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Spotlight Series: Ada Lopez, Senior Manager, Product Diversity Office, Lenovo

Ada Lopez, Senior Manager, Product Diversity Office, Lenovo

ARTICLE SUMMARY

We sat down with Ada to take a look at how she started her career in tech, her role models, believing in herself and her advice to other women in tech.

ADA LOPEZ MANAGES THE LENOVO PRODUCT DIVERSITY OFFICE TEAM AND IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DAILY OPERATIONS OF THE DIVERSITY BY DESIGN PROCESS.

In addition to leading the team, she works with development teams across the company to implement inclusive and accessible design practices. With over 18 years of professional experience as a teacher, and both a product and project manager, Ada understands the importance of creating processes that increase diversity and inclusion which are supported through education, employee empowerment, and are championed by leaders.

HOW DID YOU LAND YOUR CURRENT ROLE? WAS IT PLANNED?

My role as Senior Manager for Lenovo’s Product Diversity Office is predetermined in many ways. Born in Cuba, I moved to the US at the age of five. When I was 11 I had to enter the foster care system when my mother died. As a result, diversity and inclusiveness issues have been crucial to my survival for as long as I can remember.

Many people map out an ideal career path in high school, where they may wish to be a doctor or a lawyer, and take the requisite steps to achieve their goals. However, my childhood was a bit too hectic for that linear kind of pursuit. Instead of thinking about boosting my SAT scores and college application during my junior year in high school, I was considering dropping out and living on my own.

Thankfully, my foster mother and my teachers changed my mind and convinced me to see education as essential to a rewarding future. My shift in mindset led me to graduate from Florida International University and become a high school science teacher. Prior to Lenovo, I worked at an educational technology designing company that looks for better ways to learn. This is the throughline to my current work at Lenovo as I developed an award-winning e-book on astronomy that provides full accessibility to blind students.

As you can retrospectively see, though I didn’t have a storybook career path, I’ve always been attracted to work that empowers others, whether it is students or Lenovo users. Since the moment I committed to attending college, my determination to excel has been fuelled by a desire to pay tribute to the sacrifices and contributions of those who have supported me. I like to think my journey can serve as an inspiration to others, and prove you don’t need to take a traditional approach to find career success.

WHAT ARE THE KEY ROLES IN YOUR FIELD OF WORK, AND WHY DID YOU CHOOSE YOUR CURRENT EXPERTISE?

As a child, I encountered and resolved challenges related to cultural, linguistic, and familial exclusion. Now, my concerns lie in addressing technological barriers or biases that could potentially exclude any of our customers.

To provide tangible examples and avoid sounding too idealistic and abstract, my focus now is to ensure that Lenovo’s products are equally accessible to users of all abilities, and other underserved populations as they are to everyone else. My job is truly exciting as we are constantly breaking new ground. I am working in a long-neglected area where there are no set answers.

This also means that I need to be a bit disruptive at the company level to urge technology specialists to broaden their views of what defines a successful product.

DID YOU (OR DO YOU) HAVE A ROLE MODEL IN TECH OR BUSINESS IN GENERAL?

Susan B. Anthony is my role model. She advocated for the integration of people of all skin tones and gender to be educated together. As an activist, she campaigned for women’s rights, economic parity, and the abolition of slavery. I’m certain that she’d be advocating for the pioneering changes, which are happening at Lenovo, if she were alive now.

If we follow her steps to act courageously and fiercely against injustice, the world would be a better place.

Seeing Susan B. Anthony as my hero, I strive to achieve social movement while connecting with people.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR CAREER, SO FAR?

I always tend not to think in those terms as a rule, as it is impossible to quantify what it means to change a young student or a Lenovo user’s life. Generally, big achievements are inseparable from a list of small challenges you meet every day, and hence I focus more on those daily triumphs.

However, as the Senior Manager at Lenovo, I find purpose throughout my professional journey through embedding diversity and inclusion into our product design and development process. My heart is filled with joy whenever we expand our research and design practices, as well as take the words from underserved populations into consideration. I celebrate the implementation of inclusive and accessible design practices through impactful collaboration with product development teams – which is what gets me up in the morning, and sometimes keeps me up at night!

HAS ANYONE EVER TRIED TO STOP YOU FROM LEARNING AND DEVELOPING IN YOUR PROFESSIONAL LIFE, OR HAVE YOU FOUND THE TECH SECTOR SUPPORTIVE?

There are still barriers for women working in tech. Though we’ve made progress, there is still lots to be done. Due to the complexity of different companies, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It is vital to work for institutional and educational change, and hence why I work to promote STEM for women.

Apart from institutions, it is also crucial for women to cultivate confidence and self-belief.

There is much more that companies can do in supporting women’s careers in technology, and I’m fortunate to work at an enlightened company like Lenovo that sees the value in a diverse workforce. In the next few years, I’m hopeful that this kind of enlightenment will become more widespread.

HAVE YOU EVER FACED INSECURITIES AND ANXIETIES DURING YOUR CAREER, AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?

Lack of confidence is the most significant challenge I’ve faced, experiencing constant second-guessing and self-reflection on what I can or cannot do. I doubt myself: Do I have enough skills, training, or experience to take the next step?

As the soccer great Abby Wambach says, “You have to demand the ball.” It’s vital to believe in yourself and your talents before anyone else believes them too. This isn’t a trait I was born with, but I’ve developed it over time and now it’s become second nature. As a result, I’ve learned to take risks, and I work to inspire my team to do so as well. Calculated risks are necessary if you hope to do something great, instead of simply playing it safe. By doing so, you’ll learn to enjoy the tension that comes from pushing yourself.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHER WOMEN WANTING TO REACH THEIR CAREER GOALS IN TECHNOLOGY?

It is crucial to find a balance between mastering a body of knowledge without getting stuck in a hole you’ve dug, whilst remaining open to exploring flights of learned inspiration. A great example is the jazz trumpeter, Winton Marsalis, who makes clear that unlearned inspiration is almost always useless. Before improvising, you need to pay your dues and master the fundamentals.

Once you’ve achieved that balance, you’ll then be able to add your own individual voice to the voices of others. 

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