Never negotiate your true self: Key lessons from the Autodesk Latinx Network lead
October 14, 2022
From Autodesk News: Guillermo Melantoni
Autodesk Latinx Network members gather for a meet-up in Barcelona.
The close of Latinx Heritage Month marks a time of reflection for me. As the global lead for the Autodesk Latinx Network (ALN), I find myself looking back on the inspirational programming we arranged for this year, as well as some of my personal experiences from the past 15 years working for Autodesk in the United States.
This year, “Bringing Diversity to the table,” was our theme. Our goal is to drive behavioral changes that allow all of us to bring our true selves to work in an environment where we feel psychologically safe.
Hear from Guillermo about the inspirational events ALN planned this Latinx Heritage Month.
Bringing diversity to the table implies enriching the conversation with different points of view. Imagine how boring a dinner would be if everyone invited only brought bread.
From showing a documentary about the culture of Guatemala to hosting guest speakers offering personal perspective, the program we developed this year was designed to create more awareness about the richness and diversity of the Latinx community.
Speakers such as Elena Gomez talked about facing challenges as a Latina in tech and taking risks in her path to becoming CFO at Zendesk. She mentioned the importance of having mentors that stretched what she could do and helped her grow.
Frederick Pferdt, another guest speaker, emphasized the importance of technical diversity. He discussed how many leaders don’t know how to leverage diversity to improve an organization’s culture and provided examples from his experience as Chief Innovation Evangelist at Google. He shared powerful rituals so that technical and non-technical employees could learn to respect each other, communicate more effectively, and feel a sense of belonging.
And next week, we’re teaming up with the Autodesk Black Network (ABN) to host a conversation with Walson Botelho, founder of Balé Folclórico da Bahia, a professional Brazilian folk dance company. The event is focused on helping Autodeskers learn more about the multiple dimensions of Latinx identity and the intersection of Black and Latinx communities.
Yet while these sessions aim to encourage folks to bring their true selves to work, we must also acknowledge how difficult that can be for those whose professional journeys face steeper and more complex obstacles. I’ll use my own experience as example.
Before joining Autodesk, I was part of the reseller channel in Uruguay. When I got the opportunity to join Autodesk and move to Argentina, I did not think about it twice, even though it meant I had to abandon known territory.
This job helped me understand team dynamics and the value I could bring to the conversation. At that point, being Latino was not an issue since I worked in Latin America. I did not understand that privilege.
Two years later I had the opportunity to move to California. I found great people that helped me navigate the job, but nobody (including myself) anticipated the challenges I would face by coming from a different background.
I was new to my job, new to the country, new to speaking English all day, new to understanding accents, and new to all the acronyms mentioned in the meetings.
Try using baseball idioms with someone with zero exposure to that game. I did not want to stop a meeting and ask what someone meant by “throwing a curve ball.”
I did get used to these idioms and eventually understood them. After my first year ended, I felt I was at the top of my game. My first performance review confirmed it. But I still struggled as a native speaker of a Latin language, I created long sentences. As a non-native English speaker, hunting for words could look like rambling.
I tend to always look at the bright side of life (insert some whistling) and after some time, I became a much more efficient communicator.
I went back home to Uruguay for vacation and visited my old office, where someone very close to me said, “You have changed a lot.” They were happy to see my growth but felt I had left too much behind. That was tough to hear.
Autodesk Latinx Network convene at Autodesk OTC 2022 in Nashville.
Last year, I read a book called “Employee Resource Group Excellence” by Robert Rodriguez. He mentioned the “Milli Vanilli syndrome.” This duo had a couple of hits, but later it was discovered that they were not the actual singers. They had built a persona that made them successful, but they were not being their genuine selves. I had also left part of my true self behind while trying to fit.
As the ALN lead, I want to make sure that everyone understands the contributions of Latinx talent. Beyond the stereotypes. It takes work from both sides and is a very rewarding effort. This process requires the team to create a space where everyone is safe to be themselves. And of course, this does not apply to Latinx only.
One of the goals of ALN is to ensure that all Latinx employees can thrive at the company while being their true selves. Here’s some advice from my experiences:
Be yourself, unapologetically.
Listen and observe carefully. The sweet spot is when everyone feels safe.
Mine for conflict, if needed. Underlying issues will just linger on if nobody addresses it.
Be willing to change. Bringing your authentic self does not mean that you don’t have aspects to work on. It’s about understanding that you are not leaving behind something that was a critical part of you.
Be a constant learner. The pandemic taught us that we always need to be ready to adapt. We need to be able to understand new scenarios and how to evolve.
For folks outside of ALN, my hope is that the learning doesn’t stop with the end of Latinx Heritage Month. Once you make the effort to understand someone’s culture and go beyond stereotypes, you might discover a new world that connects you to these people and will improve dynamics within your team and communities, alike.