Akasha Perez is a Senior Employee Relations Business Partner at Intuit. She is playing an instrumental role in maintaining Intuit as an inclusive and diverse workplace. Her participation in processes and policies is making a significant impact on future Latinx generations. Her dream is to see more Latinx leading at all levels of tech companies.
Tell us about yourself, Akasha. How did you get to where you are today?
I used to be a union and community organizer when I decided to go to law school and become an employment lawyer. After working a few years as a lawyer, I decided to get into tech in a non-legal role. My first job in a tech company was at Tesla, that is where I met my good friend that later moved to Intuit. So I moved here to join the ethics and investigations team. After a couple of years, I transferred to the employee relations group where I work today.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the tech industry, being that you aren’t an engineer and don’t have a “tech background?”
I grew up here in San Jose and being so close to Silicon Valley, I saw innovation first hand and how this impacts everybody’s lives. When I decided to leave the law firm, I was really excited about the idea of being in a place that is constantly developing new things that change the world. And I’m really happy to support employees who do that.
As a Senior Employee Relations Business Partner at Intuit, what have been some of the most memorable and impactful projects you’ve worked on so far?
I primarily work on processes and policies, making them as inclusive as possible and developing support resources. For example, last year I helped develop an inclusive conversation guide to help employees speak to one another about difficult issues. It’s so important as we navigate the space of working together from different backgrounds that we intentionally include other people and understand where we might need to learn.
I’m both Black and Latina, and I view the world through my lenses just the way that I grew up and I know people didn’t grow up the same way. So I think it is crucial as we are in a workspace, especially if we are trying to collaborate and create things together, that we understand where our differences are, and be able to speak from our own experiences and check ourselves, so we are bringing other people along.
How has your culture (and/or other identity marker) shaped you as a leader?
I’m intentionally very inclusive and aware of how my culture shapes me. I don’t like to judge people for what they have been through, who they are, where they are coming from, or what is happening in their homes. As an example, I grew up living in a house with many other family members. So I completely understand when I see employees with 10 people at their house and when they say that it is challenging to work from home… I totally get that!
It’s essential, especially when supporting functions like HR, to understand that everybody has different backgrounds and experiences. It’s important to be empathetic and compassionate even when we might not understand what’s going on in someone’s life.
Whether it’s grappling with cultural expectations or navigating workplace biases, we fight through many challenges as Latinx women.
As a biracial woman, I’m constantly making sure that I get to define myself. I refer to myself as Latinx and black or biracial. When people want to place a singular label on me, I often correct them. And in the past 5 years, I have been getting more confident in sharing my identity with others.
How are you supported by the broader Intuit community and your leadership team?
One of the greatest things about working at Intuit is that it is a safe, ethical, and inclusive work environment. We have an entire team that is focused on maintaining it. We see that as the cornerstone of all policies and processes as we look towards inclusion. We are keeping that as a building block of what we do. It makes inclusion feel easy.
I would like to mention that at Intuit, our value “Stronger Together” is the focus of our diversity and inclusion efforts. We are making sure that we really express that we are stronger together because we include a wide range of perspectives, voices, and opinions. Our ERG (Employee Resource Group), “the Intuit Latinos network,” is an example of that. They have excellent programming that provides support to our LatinX community.
Looking to the future, what inspires you and what initiatives are you most excited about right now?
It seems that the last two years have been a considerable focus in DEI in Tech, and most excited to see where we end up 5 years from now. I want to see more LatinX in leadership positions at the highest level of every company. I’m excited to see where will end up because we have so much support, way more than we used to.
Several years ago, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) seemed like something tech companies mentioned on their website. Now we have Tech companies in a room trying to figure out how we increase inclusion and diversity at all company levels. The generation that comes after us will grow up totally seeing people that look like them at every level of the company. This is going to be something that will change the trajectory of technology and innovation because we are going to have more diverse opinions and perspectives at every level.
What’s one piece of career advice you’ll NEVER EVER forget?
Your value does not change based on someone’s inability to see your worth. Early in my career, I struggled with confidence. I didn’t like to speak up, share my ideas. I didn’t think anybody thought that they were worth it, so now this is something that I live by.
Any podcasts or blog recommendations?
I want to recommend the podcast Hella Latin@ by Odalys Jasmine (www.odalysjasmine.co). She speaks about the different diversity within the Latin community, is an incredible storyteller, and is a dynamic speaker. I met her at an event that she hosted at Intuit, and since then, I got hooked.
Is there anyone you’d like to shout out for their support along your career journey?
There have been many people who have supported my career journey! But I would specifically call out my first manager at Intuit, Lara Strauss. She has been an incredible sponsor for my career. I spent a lot of time making myself small to fit in. She was the first manager who told me, “you can do this,” “we want to hear what you have to say,” and she helped me find my voice again.
Overall, what I found at Intuit is a community of people who support the work that I’m doing and constantly are giving me more opportunities to stretch and grow and share. I think that is a testament to an inclusive work environment where people can shine in their best light and make real connections.