member of the Bob Woodruff Foundation’s Board of Directors and a founding sponsor of Veterans on Wall Street.

Harford is now the President of UBS Asset Management (the first woman to hold that position) and a member of the UBS Group Executive Board. Before joining UBS in 2017, she worked at Citigroup for almost 25 years. Harford is also co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Future Council on Investing and was also recently named one of Barron’s Most Influential U.S. Women in Finance. Harford exemplifies what women can accomplish in the financial sector if they are empowered to do so.

For Harford, empowerment “means equality. It means that women have a choice in all that they do, and an equal say in decisions affecting their lives and the lives of their families. And of course, it means not just the reality of that equality, but that each woman feels safe in exercising those equal rights.”

Mentorship can be an important component of empowerment. Harford has been shaped by the women who took the time to help guide her.

“I have had so much support over the years, that I get angry when I hear the old adage about women not helping other women,” Harford said. “Mentorship is a two-way street, and I have always found that I learn as much from a woman who I am mentoring than I expect she has learned from me.”

Harford’s habit of learning from those she mentors demonstrates a willingness to field ideas from those with varied life experiences.

“We need to challenge the timeline currently accepted for change. If the pandemic taught us anything, it is that the current state of progress is fragile and that we need to accelerate the rate at which we are bringing both diversity and inclusion into our workplaces.”