Name: Erika Ubiera
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Current Title: Director, International Treasury
Professional Experience: 6 years at Tapestry, Inc. (previously Coach, Inc.), 3 years at Goldman Sachs International (London), 3 years at Lehman Brothers
Education: B.S., Business Management from SUNY New Paltz
What is the most important professional lesson you've learned to date?
The most important lesson I’ve learned is that it’s ok to make mistakes so long as you own up to and learn from them. No one will expect you to have all the answers or always be correct. However, people will respect and appreciate you if you can say “I made a mistake” or “I don’t know the answer to that, let me do some research and get back to you”. We often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to have all the answers all the time, but that is unrealistic. The first time I made a mistake on the job, I was so stressed and while I had a plan for how to fix it and how to avoid it happening again, I struggled with how to tell my manager. I put a presentation together to walk him through the issue and the resolution and his reaction was “you could have just said you made mistake”. I was so worried I even thought I was going to get fired. He was impressed that I put so much thought and effort into making it right but he said ‘remember you are human you will get things wrong”.
What has been your biggest professional failure to date and what have you learned from that experience?
My biggest professional failure was getting into a heated discussion with a colleague while others were around. We disagreed on how a situation was handled and the conversation escalated quickly. While the conversation was necessary, it was not appropriate or professional that we had it while others were standing around, specifically more junior members of my team. I felt like I did not set a good example nor did I exhibit the level of professionalism or maturity that I typically expect from my teams. I did not want to be perceived as being too aggressive, or come off as being unapproachable, which was the initial perception. While this was not one of my proudest career moments, it taught me an important lesson. I learned that there are better ways to address conflicts with colleagues in a more discreet way, understanding that I have to tailor my working relationships to ensure they are productive and fruitful. I also realized that there will be some colleagues that you may often disagree with and how you address these situation are important to how you are viewed and respected by your peers and managers.
What issues have you dealt with being a person of color in corporate America? How have you overcome these challenges?
One of the biggest challenges I faced in the first few years of my career was being a woman in an industry that was predominantly male. I always felt that speaking up or voicing my opinion was only allowed if I was asked. Often times, I was overlooked and at times I even felt invisible. I felt like I had to work harder and know more than my male peers because I am woman of color, so for me there was always an extra level of scrutiny. I realized that the only way to change how people treated me was to be confident and show that I was comfortable being me. I knew, that when I walked into a room, I could not change the color of my skin, the accent in my voice, or the fact that I am woman. The moment I decided that I was not going be apologetic for that is when I started to feel and see a shift. I began projecting confidence and it was well received.
What resources, professional or personal, have you leveraged to ensure your career is progressing?
Aside from asking for feedback, not only from my managers, but also from my peers, I’ve joined networks, to help me continue to develop. I attend seminars and conferences specific to my industry and field of work to ensure I am staying aware of current changes in the industry and happenings in the market. I am also naturally very inquisitive and I take initiative and show interest. I find ways to participate in projects that will contribute to my career progression, even if they aren’t related to my day job.
Do you have mentor? If so, how did you select this person or people?
Yes, I have many mentors. My approach to mentorship is what some would call unconventional. I choose my mentors based on the skill I need to develop. I study influential peers, leaders, and friends and look to them to help me develop in areas where I struggle or where I lack confidence. I think a mentor/mentee relationship works best when it is organic, when people can recognize something in another person that they see in themselves or see potential in someone and want to help guide them in developing. I look for mentors that I can learn something from but also that I can teach something to.
What advice would you give a young adult who is about to start their first job post-college?
The simplest advice I can give is to ask questions. If there is something you want to learn about or a project that you want to be a part of, no one will know unless you ask to join. Try not to sit and wait to be noticed, speak up and be engaged. Show your willingness to get involved in whatever comes your way. This is the best way to learn and to earn the trust of your colleagues and managers. Additionally, I would say get to know yourself in your role and make choices that reflect your values, and support others to do the same.