When Luisa Hurtado got engaged, her whole team at Facebook celebrated with her.
That may seem like a normal way for coworkers to respond.
But as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, the support really meant something to Luisa. "Everyone was saying congratulations, and they were so happy for me, and that was just so nice," says Luisa of her engagement to her now-wife. "I was treated like a normal person. Everyone's very open, and more importantly, everyone's very supportive; people will understand you and they will not judge you, and that's really how Facebook has helped me."
As a software engineering manager at Facebook, she works really hard to create encouraging environments for other people, helping them find ways to succeed even if they're taking different paths than she is.
We sat down with Luisa to talk about how she came to recognize the importance of intersectionality and finding a workplace that supports it, how she's tapped into communities at work and is building new ones, and what she's learned about her own style of leadership.
Finding her own path
Luisa grew up in Colombia. And while she wasn't the most typical little girl—she preferred cars to Barbies, she says—her family always accepted her.
"I was who I was, and it didn't matter. Like, it didn't matter that I didn't look in the way that everyone in Colombia looked," she says. "That's really kind of what helped me chart my own path because it gave me an advantage. I came here and I was never questioning who I was or how to fit in, because my family was supporting me."
Luisa came to the U.S. after college in order to study English. She ended up getting a job, and now, 12 years later, she's here to stay. Getting used to American work culture has been an opportunity to reflect on her own intersectional experience as a woman, an immigrant from Colombia, and a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
"I've come to understand that all of these pieces kind of make me who I am," says Luisa. Unpacking systems of access has taught her "what's been holding people like me back," she adds. For example, says Luisa, she was taught to be humble growing up, but realized that American culture encourages more self-promotion. She's found a way to balance both. "I was raised in a different way. I see things differently. I ask questions that maybe other people wouldn't ask," she says.
And in her role, where she manages a group of engineers, half of whom are originally from other countries, Luisa recognizes that she can serve as an example for other people who share one of her identities or who feel like a part of the "other."
"Being very honest with my team about who I'm married to, who I am, where I come from, what my experiences have been, I think that helps other people also be more open," she says.
Not first and not last: paying it forward to others
Luisa's first year at Facebook wasn't easy, but she got through it with the help of a director who mentored her. "She really helped me with my confidence," says Luisa. "She was able to understand what I was going through. Having female mentors that can really help you and have been through the same things as you [is key], because then you think, 'Oh, I'm not alone. It actually has happened to other people like me.'"
Her mentor's specific advice was on how to not take failure personally. For Luisa, a combination of internalizing that lesson and building connections with other mentors and friends who could help reinforce it really helped.
Luisa says there are three groups at Facebook that have been especially empowering:
- Latin@, where Luisa helps coach other LatinX employees on how to advocate for themselves. "They're teaming up managers with engineers to give feedback on their self-reviews. It's important how they communicate what they have achieved, so I help people talk up their accomplishments more," she says. She also appreciates the Latin@ Community Summit because "it's really hard to find Latinos in tech; just being able to see them and be next to them—and sing songs in Spanish—is awesome."
- Women@, where Luisa says she's experienced "lots of community building." "It's a great place where I can see and feel inspired by women who are in higher-up leadership positions and ask, 'How can I get there?'" she says. "The workshops you can take specifically helped grow my leadership skills." She works to pay those lessons forward on her own team: "I take it very seriously to actually help women ask for things they want and give them the opportunities to lead themselves," she says. "I ask, 'How can I be a champion for them?'"
- The D&I team for the FB App, where Luisa has been able to take a more hands-on approach to diversity and inclusion efforts and work to pay it forward for all of the app's users. "It's given me the opportunity to meet a lot of people, but also push for initiatives that I'm really passionate about...I've been able to really exercise my leadership skills with something that I believe in," she says. "I get to build connections and push for things on a larger scale, so I really love that."
Tapping into these groups of other leaders and people who share her identities and passions has given Luisa an immense support system at work. "I appreciate the sense of community that I can have without me having to be the person leading in the forefront," she says.
And now she continues to pay it forward, particularly to other women leaders. "I think about how I can actually build that space for them that maybe they don't feel comfortable creating, but that I, as an advocate for their growth, can give them access to," she says. "I do have an advantage of being a woman and understanding what it's like, so it's easier for me to catch these things before they even tell me."
Developing her own style of leadership
When Luisa first became an engineering manager, she struggled to step back from the day-to-day work that needed to get done. "I always thought, 'I could do it faster, why don't I just do it?'" she says.
She quickly realized that investing in her team and helping them grow would help them to learn how to do it faster. "And differently," she says. "I would learn something from them, if I would give them the space to be who they are and see how they'd solve problems."
That led to one of the first lessons Luisa learned as a manager: "Just because someone is doing something differently, it doesn't mean it's wrong."
That experience also drove Luisa to show her team that she believed in them even when she didn't agree with how they were approaching something.
"It can become this vicious cycle," says Luisa. "Where a manager sees that an employee isn't performing well, and so then they stop supporting them. Instead, investing in coaching and saying, 'No, I believe in them' and giving them the opportunities can really help. You see people light up and transform and really take on that role when you say, 'Hey, I'm here for you. I know you can do it. We'll do it together,'" she says.
Other key lessons Luisa's learned?
- Come up with a vision, first and foremost, otherwise you'll get lost in a constant stream of tasks without building towards anything. "There's so many things to do that you'll go crazy!" she says. That vision applies not just to your team design but also to the individuals within it: "How do you think about their career in a couple of years? About their goals and how they can achieve them?"
- Encourage your people to find their own way to lead. "The first thing [I tell people] is, 'You do not need to be the loudest person in the room,'" says Luisa. "I make sure it's very clear that when I'm asking them to lead something or drive something to completion...that we can find the right tactics for them," which might be written communication or one-on-one. "Everyone has different communication styles."
- Coach towards collaboration. Luisa encourages her engineers to reach out to their peers. "I want to make sure that those ideas are heard," she says.
- Tell people what your expectations are and give them flexibility in meeting them. Luisa says she makes sure that project leads know what they need to execute on, but lets them determine the best way to do that. For example, she'll be clear that they need to communicate the status of the project to stakeholders. "That could be a meeting, or in a post-it, or something else," she says. "The tactics are different, but the expectations are fairly well-defined."
As Luisa's career has grown, she still questions if she's doing the right thing or if she's setting herself up well for the long run. "I have learned that I kind of need to not listen to that voice," she says. Instead, she keeps pushing herself.
"I'm not the person who's going to take the most risks," says Luisa. "My wife would tell you that sometimes I'm afraid of getting in the ocean because the waves are too strong. So my sense of risk is very different, but it's still helping me push myself a little bit more and not listen to that critic, and be more like, 'What's the worst thing that could happen?' and start there and then move forward."
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