Hispanic heritage values propelled Patricia as a leader at Northwestern Mutual

by | Sep 28, 2022

With 22 years of experience, Patricia Cabral-Mercado, Senior Director, Software Engineering, at Northwestern Mutual shared with us cultural perspectives and insights when it comes to leadership.

Her passion to build true relationships and serve as a mentor has given her tools to connect, get to know the team and see them thrive.

Spotlight Partner: Northwestern Mutual / Hispanic heritage
Featured Talent: Patricia Cabral-Mercado, Senior Director, Software Engineering

Tell us a bit about yourself, where you are from, and tell us about your family.

I was born in Zacatecas, Mexico and immigrated to Milwaukee when I was almost two years old. I come from a large family, with nine children total (six sisters and three brothers). We came to Milwaukee because it was a blue-collar city, and my father was employed in one of the factories. I knew from an early age that I wanted to be one of the first in my family to go to a university. I attended Marquette University, where I was proud to participate in the education opportunity program. While in school, a friend encouraged me to pursue a degree in technology and I have not looked back since.

After graduation, I joined Northwestern Mutual and have been in the organization ever since. A few years after joining Northwestern Mutual, I got married and had children. I currently live in the greater Milwaukee area with my husband, our two boys and our dog.

Now that we are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, what is something that you admire about our culture? And what would be one activity that keeps you connected to your Hispanic roots?

The biggest thing that I admire is the focus on family, from immediate to extended, your family is always there for you. There is a sense of community and knowing that you’re never alone through good times and hard times. I embrace that within our culture, whether we are in Mexico or in the U.S., we continue to hold those strong family values and the sense of community that we’ve built throughout the years.

I absolutely love Hispanic music. I constantly have my phone playing Hispanic music. I am a fan of music in general, but Hispanic music just makes me want to sing and get up and dance. It triggers happiness, and a sense of connection to my roots.

Can you share more with us about your background, how did you get to where you are today? 

My first job in technology was as a tech support intern for a manufacturing company. While I was hired to do tech support, they instead had me cleaning computers. I decided after that experience to do an internship that would be meaningful and allow me to develop my skills. I found an internship at Northwestern Mutual, and the experience was completely different. I was part of a team that allowed me to code, problem solve, and learn more about the intersection of technology and business. From there, I took a full-time job with the company. I spent time as a developer, an analyst, a project manager, and eventually moved into leadership roles. Currently I am a Senior Director overseeing a team of software engineers who help accelerate the organization past technology barriers.

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

I was very competitive so I think that helped fuel my desire to learn and always get better. Once I tried programming, I was hooked. I had a passion for data, and that area of technology fueled my energy. It is a field where I can continue to be a lifelong learner and to evolve my career. Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to learn one area of technology, get comfortable, and then change my direction to learn a completely new area of technology.

As a Senior Director at Northwestern Mutual, what have been some of the most memorable and impactful projects you’ve worked on so far?

I can easily name successful projects and outcomes achieved; however, if we are focusing on impact my most memorable moments are seeing individuals I have mentored thrive.  

All my memorable and impactful moments revolve around building diverse teams of individuals that excel at delivering outcomes as a team.   

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

With my culture being so centered on people and community, and truly building relationships, it has given me the tools to connect and get to know my team. I have been able to build solid relationships with my peers. It is important for me to understand where my team members want to go so that I can guide them in their own career development. It has also allowed me to ask key questions, get to know them, and it has made me a better leader

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? 

There are a lot of biases that are associated with Latinx women, but one that I have constantly battled is that we’re very “emotional”. I’m highly aware of this bias and I’ve combatted it by being calm, using data and asking questions. I tend to step away from the “I feel” statements and use data, facts, and reasoning to combat the bias of being overly emotional.  Throughout my career, I have also used this as an opportunity to adapt while challenging those biases in a way that will allow others not to judge you based on a past bias.

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

What excites me most is my current role and my team. I think I have the best team I’ve worked with in my 22-year career. They challenge each other in respectful ways to get the best results. I have a team that will give me open feedback, ask smart questions, and deliver results.

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

I’ve had some fantastic mentors that provided solid career advice. When I look back, there’s one thing that echoes most: to focus on your team first. It’s the leaders who get to know their people that can find the most success. Even as I’ve stepped into new roles, I’ve been able to build solid teams and relationships to make the most impact.

Any podcasts, book or blog recommendations for Latinas?

I’m an avid reader, and two books come to mind – “Start with Why”, by Simon Sinek, is one of my all-time favorites. And another book I recently read is “Thinking in Bets” by Annie Duke.  Annie is a female poker player that shares decision-making strategies based on the idea that all decisions are bets.

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