Women in Leadership Spotlight on Daria Loi

Today our Women in Leadership spotlight series shines on the impressive Daria Loi who talks to us about the advice she would give her younger self, the vast importance of allies to #BreaktheBias and the role nature can play in achieving the elusive work-life balance.

Daria holds a PhD in Design and Management from RMIT University in Australia and is based in Oregon. Her passion for the field comes across in her very active career, which includes being:

  • • Senior Director, Head of Innovation at Avast
    • an Experience Maker at Studio Loi
    • on the Board of Directors at DemocracyLab
    • a member of the Executive Council at CETI
    • Conjoint Professor of Practice at the University of Newcastle; and
    • a columnist for ACM Interactions.

In addition to her ambitious career pursuits, she also volunteers at The Aspen Institute, Course5i, DCODE NETWORK and Participatory Design Advisory Board.

Daria is passionate about growing people, teams and organizations and thrives on combining design strategy, UX/UI and innovation to enrich people’s lives and humanize technology. We could do a whole piece on what it means to humanize technology, but for the sake of brevity I will borrow this article’s definition which is that, “Humanising tech means designing technology to be better for humans and better at interacting with humans.’

It is no surprise then that Daria prioritizes human interactions, having mentored over 100+ individuals, and was recognized as one of Italy’s 50 most inspiring women in tech. Read on below to discover how Daria copes with imposter syndrome, the characteristics that make a leader and who has been the most influential woman in her life.

Organize, agitate, educate, must be our war cry. (Facebook Cover) (3)

What quote inspires you the most?

“Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted” – William B. Cameron, 1963

 

What has been the most significant barrier in your career to date?

People that did not genuinely believe in me.

 

Have you ever felt the imposter syndrome, and if so how did you navigate your way through it?

Of course I have! Usually, I first spend some time doing a side activity to help me reflect and distance myself from that feeling – frequently this means walking, gardening, or drawing. Then, I tend to talk things through with a trustworthy ally that understands my competencies, that is capable of being brutally honest and that knows how to nudge me so I can sprint into action. As Mr. Rogers once said: “Look for the helpers.”

 

What do you think are the three most important characteristics to be an amazing leader in your organization?

Empathy, Integrity, and Accountability.

 

How do you balance career, personal life and passions?

I used to be a workaholic. My genuine passion for the work, commitment to quality output and perception that I had to meet specific career expectations or golden standards got in the way of a balanced life. It was not sustainable. I was not happy and, even worse, my dissatisfaction and exhaustion was impacting loved ones.

I often joke that “life is only one – there is no voucher at the end to repeat it”. Work and career are important but, frankly, not as crucial as family and love. Career and work will not be beside me when it’s time to leave this amazing journey we call life. So, I balance things by drawing clear lines between career/work and the rest. Occasionally, I may step over the line yet those are rare exceptions and I work hard to ensure they stay that way.

 

What has been your biggest learning when it comes to work-life harmony during the pandemic?

About a year after the pandemic started, my husband and I decided to move to live in the countryside. It turned out to be the best idea ever. The pandemic enabled us to take a leap – we dreamed about and discussed that possibility for years, yet we kept hesitating. We needed a nudge and the pandemic opened that door. I am now surrounded by nature and that proximity has enchanting powers over me. My biggest learning is that to have work-life harmony a big helper – besides loved ones – is something that we all have available in great abundance: nature.

 

What is the role mentorship and sponsorship have played in your career?

Mentorship and sponsorship both played a massive role in my life and career – and they continue to play a fundamental role. I would not be where (and who) I am if it was not for the incredible helpers that I benefited from over the years. Mentorship and sponsorship also play a key role as I am fortunate enough to have mentees that believe in me and find what I have to offer of value. There is so much learning in that magical relationship and it brings me so much joy.

 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

  • • Believe in yourself. Never compromise, hide, cripple or negate your true self.
    • Be like a sponge. Keep learning and growing through and with others.
    • Focus and prioritize. Be clear on where you wish to go, why and how. Ditch the rest.
    • Be shameless. Ask for opportunities – if they are not there, create them.
    • Partner. Find true allies, mentors and champions that will support and advocate for you.
    • Persist. Be ready for bumps in the road yet do not give up. Stay focused and move forward.

 

In honour of International Women’s Day 2022, has there been a time where you or someone around you has had to #BreakTheBias? What was your biggest learning from this experience?

So many moments come to mind honestly, but here is one from my times as a PhD student – an early experience. While conducting research related to my scholarship, the research manager would only engage with and respond to the views of my two (male) colleagues. If I talked, he would ignore me. If we were in a corridor discussing a matter, he’d place himself between me and my colleagues, shoulders toward me.  It became blatantly offensive and extremely unproductive.

I felt I had no voice, yet I wanted to scream. I did not want to harm the project or loose the scholarship, yet I wished to run away. I also had good reasons to believe that the leadership above would not listen, so I felt rather hopeless. Yet, I could not stay silent and do nothing. So, I spoke with my colleagues and shared my observations and concerns. I also informed them that, while I would continue working with them and work to make the project a success, I would no longer attend meetings or participate in anything that would expose me to the research manager.

My two colleagues did something I did not expect. They called a meeting with the research manager and to my surprise informed him that unless he stopped his sexist behaviors and unless he apologized to me they would not work on the project even if it meant losing the scholarship. My two top learnings are:

  • • there ARE allies out there and you can enlist them if you are honest and decisive; and
    • there is much strength in a united team with a clear, cohesive, uncompromising request.

 

Bonus Question – Who has been the most influential woman in your life/career?

Without any doubt, my mother. She became a widow at age 36 (no job, no money, no car and 2 young daughters) and spent the rest of her life working relentless and with great integrity to ensure I and my sister would be able to reach our own potential. She is a tough cookie yet funny, honest, generous, encouraging and caring. She is my superhero!

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