Harriet Thornhill’s path to success
Takeaways from Harriet Thornhill, one of the 100 most influential Black Canadians
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by Harriet Thornhill’s accomplishments as a business leader, mentorship champion, and community lynchpin — not to mention the awards she’s won. However, she’s faced the same challenges as many of us: identifying and staying true to our values, overcoming pushback, and balancing family with an important career.
We loved having a chance to talk to her on the podcast and take away the following insights.
Blueprint to success: A mother’s influence
Harriet shared that while both her parents set strong examples, her mother particularly stood out, with her guidance instilling a belief that she could achieve anything she set her mind to.
My mother has been the blueprint for me in so many ways. We focused on how I could make a difference and the importance of continuing to grow and learn.Harriet Thornhill
Overcoming bias with intentional choices
When Harriet entered the workforce, she often confronted biases which were unconscious or unintentional. However, that didn’t make them any less emotionally taxing. As her career progressed, she realized the importance of moving toward people and organizations that resonated with her values.
I started to lean into the values of the organization that aligned with mine and was able to use my voice more because I knew not only would it help myself, but it would also help others that would be following and looking to me as a role model.Harriet Thornhill
Turning critics into allies
Even in uncomfortable situations — for example, when confronting a client who doubted her leadership — Harriet found the strength to stand her ground and maintain professionalism. That same client later became one of her best customers.
I had enough confidence in my supervisors and my manager — I had enough trust — to be able to stand boldly in front of that client and be respectful, let the client know, ‘I am the manager here, there is no one else that I can refer you to. And I would appreciate it if you could allow me to take care of your needs before you cast any judgment.’Harriet Thornhill
Family and career: Striking the balance
Harriet’s story underscores that it’s possible to have both a rewarding career and a fulfilling family life. However, she admits that it comes with its complexities, emphasizing the importance of communicating, setting boundaries, seeking mentorship, and leaning on supportive partners.
She calls her husband an “incredible support” and a “generous partner” and says together they were able to discuss and negotiate the best path for their family.
I was able to have the capacity to apply myself fully to my work, then devote myself fully when I was at home with him and our daughter.Harriet Thornhill
Mentorship advice: Purpose, passion, and people
Speaking to younger women, Harriet emphasizes the importance of having a clear purpose, being passionate, knowing your values and “non-negotiables,” and surrounding yourself with a supportive network. This “personal board of mentors” can come from all walks of life, to guide you through your journey.
It could be a core group that you will call upon, whether members of your family or members in the community; it could be anyone, and don’t necessarily be narrow-minded as to who those individuals could be.Harriet Thornhill
There’s no doubt that navigating the intertwined worlds of career, family, and personal growth can be tricky, and there will be times when it doesn’t feel like everything’s coming together the way you want. However, during those moments, these final words from Harriet might help: “I wish I had given myself more grace. So, I advise a young woman to provide herself with some dignity and not be too hard on herself as she navigates through a career and raising a family.”