Breaking the Latinas Status Quo to build your career

by | Aug 23, 2022

We talked with Rebeca Soto, Director of Product Operations at Motive. She talked about her role, her career and the challenge of being a Latina in tech. 

For her, in latin culture, raising questions or asking for help can be seen as a sign of weakness. She invites us to break the latinas status quo and be comfortable speaking up, because we all have different backgrounds and can add value to our career and the companies we work in.

Spotlight Partner: Motive
Featured Talent: Rebeca Soto, Director of Product Operations

Tell us about yourself, Rebeca. How did you get to where you are today?

I am the middle child of SEVEN, and on top of that, the first woman, which means I grew up competing with three older brothers. Although I can’t say I loved it growing up, my parents made sure I had the same responsibilities as my brothers and always encouraged us to learn new things. 

Looking back, I am incredibly grateful for how my parents raised us. It gave me the confidence to walk into a meeting full of men and know that I deserve to be there and to apply for jobs even if I didn’t meet 100% of the qualifications (which is how I got into tech). 

 What inspired you to pursue a career in the tech industry?

After a few years as a Business Analyst at a global financial institution, I joined the Operations team at a small tech startup, in Mexico City.

I immediately became fascinated by the fast pace and the impact my job had on actual human beings. I could see the effect my work had on users’ lives and how it helped us reach our goals. I realized I could have a greater impact working closer to our tech organization, so I moved to San Francisco and transferred to the Product Operations team.

I never really knew what working in the tech industry would be like, I imagined it was solely for engineers that would be coding all day and assumed the culture would probably not be a good fit for me. I couldn’t have been more wrong! One of my favorite things about my current job in Motive is the company culture.

What I like most about working at Motive, and I know it’s going to sound super cheesy and cliche, is the people. Before I started at Motive I briefly joined a different startup thinking it would be like the Silicon Valley tech company culture I was used to. I couldn’t have been more wrong- I was miserable, and upset every Sunday before going to work. When I started to look for a new company I began to research “company culture”, and that’s how I ended up here at Motive. I reached out to a few people from my first tech job that were working here, and asked about the people they work with and the company values to help validate my decision and career move. 

How do you deal with impostor syndrome?

I try to think about people’s different experiences. For example, the time we work in a company doesn’t define our level of experience because it depends on the role, the leaders, the challenges, and the industry we work with. 

I try to think about people’s different experiences. For example, just because someone has more years of experience than I do, it doesn’t mean they are more qualified –the roles we’ve had, leaders we’ve interacted with, challenges we’ve faced, and industries we’ve worked in will give us different perspectives.

I have a great relationship with my manager who is the Chief Product Officer at Motive.  We talk regularly about what my biggest challenges are this year and how to cope with them. Impostor syndrome being one of them, and he justified that everyone has it. So just thinking of how everyone struggles with it, that everyone is thinking the same thing about what to say and what not to, and if they did the right thing or not helps me to deal with it.

As the Director of Product Operations at Motive, what have been some of the most memorable and impactful projects you’ve worked on so far?

The work the Product Operations team does often varies, so it’s hard to choose just one project. I love working on projects where we have to come up with creative solutions and find different ways to test them quickly.

One of the most memorable projects was organizing a “Driver Appreciation Day”. We had truck drivers join us at our Nashville office to give feedback on upcoming features and help us get to know our users better. I got to meet three Mexican drivers (one of them a woman) and spent the day talking about our jobs and our experiences working as immigrants –they were so happy to learn that there was a fellow Mexican working on the app they use every day at work, and even more thrilled when I told them I was working on launching the Spanish version of our app.

 

How has your culture (and/or other identity marker) shaped you as a leader? As a manager?

Something I heard a lot growing up was “calladita te ves más bonita” or “you’re prettier when you keep your mouth shut” –this usually means you should follow the rules, don’t challenge the status quo, and don’t ask too many questions. I also think that in our culture asking questions or asking for help can be seen as a sign of weakness, or maybe you don’t want to draw more attention to yourself when you already feel like the “different one” in the room.

It took me some time to feel comfortable speaking up, knowing that my questions are valid, and being confident to challenge coworkers who may be more experienced than me. I encourage my team to ask questions, reach out for help, and speak up when something doesn’t make sense. I remind them that we all have different backgrounds and bring different perspectives to the table. One of the reasons they were hired was because they add a different point of view.

Whether it’s grappling with cultural expectations or navigating workplace biases, we fight through many challenges as Latinx women. What’s one you’re working through currently? 

Personally, I struggle a lot with cultural expectations. I grew up in a community where most women only pursued a career until they got married, where women’s success is determined by their husbands and the families that they build.

I can easily get triggered when I talk to a friend I haven’t seen in a long time and they ask about my relationship status before anything else. I’ve been working on using this as an opportunity to share more about my career and opportunities in the tech industry that they (or their daughters) could be interested in.

Looking to the future, what inspires you and what initiatives are you most excited about right now? 

I am really excited to help everyone on my team advance in their careers, give them the opportunity to shine, and take on new challenges.

As someone that has been the only woman and Latin person in the room, I am excited to help change the status quo. This past year, the Product Ops team went from 4 to 7 people (and 85% of the people on the team are women) –this means that our scope has significantly increased, and now my role is more managing and less individual contributor.

Which is your best characteristic as a Latina and which one would you like to improve on?

I believe one of my best characteristics is also the same one I need to improve on. People in the US like to go around the bush a little bit and in my culture we are very direct people. Now that I manage people I’ve realized that not everyone likes that approach. Managing up has helped me say what I think, this is how it is and just put it out there. My manager appreciates that, but on the other hand, when working with my direct reports to help them grow and/or point out areas of improvement, being too direct can come off as rude and counterproductive –and I’ve received this feedback before. As a manager, I’ve learned to adjust my managing style accordingly for different people and personalities.

What’s one piece of career advice you’ll NEVER EVER forget?

More than advice, it was a piece of feedback I received from one of my direct reports when I first started managing a team. She said she wanted to reach out to me for guidance, not solutions. Instead of directly telling her why her proposed action plan wasn’t the best path forward, it would be better if I asked the right questions for her to see the holes in her plan and help her arrive at a better solution herself.

Acting more like a moderator helps both my teammates and me grow.  Sometimes asking those questions can make me realize that what I thought was the best path forward actually isn’t. This really stuck with me and I think about it often, now that I manage a team.

Is there anyone you’d like to shout out for their support along your career journey? 

I’ve been very lucky to have had people throughout my career who always had my back and pushed me to take on new challenges even when I thought I wasn’t ready. 

I want to recognize my manager at my first job right out of college, Giovanna Antonelli. I am forever thankful for everything I learned from her; writing emails to leadership, standing up for what is right, and passing the credit to her team while taking responsibility for their mistakes.

Jai, Motive’s Chief Product Officer and one of the main reasons I joined Motive. Since my first day on the job, he’s always trusted me with big challenges and high-priority projects, and consistently pushed me beyond artificial boundaries I thought existed.

 

 

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