Name: Emma Gutierrez-Rodriguez
Title: HR Data Analyst at Microsoft
Function: Human Capital
Professional Experience: 7 years at Wells Fargo; 2 years at Microsoft
Education: B.A., Mass Communications at University of California, Berkeley and Dual M.A., Industrial & Labor Relations and MBA from Cornell University
What is the greatest lesson you've learned in your career thus far?
Throughout my career, I’ve learned that you have to be a student for life. I always show my eagerness to learn new things and take on work or projects that will provide me with an opportunity to gain new experience or learn a new skill. At Microsoft, we embrace a “Growth Mindset” in which we try to “learn it all”. Instead of being a “know it all,” we feel comfortable with not knowing and lean into learning something new or taking a risk. The learner mindset is what allows lightning to strike and innovative ideas bubble up. I really appreciate this about our company culture.
What has been your greatest professional failure to date and what have you learned from that experience?
My biggest professional failure was crying in front of my manager at work. I had made a mistake, not following his instructions while he was out of the office, and got yelled at for it. I consider this a professional failure because crying was an admission to being weak and emotional, a stereotype I didn’t want to reinforce about women in the workplace. I wanted to show that I was strong and could handle the industry’s tough culture. I admit to being a sensitive person who is in tune with my feelings and emotions. However, my high emotional quotient wasn’t valued as much in the financial services industry where thick skin is required.
After giving in to the tears that I could no longer hold back, I excused myself from his office and took a long walk outside. I didn’t want my manager to see me crying more than he already had. This experience taught me that the financial services industry was not for me and that I wasn’t going to change myself for a manager or industry that was going to try to break my spirit. Now, I purposefully aim to work in a place where I am not ashamed of my feelings and emotions should a tough encounter pop-up.
What issues have you dealt with being a person of color in corporate America and how have you overcome these challenges?
Working in industries where there are very few people of color has often made me experience Imposter Syndrome. I would look around and longed to see more people who looked like me and shared similar upbringing or experiences. I felt like I didn’t belong and that I was given the job by mistake. There was a tiny voice in my head that questioned my sense of belonging and deserving of the job I know, deep-down inside, that I had earned. It was thanks to a Career Coach who helped me address these feelings and gave me perspective that I was able to turn things around. She reassured me and let me know that I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. She was also an executive coach and shared that some of her clients who have much fancier titles and high positions at their companies shared some of the same feelings despite their long list of accomplishments and career achievements.
I found this so hard to believe at first. She explained that it’s impossible to know everything about everything and that people at the top or people with multiple degrees feel like imposters despite having many years of experience. She even admitted to feeling like an imposter herself at times in her own role. It was helpful to hear her share such personal anecdotes and I felt so reassured that I wasn’t the only one experiencing these emotions. This reassured me and gave me new found confidence like I had never experienced before. My coach also helped me silence the negative internal voices that often plague women and people of color in corporate america. With her support, I switched my focus to both highlight how hard I worked to accomplish my previous academic and professional achievements and recognize that I truly deserved the recognition I received for my work and dedication.
What resources, professional or personal, have you leveraged to ensure your career is progressing?
In business school, I was very intentional about recruiting for a company that offered rotational programs. I wanted to work for a company with an established training and development program because it was most ideal for me as a career switcher. Microsoft was one of the few companies who offered a rotational HR program that met my criteria. Microsoft’s HR Trax Program gives participants the opportunity to complete two rotations in an area of HR that participants select. I’m currently in my second rotation working as a data analyst. Some companies call this space People Analytics. I specifically requested this role because it was outside my comfort zone and I wanted to challenge myself to work on a skillset that I felt I had previously underdeveloped. In other words, instead of choosing a role that played to my strengths, I chose a role that forced me to work on my weaknesses.
Prior to this rotation, I had zero data analytics experience and to prepare, I took a couple of Excel courses offered by Lynda.com to help me sharpen my skills. Lynda.com is an excellent resource for information and training on a variety of topics and skills. It was my go-to resource in business school too. Another resource I leverage is myself. I continue to raise my hand for projects or stretch assignments that allow me to hone my data analytics muscle because having this tool in my skillset will make me an even stronger HR professional. Understanding how to gather and analyze employee data to gain insights and make strategic business decisions is an increasingly important skill for HR professionals, so i’m excited to be developing those skills.
Do you have a mentor? If so, how did you select this person or people?
Currently I do not, but I did for my first rotation at Microsoft. My manager had set-up this partnership for me as part of my onboarding into my first rotation. I was in a new role that my mentor was a veteran in. It was my first time working as an HR Manager and for her, it was a role she’d been in for over 15 years. She was my go-to for any questions I had about my role and relationship with my client group. Having someone to turn to who can help you think through most business challenges is essential.
My mentor helped coach me to the answer without simply handing it to me. She wanted me to think strategically and tease out the problem in a way that made the solution clearer to me. I also trusted her with personal challenges. This is another trait I consider important in a mentor. A mentor should be someone who encourages both your professional and personal growth. If you can be your authentic self with your mentor, I consider that an indicator of a perfect match because you will be able to show him/her all the cards you’ve been dealt with, allowing them to fully understand your profile as a mentee and how to best help you.
What advice would you give an undergraduate who is about to start their first job post college?
Show your willingness to take on whatever task given to you – it shows you’re up for any challenge. Being agile and adaptable shows you are ability to take on any problem. Rolling up your sleeves with a can-do attitude attracts the help and eagerness of others to provide support. Optimism is a skill you should master. If you’re able to complete a difficult task or land a project successfully because of your resourcefulness and cleverness, it proves you have grit. Show your ability to deal with ambiguity. Knowing what’s around the corner is impossible. Not everyone is comfortable with ambiguity but there are those who are skillful and navigate through it. If you’re comfortable with it, share that you are, and I bet you’ll be picked to tackle some of the biggest and most rewarding challenges.