We talked with Lourdes Akande. Deal Desk Manager, at Relativity. She shared with us about her life, career journey and her learnings embracing being Latina in the tech world.
1. Tell us about your current role and what you do at Relativity.
I lead our global deal desk team that supports our sales organization throughout the customer contracting process. We work across the organization y with teams like Legal and Finance on deal processes and improvements. Our team members are key stakeholders in pricing model implementations.
Share a little bit about your career journey with us.
My career journey started with my mom telling me to ‘find a job downtown’ after I graduated high school. I was the first person in my family to graduate high school. She didn’t know the different types of careers there were to choose from but she knew ‘downtown’ is where the offices were and hence, I would be successful if I was there.
At the time, I was taking general classes at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU). I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, so I started applying at law firms downtown as a way to get my foot in the door. I started as a receptionist at Thomas L. Burdelik & Assoc. and quickly moved from my role as a receptionist to a legal secretary.
2. So how does an attorney end up leading the global deal desk at Relativity?
After a few years and another law firm, I realized being an attorney wasn’t for me.While I enjoy debating, I wasn’t cut out to be black and white and that’s what I felt law was at the time.While I enjoyed the back and forth of being an attorney, it felt like everything had to be black and white -- there was no gray area.
On a whim, I started applying to job ads on craigslist.com (before LinkedIn was the place to apply for a job). I remember applying to a post for a billing specialist) at a tech reseller and received a call back. The recruiter told me that my skills were better matched for a sales operations role. The rest, as they say, is history.
At Forsythe, I learned that I loved process and structure which translated to operations in the tech world. I also learned that tech was a booming field and the place to be. I moved on to work at a couple different software companies, each time learning as much as I could so that I could be an even bigger asset at my next company. Knowledge was my key to success. I continued to learn the ins and outs of business processes but it was also important to keep relationship building top of mind. It’s always been really important for me to make my mom proud. While she couldn’t always describe what I did for a living she knew enough to tell others … “she works downtown and for a tech company”. That was enough, in my culture, to seal the deal for a proud mom.
3. What has been your take away as a Latina during your career?
You won’t get what you want if you don’t ask. Being Latina, I wasn’t taught to ask for what I wanted. Instead, I was taught to go with the flow and not complain because complaining meant you weren’t grateful, and that you were weak. It took a long time to understand that asking for what I wanted was evidence of my self-worth. I was always insecure that I didn’t go to a fancy out of state university. I couldn’t relate to conversations about sororities, so I stayed out of some important networking conversations.
Over time I realized that people liked me because of my work ethic -- it had nothing to do with what school I went to o. I was able to see my worth, and that’s when I started to to speak up as a woman and as a Latina.. People will appreciate you for you differentiators , not your similarities. I encourage Latinas to be yourself, not shy away from speaking up with a strong, loud voice. Once I started to speak up and share my opinion and recommendations, is when I identified a gap =. I asked more questions in bigger group settings. I told my manager I wanted more development and more knowledge. I became comfortable saying no. That first time you ask for that stretch opportunity, promotion or that pay raise is scary but once you do it once, it is never scary again. These are the things that will help you excel and climb higher.
4. Could you share with us a couple of key learnings in your professional life thus far?
Growing up, I would never dare say “no” or “hold on” to my Cuban mother. Whenever people asked me for help I felt like I couldn’t say no -- whether I wanted to or not. It often left me drained. Throughout my career, I’ve learned that saying no doesn’t mean I can’t help at all. Rather, it means I’m taking time to evaluate how this ask fits into what I’m prioritizing. Saying no helped me create boundaries, leading me to put my goals and myself first. But remember, saying no doesn’t always mean you’ll get out of that task or ask. But it will create awareness with those you work with of your boundaries
I also learned to not shy away from who you are.
Another important learning was to not shy away from defending who you are. You will not lose your job if you correct someone when they ask, “do you speak Mexican''? Let them know you speak Spanish and educate them, proudly. These types of questions and comments are easier to let slide,but when you don’t speak up, you can be left not feeling good.In reality, you’re making it easier for the other person- not yourself.. You put yourself in 2nd place if you let someone walk away thinking something that is or isn't true about who you are. You’d be surprised how it comes in handy later. I remember being pulled into a conversation with a customer because I spoke Spanish and was needed to help close a deal!
5. And lastly do you have any tips for Latina women that are currently in tech or looking to begin a career in tech?
Dig into your culture and remember what makes us Latinos. My Cuban family is made up of strong, resilient women. We may not have the education that others do, but we work hard and figure it out. It’s the same in the career world. You’ll learn the process and the tools needed in a new role. Basically, don’t be scared to try something new.
Create a strong LinkedIn profile. Reach out to others in the field you want to move into and ask them how they did it. Network often and find a professional champion and/or mentor.
Most importantly, stand tall in the things that make you stand out.