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Interview with Linara Davidson

What is your current job position and what kind of clothing do you wear to go to work?

I'm the associate Dean for Communication Strategy, Development, and Alumni Affairs at Columbia School of Social Work. The dress code varies, as you can imagine - I meet with donors, I meet with alumni and so depending on what I'm doing will determine what my wardrobe needs to look like, in order to go from from day to evening. Your clothes are so great, there's a way to dress it up and dress it down. I've been wearing Converse sneakers and they look just as cute. And then these Alanna Blazers, you can wear them with jeans, you can wear them with anything. And also they make your look a little cleaner.

Do you think women are well represented in your field? What kind of obstacles did you have to tackle as a woman at work?

I think that in general there are a lot of women that are in the fundraising world. And I think that there are a lot of women that work in Higher Education and there are a great deal of women that have their own businesses and consulting firms as well. I am  the only black woman to be a Chief Development Officer here at Columbia University.  As a black woman within this space, there's a lot of wanting to ensure that people understand that we know how to do this work. And the comfort level I think that others may or may not have in seeing someone that looks like me in this field. 

Have you ever had a mentor-figure? What is the best advice you have received?

I believe in mentors quite a bit. It's so hard to think about just one piece of advice because I think that depending on where I was in my career, I got a lot of different things. I will tell you a story to provide the context for you. Appearance and image is not everything, and it also can be important sometimes.

There is a mentor of mine. She was in her 80s and 90s. When I first entered into the professional world and I got my first job, she told me that she wanted to take me shopping. She said it was really important that I represent myself well, that I represent my family well, and so she hired a personal shopper. It was my first experience where I was in a dressing room where people were bringing clothes to me. I got to try things on, it was very much tailored to me and I was really excited also thinking that my mentor is going to be paying for all of this. And so I picked out the wardrobe that I wanted. And then she was like: "Now, you must take out a credit card. This is the first investment that you're making in yourself as a professional woman." That always stuck with me - she was ensuring that I had on clothes that made me feel good. Which will hopefully make me also look good.

How did you come across our brand and what caught your attention?

I saw a photo of the red Evelyn Dress and I loved it. I couldn't stop thinking about the dress and so one day during a break or maybe after work, I went to visit the store to try on the dress and I think it was the very first dress I bought. The experience in the store was just so amazing that it wound up being my go to when I needed professional clothes to wear. 

What are the main things you look for in your work clothing? 

I think one of the big things that I love about Nora's clothes are the pockets; a lot of her dresses are for someone that needs to be out and about talking to people, but also very much an introvert and being able to have somewhere to put my hands. I like the ability to complement my weight regardless of where I am  in the fluctuation.  I really love how with Nora's pieces you can kind of mix-and-match them.

How do you prepare for a big change in your career?

Part of how I decide, it doesn't feel like a decision. It feels like there is something like the universe telling me that this is what my next move needs to be, and so very much feels like continuing to move in my purpose, which is being of service and doing things that are bigger than me. 

What is your favorite thing to wear on a big day? Do you have any rituals you do?

At this stage in my life, I am 40 and I'm getting used to this new body. There's a lot about comfort matched with fashion. I like to wear things that will allow me to still feel beautiful and fashionable, but also not worried about whether or not my stomach is bulging out, or whatever the insecurity of the day is for me that day.

There are moments when I really want to be reminded of my dad and that he is here with me. And so there's a ring of his that I have that I wear sometimes since he's passed.

How do you deal with stress and maintain a healthy work-life balance?

I guess that maybe after having children it's different. Yeah, stress is real. I don't know if there's such a thing as work life balance. I think that's a fallacy. One of the Silver Linings that came out of COVID, is that there is less stress to compartmentalize our worlds.

I think that for the past couple of years, especially with children, my word has been ease.

I have a whole toolkit of different things that I can go to for stressful moments, but I also try to be proactive so that I don't get too far into the stress.

Describe your leadership style and how you lead others. 

It's really important that people feel comfortable showing up as their full selves. I'm interested in knowing who the people are that I am working with, with whatever they're comfortable in sharing. And I value them and I'm invested in their growth.

I am self reflective in the work and I am always trying to figure out new ways in which to support my team.

I lead centering people's humanity - I find that when you center someone's humanity first and they understand that you genuinely care about them, they work harder actually.