In honor of Black History Month, DTE’s employee resource group REACH (Respecting Ethnic and Cultural Heritage) celebrated their sixth annual Trailblazers award ceremony recognizing three DTE employees for their exceptional leadership and mentorship in blazing a path for others to follow. This year Joi Harris was named a 2022 Trailblazer for her accomplished and inspirational career and her work to help connect Black students, community members and employees to learning, development, and growth opportunities in STEM.
In November 2021, DTE announced 11 promotions and rotations on our executive team, of which 45% were women and people of color. One of those promotions was of Joi Harris to president of DTE Gas. Joi is both the first woman and the first person of color to be appointed a DTE president.
Joi is a 30-year veteran of DTE and an outstanding example of the kind of careers people can develop at our company. She started her career with DTE Gas, formerly known as MichCon, when she was 15 years old, shadowing our engineers. From there, she joined DTE as a co-op and then as an engineer. After spending nearly her entire career in DTE Gas, Joi has a deep understanding of the gas business and has demonstrated her commitment to our customers and the communities we serve consistently throughout her career.
As the vice president of the board of directors for the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP), Joi applies her passion for STEM to ensure students of color who possess the talent and drive to excel in STEM fields are equipped to develop their skills and build their confidence. She is also a member of Wayne State University’s College of Engineering Board of Visitors and Industrial Engineering Advisory Board. Harris was chosen by the Michigan Chronicle as a “Woman of Excellence,” recognized by “Who’s Who in Black Detroit,” and honored by the Women of Color STEM Conference for her career achievements.
“Joi continues to be the epitome of a trailblazer not only in DTE but in the community,” said Cedric Flowers, vice president of Gas Operations. “She’s passionate about bringing forth positive change and influencing the youth through her work with DAPCEP – an organization that influenced her as a young student and ultimately led her to pursue STEM. Her inclusive leadership continues to pave the way at DTE and we’re proud of her accomplishments and to have her at the tip of the spear leading DTE Gas to continued success.”
We sat down with Joi and asked her a few questions about what it means to be a trailblazer, who has positively impacted her life, and what wisdom she has to impart to others.
What does being a trailblazer mean to you?
For me, being a trailblazer means I have the awesome responsibility to help create pathways to aspirations that, until this point, may have seemed unattainable for some, particularly those who look like me!
As an African-American, female, engineer and executive, I’ve been the first – and you can fill in the blank. I’m committed to making certain I’m not the last by not only creating opportunities, but also challenging others to do the same. The trail I leave is only one of the many needed to foster more diversity, equity and inclusion in our company and throughout our community.
Tell us about the first person who inspired you and what they said or did to inspire you, that has remained with you to this day?
I have been so blessed that I didn’t have to look far beyond my own household for inspiration. I credit my parents for exposing me to science and engineering at a very early age and for encouraging me to never stop learning. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said, “A mind that is stretched by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions.”
My career journey has been a kaleidoscope of experiences – each providing opportunities for growth. We all encounter people who teach us, create memorable experiences for us and lead us to learn. I’m forever grateful to countless individuals who have contributed to my development along the way.
What advice would you give others, who might follow in your footsteps?
The best advice I can give is to be the chief architect of your own career. I’ve learned that taking ownership of my career can only begin after committing to standing in my truth; practicing self-reflection to help focus my steps. Acknowledging development needs, strengths, articulating goals with clarity of purpose, demonstrating a willingness to help others and knowing when to set aside your ego to ask others for help – these are lessons I continue to learn.
I encourage emerging leaders to find mentors and sponsors to help guide your path and to network with a purpose. That is, establish reciprocal relationships with the goal of elevating our collective performance. Lastly, be strong-minded in your quest to find the greatness in everyone – including yourself. Then seek out opportunities that may not perfectly align with one’s strengths to foster continued growth, making certain the right level of support is in place along the way.
Want to learn more about how DTE is working to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace? Read more about our efforts here.