Finding the Right Industry, Country, and Work Culture for Growth: 3 Tips from Smartsheet's Pilar Rueda
It took her three industries, three countries, and half a dozen job titles, but Pilar Rueda has decided to adopt a new motto: "I'm going to speak up more and bring ideas to the table."
From Mexico City to London to Boston, and from manufacturing to finance to tech, Pilar is no stranger to having to find a way to fit into a new situation. But too often, the easiest way to do that was to accept the status quo and keep new ideas to herself.
"I was just finding places where I never felt like I could fully be myself," explains Pilar.
But when she joined Smartsheet, where she's now a Consulting Manager, things started to turn around. It took some time to adjust—Pilar had to get used to the differences in British versus American work customs (not to mention spelling, with all those dropped "u"s!)—but now she feels like she's able to show up as who she is on the job. That comfort allows her to share feedback, ask questions, and set development goals that excite her.
"It's important for me to find a place where I can have a voice," says Pilar. "I've been very lucky that Smartsheet takes diversity in all its aspects seriously, so that's why I've been very happy growing here."
We sat down with Pilar to hear more about her career journey, including why she thinks that tech companies, and Smartsheet in particular, are well-suited to create welcoming environments for people with diverse backgrounds.
Driving Towards Inclusion
Pilar's first job was in her hometown of Mexico City. She'd studied engineering and found a placement in a manufacturing firm, but from her first day there, she experienced adversities that made her feel out of place.
"It was a valuable professional experience for me as an engineer, but the atmosphere wasn't very open to women at the time," she says. "It was a male-driven working environment and little things like not having a ladies' bathroom or having to wear boots two sizes too big did not help."
That experience was enough to encourage Pilar to get out of the hands-on side of things and to switch to the business planning side. She applied for a master's in management at Imperial College London and moved there to study, then stayed to work in financial services.
That was more by default than by active choice, says Pilar. "When I graduated, I did not know how my skill set would allow me to thrive in the financial services, but that is where London's labor market happens to offer the most options," she says, smiling.
Pilar spent six years working in London. She learned many useful skills, including project management and how to perform in high-stakes situations, but they came with a cost.
"These were very high-profile projects, which required managing workflows between government authorities, boards of directors and other high-powered stakeholders. "As a result, there was a lot of pressure to stick to existing practices," says Pilar.
After six years of having to fit into rigid working cultures, Pilar decided to hit pause and take a few months to think through what she wanted to do next.
"Our VP [at Smartsheet] says that intentional luck is when you're prepared and then luck appears and you're there to meet it," says Pilar. "That's what it was with Smartsheet. I already knew what I wanted. I knew what I didn't want, as well. And I was working towards it. That's when the path opened."
The Benefits of a Culture of Growth
When Pilar's husband was offered a job in the U.S, they decided to make the move even though Pilar didn't yet have a role lined up for herself. She saw it as an opportunity to press pause and really think about what she wanted from her career.
Not long afterwards, Pilar was attending a career fair and met an HR rep for cloud-based collaboration platform Smartsheet. She was looking for a way to break into tech, which she thought would be a more inclusive field because of its intense focus on growth.
Because of her experience with leading big projects and being customer-facing, she was an ideal candidate for a consultant role there, and once she started in that role, she seized opportunities for professional growth.
"I think not many people get to experience the growth that we've experienced this year, especially in consulting where we almost doubled in size," says Pilar. "I'm constantly looking out there for things to improve. I guess it comes from my engineering training where you're looking for opportunities to make things more efficient."
She was promoted to senior consultant, and then to consulting manager. She credits Smartsheet's culture of growth and teamwork with the career fulfillment she's found and the increasing impact she's been able to make.
"I've been able to thrive in my role because I feel like my voice matters, that I can make an impact and have influence," she says. "When I have ideas for improvements, people take them seriously, and they give me responsibility to drive change."
That's a step change from what she experienced in her previous roles. "At Smartsheet, everyone's always willing to help you. It was a positive surprise that I had to get used to [at Smartsheet]. It's the mindset of growth—not 'I'm competing against you to continue growing,' but 'We can all grow together, with the organization.'"
Learning to Speak Up More
Even though she joined Smartsheet ready to make the best of an inclusive, friendly culture where speaking up wasn't just allowed but encouraged, it took over a year for Pilar to truly find her voice.
"Not only do I come from a different country, but I'd just changed countries, and it was a very different culture here in the U.S. I remember people saying things like, 'Oh, you're very serious.' I just didn't know how to be myself anymore because I didn't want to do or say something that could offend or upset anyone," says Pilar. She didn't consider herself quiet or reserved, but she was cautious trying to learn and embrace a new culture.
Pilar is learning what it means to be called Latina or Latinx. " The way I have previously identified myself is—I'm originally from Mexico, and I've lived a big part of my life in the UK," she explains. "Now I see myself as a citizen of the world."
It's been helpful, she adds, to see Smartsheet really commit to creating a diverse workplace. "Smartsheet has taken a lot of steps to try and make teams more diverse. For instance, they have created ERGs and hired a VP of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to create awareness across the organization, so that's very encouraging."
"It's been an adjustment since I joined, but I've been very lucky that everyone's open-minded and we've grown together," says Pilar. "I am encouraged by the open environment, the ability to share diverse views and the culture of growth."
3 Quick Tips for Setting Goals That Are Right for You
In navigating so many different work environments, Pilar has learned how to channel who she is into whatever kind of setting she finds herself in. She encourages others to do that by:
- Being brave. "Speak up and say, 'This is what I want to do,'" says Pilar. "As a manager, if you don't tell me, I may not be able to help you. If I have more information, I can try and create that path for you to get there."
- Being true to yourself. "Don't just take the next role because you want to keep moving up. I've done it personally and it's not satisfying. You're not fulfilling yourself. You get the title and you're happy for a short period of time, and soon enough you realize that you may be pursuing someone else's goals and aspirations."
- Taking time to reflect. "We have this culture of everything needing to be a straight line up. But you can take a break, you can take a step back," says Pilar. She credits her two-month break between jobs as what helped her get the clarity to be able to start anew at Smartsheet, even though it was an entirely different industry. "Sometimes you do need to take that step back to be able to get to where you want."