Hanifa L Barnes
Introduce yourself to our audience. Tell us who you are and what you are currently focused on.
I am a multicultural mama, wife and leader with nearly 15 years experience in education and change management. As a Liberian-Ugandan American, I have also learned to navigate the challenges and nuances of race, identity and culture while climbing the ladder. Currently, I serve as a Chief of Staff & Operations in higher education finance, host and produce a podcast and am building a platform that amplifies the voices of multicultural women who are making the switch in work and well-being.
Tell us about your favorite Ellevate Network memory or success story. Why are you a member?
I have several Ellevate memories that regularly inspire me in my professional journey. The personalized conversations during the Entrepreneur Roundtable or the opportunity for safe conversations during Holding Space: A Community Circle for Black Women have been integral to building my business and maintaining sanity as a full-time executive. One of my favorite memories is when I served as a 2019 Squad Moderator and had the opportunity to connect with some amazing women that I am still in contact with today.
How would you define your professional mission?
To create space for the voices of multicultural women who are making the switch in work, well-being and winning while embracing and learning from the imbalance.
What qualities does it take for someone to be successful in your line of work?
As a Chief of Staff in higher education finance, the qualities vary based on the organization. Because I work in government, my responsibilities are more aligned with a COO. Therefore, I oversee several units and ensure that they are operationalizing the mission and goals efficiently and effectively. The qualities necessary to be successful include project management, consensus building, understanding of budgets and a willingness to adapt to the ever changing political landscape.
What is one of your most memorable career accomplishments?
There are many memorable accomplishments in my professional and creative career. I must say that I am still on cloud nine about starting a podcast. The interesting thing is that while in college, I worked as a graveyard DJ because I was interested in speaking over the airwaves. Fast forward 22 years, and I am back on the airwaves having conversations with women who are finding their stride and inspiring others on a daily basis. It is a truly remarkable full circle moment for me.
What are some career challenges on your radar?
For a greater portion of my career, I have always worked for someone else. Now that I am in the planning stages of becoming a full-fledged entrepreneur, I think my biggest challenge will be getting accustomed to the decision making process of running a business. I am learning that unlike traditional jobs where there is time for thought and deliberation in major decisions, entrepreneurship requires a faster resolve that is contrary to my operational approach to problem solving.
We’d love to hear more about your career path. What led you to where you are today?
I began my journey as a professional actor in Los Angeles where I worked in commercial, theater and film. Since then, I've morphed my desire for creativity to fit into my roles as a teacher, political fundraiser, lawyer and operations executive. There was no clear path to the role I am in today. However, I can say that I have always brought my best to every role and can finally see threads of commonality in each. Moral of the story is to stay ready. You never know what that next opportunity will be.
What is your morning ritual?
Morning rituals are key to me having a successful work day. It includes early rise, prayer, journaling, drinking water and exercise. Morning time provides a sense of rebirth and newness that I enjoy reflecting on when my house is dark and quiet.
What would you say your personal superpower is?
My personal superpower is embodied in a Toni Morrison quote: Want to fly? Give up the stuff that weighs you down. Through years of struggling with trying to please others, I am finally at a point where I've learned to be okay with trusting what I want and blocking out the noise of things I don't want.
What is one piece of advice you’d offer working moms?
My advice is to give yourself grace. Don't envision yourself as an ideal fabricated by societal expectations and myths. See yourself as the person you desire to be and your life and family will align and conspire to create that. I know firsthand as a mother of four children who at one time was working full time, going to law school in the evenings and fighting to be the ideal wife and mother. There is no ideal or standard that matters except for the one you create.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
Chief of Staff
NJ Higher Education Student Assistance Authority
Hanifa Barnes, JD MBA is a multicultural mama, wife and leader who has made the switch in work, well-being and winning. Once a former professional actor, the Liberian-Ugandan American navigates the challenges of race, identity and culture as a host and producer of a weekly podcast, Disrupting Balance. She is also a Chief of Staff with nearly 15 years of experience in education and change management. Continue Reading
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