We talked with Ibe Ewalt the Director of Business Operations & Program Management for 3D & Immersive at Adobe. She shared about her role, her career and the advantage of being a Latina, a woman, and a mother in a leader or mentoring position.
Spotlight Partner: Adobe
Featured Talent: Ibe Ewalt
1. Tell us about yourself, Ibe Ewalt. How did you get to where you are today?
After my parents divorced, my mother remarried and my step-dad’s job landed us (with my sister) in Sunnyvale, CA at the heart of Silicon Valley. At 13, learning to adapt to a new culture with no friends or close family was difficult. In High School, I was painfully shy and self-conscious, I think mostly because of my accent. In college I finally found my stride, I grew more confident and independent though the cultural assimilation process remained difficult. Turns out I had to learn to be comfortable in my own skin to overcome fruitfulness frustrations, like the mispronunciation of my name or the seldom rude and wrongful assumptions people make from stereotypes.
Those early years played an instrumental role in fueling my drive, they built resiliency and grew my ability to adapt, to cultivate meaningful relationships and to practice self-advocacy. Interestingly enough, as molding as those earlier years were, I find so much of my personal growth and leadership development is happening now – my leadership style and personal skills are as flexing and growing as ever.
My career has been influenced by a number of factors, I’ve been fortunate to have met amazing people along the way, who for different reasons enriched my personal and professional growth. My hope now is to be able to pay it forward, to work in advancing and supporting Latin women in technology and to pave the way for the next generation.
Since my first job after college, a lot of positive progress has been made to advance equality in the workplace, but a lot more work lays ahead.
2. What inspired you to pursue a career in the tech industry?
Landing in tech was a bit of a fluke, fresh out of college tech jobs were the most accessible. Since, much has changed in the way tech companies operate, from strategy and operations, to how customers and employees want to engage, to the role core values and social responsibility play in brands and in the tech industry as a whole.
My first job out of college started a few months before the dot.com burst. That was a very humbling and sobering experience. Tech companies were hiring at lighting speed, offering inflated salaries with ridiculous perks (like an all-inclusive 5 star vacation to Maui. Yes, that was nice) and they selling on a promise to hit the lottery with stock prices that were doubling week by week. And suddenly… Pop! In a few days the party was over, the glamour and opulence was followed by never-ending layoffs where job security became none existent.
During the next four years, the company I worked for downsized by more than 60%. I was fortunate to keep my job. I learned as much as I could, took on projects well outside my scope and worked across teams to help the company grow and avoid further layoffs. These were some of the best forming years in my career. I learned to deal with ample ambiguity, of the importance of building trusted relationships to overcome otherwise seemingly impossible situations, and I embraced the value of being adaptable and scrappy. And I quickly learned that the best leaders weren’t those who were the smartest or the hardest working in a room, the most trusted leaders were those who were dependable and thoughtful. Since, I have taken this observation to heart in my style of leadership and in my aspiration to follow leaders who display those traits.
3. As a Director Business Operations & Program Management 3D&I at Adobe, what have been some of the most memorable and impactful projects you’ve worked on so far?
I have been with Adobe for eleven years (crazy and amazing to think about this) and I have loved every step of the way. Coming into 3D & Immersive (3D&I) was a bit of luck. My favorite things are people and problem solving, and I am always attracted to new projects – there is something about novelty and opportunity that keeps me engaged and energized.
Before joining 3D&I, I was leading integrations for Adobe’s Merger & Acquisitions. The 3D&I product organization was formed as a result of an acquisition, where I worked on the integration strategy and execution. During the integration work, I developed a good understanding for the business and fostered strong partnerships with the 3D&I leadership team. When the opportunity to join 3D&I appeared, the transition was logical and natural. I had fallen in love with the 3D&I team and its mission, and the timing couldn’t have been better.
Since, my journey in 3D&I has been super fulfilling. I lead Business Operations, Program Management and the Data Analytics arm that supports our product organization. Building teams, identifying talent and setting up cohesive environments for people to thrive is my superpower. I grew my team by partnering, mentoring and hiring. I am so pleased with the collective leadership model my team and I adopted.
The tech space requires constant adaptation, traditional management models don’t scale well anymore, and often no longer inspire. I find that the most effective way to lead is to provide a clear strategy (give a mission), with outlined swimlanes (roles and responsibilities), leverage leadership (ask tough questions and implement the hard changes) and remove yourself from the middle, so teams feel empowered to solve problems and think creatively.
As the chief of staff to the 3D&I VP, I lead from behind the scenes by bringing people together to surface problems and facilitating uncomfortable conversations in order to solve problems so our teams can do their best work to deliver high value to our customers.
Adobe’s and specially, 3D&I’s mission is so inspiring, our products empower the world’s best 3D artists and art. Few things are more moving than human creativity and our tools are vehicles in this process. The best part, I am surrounded by some of the most dedicated, intelligent, kind and driven people I know.
4. How has your culture (and/or other identity markers) shaped you as a leader?
There is so much goodness in the Latin culture. To me being Latin equates to strong values, inspiration, contagious energy and meaningful connections… and then, there is that Latin joie de vie that makes everything a little brighter.
A lot of my leadership DNA stems from personal moments that shaped me into whom I am today. I’ve watched my parents struggle and overcome many difficult situations. Their experiences serve as a source of inspiration for when I need to dig a little deeper to find strength and resolution.
My parents always encouraged me to do or try new things, and they continue to instill love for curiosity and learning. My grandparents were cornerstones in my life, once we moved to the US, they committed to visiting us each summer, and they did so well until their health became an impediment. My grandparents valued family above all things, and they lived their values: they attended every important event in my life (birthdays, graduations, wedding, baby showers, baptisms, you name it, they were here). It fills my heart to write about them, only should everyone have such loving and admirable people in their life. It wasn’t until I started my family that I truly appreciated the strong family ties I grew up with. Mi abuela paterna (dad’s mom) had this thing about striving to always leave things better off than she found them… special in so many ways, she always left a mark. I try to live and lead in this way, owning that we all have a role and a responsibility to leave things a little better than we find them.
5. 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?
As a working mom, balancing work and home expectations (without guilt) has been a challenge. I used to be so hard on myself for missing school events, not cooking homemade meals or for sending the same lunch multiple times a week (hello PB&J sandwich… for a third time this week). I also wrestled with the fear of speaking up for being perceived as too outspoken or disruptive. And I have had my share of missed promotions and salary increases for fear of being seen as arrogant or demanding.
I realize now that most of the cultural expectations or biases in my mind sit with me, whilst unfairness and systemic injustices are very real, shifting focus to my behavior and response is the only change agent. Appreciating that cultural and social norms can play a role, being self-aware of what is real and what is not (the biased boss who will overpass me for the promotion, very real, vs. an inherent inertia for not looking for a new job). This mental shift allows me to be better aligned with my core values and goals.
Another mental shift was to stop pretending that I can be everything to everyone all the time without accounting for the big trade-offs: depletion of creativity, wasted energy and endless exhaustion. It’s been liberating to intentionally share what is going on in my world, with my team and at home.
At work, I practice intentional vulnerability and at home, I am much more transparent on all of my commitments and struggles. And I am embracing messy parenting, showing my kids that things don’t always go as planned (yes, mom missed last year’s teacher’s conference). And most important, I no longer draw a divergent line between my personal and professional lives.
At one point, I feared my vulnerability would be perceived as a weakness or loss of control, instead being more transparent with my team about my professional or personal struggles further strengthen my work relationships. I am also noticing my kids have grown to be more empathetic and less entitled.
When COVID hit and the world collapsed, I collapsed with it. Now a mom, teacher, wife, friend, leader, colleague, board member, student and hurting human (the world was a heavy load)… it all came to a stall. Mental health became real: anxiety, stress and depression were now words in my vocabulary. When there is nothing left to give, you go to basics and start from scratch. I had to question assumptions to figure out what was really important in my life. COVID certainly neutralized everyone and blurred the lines between work and home and it created ample opportunity to be more human at work. I have welcomed this changed in so many ways and I encouraged my teams to do the same.
6. Looking to the future, what inspires you and what initiatives are you most excited about right now?
In addition to my Biz Ops role, I am also the Executive sponsor for HOLA, Adobe’s Latinx and Hispanic employee network, and I am on the Board of Sunday Friends, a non-profit focused on ending generational cycles of poverty for low income families..
It’s been great to join forces with Adobe’s Diversity and Inclusion team, we partner to identify ways to increase Latinx representation across Adobe, explore initiatives in Adobe’s hiring process to attract and onboard top Latinx and Hispanic talent, and improve internal mobility opportunities. HOLA also looks to identify investment prospects for organizations that advance Latinx professional development and placement.
Personally, I am very passionate about paving the way for the next generation of Latinx leaders in Tech, and to advocate for increased diversity by designing programs to reach those who historically haven’t had fair opportunities. It is important for us all to take action to do the work needed to drive change.
7. What’s one piece of career advice you’ll never ever forget?
Career decisions don’t need to be forever, and they don’t come with a clear map. Things are constantly changing, the world evolves and often time things are unpredictable.
The most practical thing to do is to continuously assess if you are in a meaningful path. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself fundamental questions: am I growing and learning? am I impactful? Do I feel valued? And does what I do align with my core values?
8. How do you reset when you’re in a funk? (ex: What song do you play? Do you go for a walk? Do you take a nap? Do you call a friend?)
Ha! Fun question. It really depends on the type of funk. Most of the time I try to hone in the funk to understand really what is going on. Then I ask myself: ‘what do I need?’ And I sit on that for a bit. By the time I have an answer the funk usually dissolves, if not I go for a good kids/dog cuddle or I shift focus and read global news. The bigger perspective tends to kick things in gear… it’s easy to drown in a glass if that’s all you have around. For the funks of the soul, a chat with my sister or best friend does the trick. And when all else fails… cookies and Ben&Jerry’s as a last resort.
9. Any podcasts or blog recommendations?
These are some of my most recent faves, they help me rethink how I live.
The Happiness Lab by Dr. Santos, great tidbits on stress management
NPRs Life Kit, a broad range of topics, much which I find to be common-sense advice, nevertheless very useful when reminded
Unlocking Us with Brene Brown, talks to inspire courage and love.
NPR’s Alt.Latino, alternative Latin music outside of the traditional pop latin tunes. Great listening music in the likes of Café Tacvba, Chicano Batman and Julieta Venegas