Erika Rubino

Hometown: Caracas, Venezuela via Kalamazoo, Michigan

Current Title: International Product Manager at Cadillac

Professional Experience: General Motors,  Carrion 2013, International Republican Institute, US Senate, Kellogg Company

Education: B.A., International Relations and Affairs at Western Michigan University and MBA at University of Michigan


What is the greatest professional lesson you've learned to date?

Everything you experience in the workplace is a learning opportunity! Even, and especially, challenging environments in the workplace, whether it is because of a bad boss or what seems like the wrong culture/team fit. There is always something to be learned and retained from those experiences that will help you as you continue to advance your career. While in the moment these situations can seem challenging, frustrating, and unmotivating. However, facing these challenges with a learning mindset allows you to extract the most important lessons.

In my experience, something helpful to try is to write down all of your feelings about what may be going wrong and to try to understand what is it about that situation that seem most damaging or toxic or frustrating. Identifying these things very concretely helps you learn about your own working/leadership style, the things that trigger you and motivate you. After reflecting on all that, you’ll be in a better position to define what is crucial or important to your success in your work environment. That allows you to identify work environments or management styles that can best help you succeed.

What has been your greatest professional failure to date and what have you learned from that experience?

Not asking the “silly” or obvious questions because of fear of how people will perceive me. To be successful working through a business issue, it’s important to understand what the problem truly is and what stakeholders are involved or affected. You don’t need to know the answer to these things right away, but pursuing those answers will help you build a path to better understand the problem, the people, the industry, or the company, all of which can help you problem solve better. To do that, however, takes you being comfortable with asking questions and talking to close (or not so close) colleagues.

The longer you wait to be vulnerable and ask those crucial questions, the longer it will take you to understand the real issues and therefore build solid hypotheses. Additionally, not asking enough questions at the beginning of a project can put you at risk of heading down the wrong path. You should never let your fears of others’ perceptions keep you from asking even the most basic question. Especially since those questions may help unlock erroneous assumptions or pre-existing ways of thinking that could be reinforcing or worsening the problem.

What issues have you dealt with being a female person of color in corporate America and how have you overcome these challenges?

Being the only woman, and one of two people of color in a team of 15, has forced me to think a lot about my voice, both finding it and using it unapologetically.

I’ve come to realize that my voice is my most important asset. It helps me better connect with colleagues and allows others to better understand who I am, how I think, what I believe and what moves me. The reason I think this is so important is because without using my voice and telling others about myself, I don’t think I can build meaningful, deep, and authentic relationships. You need those relationships to thrive professionally and derive joy from the work you do. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I tell EVERYONE about likes, dislikes, interests, dreams, etc., but if no one that I work with knows anything about me than how effective can I be at becoming a part of the team or helping affect change in corporate mindset and culture.

As a result, I’ve decided to not hide during team meetings or not raise my hand if I have a question or not interrupt or speak up during a conference call because I know my voice is a way to help colleagues understand my worldview. And if only 1 or 2 people listen at a time, than those 1 or 2 are more than the day before. And next time those 1 or 2 people might feel better equipped to approach me, to work with me, or even support my suggestions. That is what I believe helps build authentic relationships at work and wherever I am.

What resources, professional or personal, have you leveraged to ensure your career is progressing?

I think the resource I depend on the most is my network (my mentors, my friends and my family). I reach out to my family or mentors to serve as a sounding board when I’m having trouble or need a different  and fresh perspective. I seek out my friends at other companies as sources of information when I’m curious about different industries, new trends and even other job opportunities. I also reach out to my broader LinkedIn network to learn more about industries I’m following, how the job market is changing and to get ideas on books or articles that might be of interest to me.

I also listen to A LOT of podcasts. Some of them having to do with management or social behavior (HBR IdeaCast, Hidden Brain and Invisibilia), so that I can work on my management style and to be a better team member. I also listen to quite a few about the economy, specific industries or business-related topics (Planet Money, Industry Focus and TED Talk Business) to stay informed. Lastly, I listen to quite a few thought provoking ones (Rough Translation, More Perfect, Revisionist History), to keep me curious and open to new ways of thinking and taking in information. I find podcasts to be a great and interesting way to take in information that is relevant and timely without necessarily having to go to the media all the time.

Lastly, I would say I do a lot of self-reflection. That is, I check in with myself regularly to make sure I’m still happy and interested in what I’m doing, to understand whether there are other interests that are surfacing and most importantly to make sure I’m learning in my job and from my colleagues. Because that is such an important thing for me to have in my career, I never want to stay somewhere where I don’t feel like I’m learning or being supported in my career development. So when or if I feel stuck or disinterested or like a new interest is surfacing, I use a mix of my network, non-traditional media and self reflection to check in on myself and my career progression, to revisit or set new goals and to design and/or adjust my execution plans for accomplishing my new or existing goals.

Do you have mentor? If so, how did you select this person or people?

Yes, I do have a mentor and I think they are incredibly important. For my mentor, I selected someone who I felt comfortable talking to and confiding in, in a very honest and authentic way. That did not necessarily mean that they looked or thought like me. In fact, I didn’t really want a mentor who shared my identity. I wanted a mentor that would give me a fresh perspective. So I focused on identifying someone I admired and felt was well respected within my organization. I looked for someone who was senior but not too high up because I wanted them to know enough about what I did that they could relate and help advise me.

When I finally approached him, I asked him to be the person that helped me learn more about my position and its impact on the greater organization, the culture of our workplace, and how to succeed within it. I also asked him for his advice on how to navigate my immediate and not so immediate surroundings. This meant, I ended up picking someone who was not in my group or department but who worked with my manager or department on a consistent basis.

In my mentor I’ve found a real confidant, someone that provides me with a different perspective and doesn’t just tell me what I want to hear; I enjoy talking to my mentor and even going out to coffee, lunch or a drink with him. He’s a friend, advisor, and ally all at the same time.  

What advice would you give a young adult who is about to start their first job post college?

Be curious, be yourself, and be gun-ho but also be true to you! Don’t be afraid to help accelerate your learning curve. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, as it will help you build authentic relationships that can in turn help you to navigate you work environment more easily and effectively.

Don’t be afraid to be aggressive in your desires to learn and move up, which to me means putting yourself in places to learn and to push yourself. Learn to deliver, to protect, and build your reputation and to be noticed so that you can continue to get exposure and continue to expand your responsibilities.

Lastly, be true to yourself, learn as much as you can, take time to be mentored and given advice, put yourself out there and be vulnerable (at a rate that works for you) but also know that if the workplace doesn’t work for you or isn’t a good fit, you can make changes. Your future is in your hands, empower yourself and those around you will help you along the way!

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