The most intriguing stories of womanhood are ones that involve change, where the main character develops and grows, reacting to her experiences and challenges (plus, being the same all the time gets boring in a hurry). It's one of the reasons Intel's Sandra Lopez—the VP in charge of fashion-focused tech collaborations like the biofeedback-projecting accessories shown on Hussein Chalayan's spring 2017 runway — is such a fascinating woman to talk to. Her current devotion to diversity in the workplace and leaving any doors she walked through wide open behind her stands out starkly against her early-career aim to hide who she was.
Here, her thoughts on standing up for yourself, mentoring, and the possibility of a perfect work-life balance.
On learning about girl power:
"Pursuing what you want, making your own choices, and being accountable for them is something my mother and father instilled in me. The idea that you can accomplish anything, and anyone who tells you you can't, don't listen to them. I'm 100 percent Mexican, and my father is a typical Mexican male in that he viewed there being a role for the woman in the house where she adds value, [but] also to the business. Given that, he nurtured me in a way where females are more than just working in the house.
"I have a strong belief about this idea where we all talk about empowering females. I don't need to be given the power — empowerment is to give the power to someone else. I have the power within myself to live my life and my dreams. It takes confidence to fully believe in yourself and determination to figure out where you're going to go next."
On taking a stand early in her career:
"In my my first job, the company had a fast track where they identified a couple of us with career potential. There was a lunch meeting and an executive to the left of me looked at me and said, 'Sandra, do you know why your fellow colleague who is a male is going to be more successful than you?' I thought it was going to be that I needed to hone my statistical or analytic skills, [but] he said to me, 'There's a glass ceiling that exists.' The very next day, I decided to quit.
"He wasn't being dismissive — he was being honest with me, and I appreciated that. I realiSed, Why would I spend a second, a minute, an hour, a day at a company that already told me I had limited career progression? Solely for the reason I was born a woman. At such a young age , stepping up and quitting was a foundation for staying true to my values. Understanding the culture and values became critical in deciding if I wanted to work for a company. I lived in Silicon Valley, I knew technology was going to happen, I had a network, and I hustled. It's called grit. You have to really want it and never give up. I had interviews, I got no's, and that's okay."
On the impossibility of a work-life balance:
"Females have broad roles and can play a critical role in society and business. There's enough research that shows that if you have diversity and women in the boardroom, companies have a higher profit and are more successful. I believe in this idea that a woman doesn't have to stay home, a woman can go to work; a woman can be a mother and a wife. The notion of a work-life balance, in my opinion, doesn't exist. Every day I have to prioritise things. One thing might be more important than the other, and it's understanding those priorities, being comfortable with yourself and knowing. During the holidays, my priority was my daughter — work was slower, and I consciously made that decision."
On the importance of mentoring:
"There's that famous Michelle Obama quote: 'When you've worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you.' I feel like I have to give back [because of] what's been given to me. I've had amazing sponsors and mentors that have guided me in those personal moments where you're struggling. What does it mean to be a new mom and want to excel at your job, yet figure out what it means to have a two-month-old crying at home you want to rush home to take care of? I was fortunate and, as a result, it's my turn to give back to the next generation.
"[For mentoring,] I look for people who share similar values with me and have potential. Individuals who are starting out or struggling to figure out what they want to do next. You can tell they're passionate about something and just haven't discovered it."
On the difference between a sponsor and a mentor:
"A sponsor is going to advocate for you for the next position and believes in your capabilities and what you can do. They'll send out a recommendation — 'Hey, have you thought about Mary Jo for that position?' A mentor will provide you with advice. When I was going through the transition from 100 percent work to working mom, I sought out individuals [who had gone] through that for advice and took a blend of it, figuring out what made sense for me. I look at mentors as advisors, while a sponsor will advocate for you.
"Men [and male sponsors] play a critical role in that next generation of female leaders; if done correctly, they're going to help rise the next generation in the ranks."
On valuable advice for new mothers in the workplace:
"It's okay to say, 'I need help.' Whether it's getting additional support in the house or having your significant other do more. Help more from family or more from work — 'Please understand that I'm going to have to take a couple hours off to take my kid to the doctor.' I had to figure out that it's okay to ask for help. Frankly, we should all do it more often. If we help each other, we're all going to be much more successful."
On her commitment to diversity:
"Back in 2005 someone asked me a question I'll never forget: 'What does it mean to you to be a Latina in corporate America?' I hit pause and thought, Well, the reality is I'm hiding my gender and ethnicity. That's when I took an active role in our corporate social responsibility [team] and realised that I can bring a diverse perspective to the conversation we're having.
"I discovered who Sandra Lopez truly was when I was asked that question. I was trying to hide; I wanted to be one of the guys. It was a journey of about a year where I accepted who I was and everything became transformative. I gained much more confidence. I believe I have a role for the next generation to make it easier on them — girls or boys. How do we foster an environment where everyone feels included?"