Leading With What Makes You Unique With Jennie Lopez-Reed

by | Oct 6, 2022 | Podcasts

SWGR 124 | Intentional Unicorn

 

How can you make your uniqueness an advantage that will lead your career? Joining us for this episode is Jennie Lopez-Reed, author of Intentional Unicorn: Bring your authentic self to thrive in life and career. Jennie is currently the Associate VP of Global Talent Acquisition for a large pharmaceutical firm, Eli Lilly and Company. Jennie empowers authenticity and diversity in her role and outside of it, engaging employees and organizations to achieve new heights in career and business. In this episode, she chats with host Elizabeth Bachman about the value of being intentional and the power of authenticity in advancing your career. She emphasizes the need to highlight new leadership styles and put representation at the forefront to bring out the best in our employees. The women of today are the role models for the next generation, and it’s time we break the cycle to make a better, more inclusive world of business. There’s a lot of incredible insight in this episode, so make sure to tune in for more.

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Leading With What Makes You Unique With Jennie Lopez-Reed

How To Be An Intentional Unicorn

This is the show where we interview experts from around the world on subjects such as leadership, how you show up at work, communication skills, diversity, and much more. Before I get started talking about our guest, I would like to invite you to see how your presentation skills are doing. You can find that out by taking our free four-minute quiz at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where you are strong in your presentation skills and where perhaps a little bit of support could get you the results you need and the recognition that you deserve.

My guest is Jennie Lopez-Reed. We are broadcasting this during Latinx Heritage Month. She is one of the very exciting Latinx leaders that I get to interview. Jennie Lopez embodies Bring Yourself to Work in everything that she does. She empowers diversity and engages employees and organizations to achieve new highs. Her superpower is her authenticity. She realized that her strengths are a combination of her Latinx heritage, passions, and learnings from being a mother.

Intentionally using her strengths has been the secret towards her personal and professional successful growth journey. Jennie is originally from Puerto Rico and moved to the US to complete her Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering. Her engineering career includes roles in both manufacturing and quality, where she was a Site Head and also on the business side, as a global brand leader, senior leader, and Chief Operating Officer. She’s the Associate VP and Head of Global Recruiting and Talent Acquisition for a large pharmaceutical company. She’s also an executive board member for the organization of Latinx at the company, which focuses on developing and accelerating Latinx talent.

In 2021, Jennie Lopez joined the Board of Directors for Genesis Research. At the same time, she has found success with her dancing and her fitness careers. Her experiences include being a backup dancer for artists like Julio Iglesias and Ednita Nazario, TV shows, Super Bowl-winning NFL cheerleader and cheerleader captain, fitness instructor, presenter, and Zumba master trainer. One of the things that I love about Jennie is that she combines a full-time executive career with dancing and teaching fitness. Why not?

Jennie is the author of the launched book, Intentional Unicorn. She’s also a featured author in the book, Hispanic Stars Rising Volume II. She’s frequently invited as a guest speaker at many local and national organizations and was awarded the 2020 Working Mother of the Year Award. She enjoys making intentional, fun memories with her family, Brad, Izzie, and Ethan.

They are the why and the fuel for all that she does. After many years of working hard to hide her unicorn horn, she realized that that’s where the magic takes place. She’s proud of being an intentional unicorn and empowers everyone to do the same. Let’s go to the interview with Jennie Lopez, the unicorn who is intentional about it. I know you will enjoy it.

Jennie Lopez, I’m excited to have met you. We were introduced by my friend, Oscar Garcia, who was the guest episodes ago. You are awesome. I’m so glad we met. Welcome.

I am excited. Thank you so much. I’m looking forward to it.

I have a whole list of questions to ask you. Before we get started, let me ask you. Who would be your dream interview? If you could interview someone who’s no longer with us, who would it be? What would you ask them, and who should be listening?

Not to dive into religion but personally, in my journey, I have been able to reconnect with Jesus, so I will say it’s Jesus. He is the perfect definition of love. As I continue to work on myself and be less judgy, more loving, and more forgiving, I will have so many questions to ask him. I know there’s a lot documented in the Bible but having that opportunity to face-to-face ask him for more practical ways on how to become a better person will be him.

I keep thinking that the Bible was written by men, not by women, because women weren’t taught to read or write at that point. What we know of the Bible is other people’s interpretation, so who knows what he did say? That would be an interesting one. Good for you. I would be very curious. You’ve written a book called Intentional Unicorn. You have a website called Intentional Unicorn. You’ve got to tell us the story. Where did that come from?

SWGR 124 | Intentional Unicorn

Intentional Unicorn: Bring your authentic self to thrive in life and career

It’s a funny story. I was invited to a senior leadership program a couple of years ago. One of the first things that they had us do was to grab a piece of paper and a couple of markers. They said, “If you had to write your memoir, what would it be? Draw a picture and then title it.” Everybody got so excited about it. In the beginning, I froze but then the first thing that came to my mind was to draw a silhouette. That silhouette or that person was me. I put a little bit of a line in the middle. Half of it was my professional me. Imagine that it was all black and white. I had my glasses, my hair down, and my professional attire. I had my heels.

On the other side, I put colors. That was my dancing or the artistic side of me. I was striking a dancing pose and had a very high ponytail. When I looked at it, I giggled and said, “That ponytail looks like a horn of a unicorn.” I started reflecting on myself, “I am a unicorn but intentional.” For the longest time, I thought I didn’t fit in any aspect of my life. As an engineer, I was the bubbly one. As a dancer, I was the nerdy one. I always tried to hide that side of me when, in fact, all of those sides of me are what makes me, me.

I do believe that all of us are unicorns. We try so hard to hide the horn, minimize it or not get down because we want to fit the norm. Whenever we put a flashlight and highlight that horn, that makes us, us, that’s where the magic happens. That’s whenever we can operate at our best. The day after, we went back to the training. I thought, “That memoir exercise was funny. Let’s put it apart.”

We had a special guest, and they said, “You have to do a show and tell now” The special guest was the CEO of the company. I’m thinking, “There goes my career,” because all of my peers were deep in terms of the problems they wanted to solve and the community impact they were going to have, and I have here my Intentional Unicorn. I’m sure the CEO remembers mine from that entire event.

During the pandemic, we had an event that was very similar to a TedTalk. I remember one of the training facilitators said, “From all of those memoirs, the one that stuck with me that message was yours. Will you be interested in doing a keynote at that event?” I was very humbled. My keynote ended up being the closing keynote of the entire event.

I got so much feedback, not about me but about the message. It was about how, finally, somebody is saying the things that nobody says, and somebody is speaking out loud, “ Jennie, I connected to your message. I wish I would’ve heard that earlier in my career or I wish there were more people talking about it.” That started seeding the idea of one day writing a book to continue to amplify the message, and here I am.

Besides having a full-time, important corporate job, you also send out tips to people. You’ve got the book and the whole unicorn side of you. You also have a dancing career on the side. When do you ever sleep?

I sleep. If I don’t sleep, I will not be functional.

Let’s talk a little bit about how you combine the work and the life part. How do you mesh that together?

I am a very big believer in filling my cup. All of us, especially women, you fill your cup. I fill my cup. We are like a cup that keeps giving, and if we don’t replenish that cup, we get dry. The way I fill my cup is through dancing and fitness. That’s something that I have started since I was a little kid. I was a backup dancer for different artists in Puerto Rico, on TV shows, and even here in the United States. I was in NFL cheerleading. I am working for the company, doing Zumba, and as a presenter and education specialist for them. That’s how I fill my cup. I don’t see it as a different job. That’s what fills my creative side.

I teach still fitness classes twice a week. I do that after work. I go back to my favorite word, intentional. You have to be very intentional with how you organize your day and how you protect your mindset from the moment you wake up. It has what are the big main rocks that you have to tackle that week to continue to move the needle. It takes a lot of proactive work. Be choosy of your yeses.

You have to be very intentional with how you organize your day and how you protect your mindset from the moment you wake up. It takes a lot of proactive work. Be very choosy of your yeses. Share on X

Be very choosy about what you say yes to. I love that. When you talk about authenticity and getting your voice heard, tell us a little bit about that and how that works.

Being your authentic self, I learned that lesson throughout my career. When I moved to the United States, I thought that when I looked around and didn’t see a lot of people that looked like me, I will get feedback like, “You have to dress like an engineer,” which I didn’t know what that meant because I was working on a manufacturing floor.

You are a chemical engineer working on manufacturing for a large pharma company.

I had no heels, no dresses, and no jewelry, and I still got the feedback that I needed to dress like an engineer. What I did was that I went from colors to black, white, and gray. That’s what I saw around me. I wanted to fit in. I didn’t want to stand out. I got feedback about enunciating my words. I got feedback about slowing down and being less bubbly, “Jennie, you have to be very careful about first impressions because you don’t look smart.”

I got feedback about tuning it down, being too nice, and that they didn’t know if they could trust me with a difficult job. When you keep adding that feedback, then I thought, “There’s something wrong with me.” When I looked around and the lack of representation, I said, “The only way for me to have success and get to the goals that I want to get is to change who I am and fit in. Maybe if I dress like her, talk like him or I am more command and control, that is different from who I am as a person, maybe that was it.” That’s not the formula for success. Nobody wins. The company gets 50% you, perhaps, and 50% of confused you.

As a person, that is so draining. It’s almost like you are playing a character in a movie, memorizing the lines, and trying to behave a certain way. All of that energy goes into being somebody who you are not instead of channeling all of that energy to give the best of you and focusing on the problem to solve and the people that you are serving.

When that clicked, they said, “When you are at your best, it is whenever you are your bubbly self, energetic self, and the way you connect with people.” I said, “I’m going to become that role model I didn’t have.” It is so freeing whenever you are very intentional with it. The reason I say intentional is that if every strength is overused, it can play against you. It can be a derailer. Everybody has to be careful about how to intentionally use their strengths. If your strengths look different from what the norm has been for so many years, then it’s an artful balance.

SWGR 124 | Intentional Unicorn

Intentional Unicorn: Everybody has to be very careful about how to intentionally use their strengths.

 

That leads me exactly to my next question. A lot of the work I do is helping women get their voices heard. Often, it’s because you’ve got to speak a language that people will understand. Finding the balance your authentic you and still being understand or speaking of language, I always think of it as multi-focused versus single-focused people. The Western business was built for single-focused people, mostly men, who can just do one thing at a time.

They can only hold one thing at a time in their head, whereas the multi-focused, mostly women, not always but mostly, can think of lots of things. I think of it as two different languages. Talk a little bit about finding the balance between being you but not so much outside the picture that you won’t fit in or that you will get pushed back.

I will say two buckets. The first bucket is to understand who you are and what you bring to the table. What are your strengths? For me, my strength is that strategy piece, the cross-functional leadership, and the energy I bring into everything I do. Those three pieces are very me. I’m confident and continue developing those strengths to become the best I can be.

The second half is the one to understand how the business where you are working in works. How do they drive decisions? For example, in the company where I’m at, and I’m sure many companies are in that bucket, it’s all about data. Instead of showing the money, it is showing the data. Data speaks very loud, and with data, you can influence a ton. The other piece is that also the company is very competitive. Having that wired external landscape, benchmarking, and bringing that is how you influence and get your voice heard. There’s a combination of both. Understand how your company makes decisions and are able to provide that.

The first piece and I’m speaking from my Latino heritage, can sometimes feel like you are swimming against the current. For example, for me, I’m an energetic leader. I achieve results through the family, which is what we call my team. We call it the family. That is different from what has been perceived as successful in the past, and because of that, I always think the best of the people. They are trying to coach you to be more like what has worked in the past.

Let’s be honest. The composition of this world is already looking very different from what it looked in the past. What worked in the past doesn’t work. Maybe it feels a little bit like pushing against the current but we need that courage out there and more role models, so the next generation can see that you can be authentic, Latina, and female. You can achieve your goals and be your authentic self. It’s almost like breaking that cycle of creating the same type of leaders. It’s going to take patience and courage but it is very worth it. We are not doing it for ourselves anymore. We are doing it for the next generation.

We need that kind of courage out there and more role models so the next generation can see that yes, you can be authentic, you can be Latina, you can be female, and you can achieve your goals and be your authentic self. Share on X

I like to think about historical cycles. I spent 30 years in the opera business, telling stories from the 18th and 19th centuries. They were based on stories from the Greeks. I have often wondered if this single-focused tendency in American business comes from the fact that it was run by men who had been in the Military.

This is the longest we’ve gone without having the whole nation at war if you will. You had many people, all male, for generations who had been through wars and were used to that structure and that top-down hierarchy. That is not the same as a family. There’s a hierarchy in a family but this is exciting. One of the things that you said was that there wasn’t anybody who looked like you. I know that you are the sponsor for the Latinx employee resource group at your company. In sponsoring the employee resource group for Latinx employees, what are the ways that you see that people sabotage themselves?

I am an executive advisor for them. I love to talk about this. There are so many different things that I can bring here. I’m going to focus on two. One of them is the way we are raised is to focus hard on what we are doing. Results will speak louder than anything. Put your head down and work hard because people will notice. This is something that was the way we are raised. That is something I did, too. I worked so hard but the performance itself will take you until a certain point in your career. After that are things like personal branding, mentorship, sponsorship, and visibility. I learned that the hard way.

This is why I love to talk about it, especially because I want to please and want people to feel that they made the right decision by hiring me. I would focus so hard on my job but then, at a certain point, I became invisible. I became lost in this little bubble called my work because I was saying no to the things that were exposing me to mentorships, sponsorships, and visibility.

I didn’t know any better. When I saw other people getting the opportunities and the promotions a little bit, I said, “That is not fair.” I then realized, “That is because you are not being very strategic with your career.” That’s what I love to talk about. You drive your career, nobody else. It takes a lot of intentional work to take you to get it.

SWGR 124 | Intentional Unicorn

Intentional Unicorn: You drive your career, nobody else. And it takes a lot of intentional work.

 

The other one is that in our culture, it is very ingrained to not talk about yourself, “Qué dirá la gente? What will people say?” It is almost like bragging is an arrogant way of talking. That’s why you achieve results through people and talking about your team but that plays against you in the corporate world. Especially during performance management, there are a lot of times that they say, “What did you do?” When I will respond, “My team did this. My team achieved this,” they will say, “Not your team. What did you do?” For me, it was intuitive that I was the leader. I’m the one leading and making these things happen. I learned to adjust a little bit to how I would describe myself.

The other thing that I advise and coach people on is that it’s a different mindset. It’s not about talking about you. It’s about expressing and articulating how you can best add value because people are not mind readers. Otherwise, you are going to be the best-kept secret out there. If they don’t know how you can help, what do you bring to the table? What are your strengths? They don’t know how to better place you in the organization to have the best value for the company. This is why I keep saying, “You have to articulate your values, not talk about others.”

Also, it’s for us to recognize our value and to say, “I did that with the help of my team but that was my idea.” My mother always said, “Good girls don’t brag. Stop talking about yourself.” The thing is, if you don’t talk about what you’ve done and claim credit for it, somebody else will step into the vacuum and claim credit for something that was your idea.

As we talk about this, I’m curious. You are Associate Vice President and Head of Global Talent Acquisition, which means you are hiring people from around the world. Clearly, you are hiring people of many different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. What are the qualities that you look for and the qualities that you see where people sabotage themselves? Is it just Puerto Rico and the continental US where good girls don’t brag or are it worldwide? You see a lot. I would be curious as to your thoughts.

In terms of a cultural perspective, this is something that I am so happy about my company because they did several employee journeys. What they do is hire an external company. They do a lot of internal within the company and market research about what is the journey, for example, of a Black employee, Latinx employee, Asian, LGBTQ or a person with a disability. Through that, they have been able to uncover moments of truth. Some of them are similar to all the people who are perhaps underrepresented. Other ones are very unique to their culture or their background. I have been able to learn a ton from that.

What I have been able to do with my organization is equip them with that information and make sure that they are aware. They then can recognize these little biases that may happen during an interview or when we are recruiting of how we can best connect with the talent. Representation is key. The other things that I’ve also done within my company or my organization are having people that can connect with these people because they have similar backgrounds or circumstances.

That has made a significant impact on how we hire people from all the elements of diversity that we bring into the organization. It’s also being curious. It is the same thing I’m learning from a US landscape with each country. What are they seeing? How can I best partner with them? How do we replicate the same type of framework in all the different countries?

That is very interesting. You think about a chemical engineer from Kenya who does not have the same experience as a chemical engineer who’s also Black and from Atlanta, for instance.

I love to sometimes get to know people from a personal perspective. “What is your journey? It’s not about having this degree and this other degree or these experiences.” You learn so much about their resilience and the way they connect the dots and problem solve through learning what their journey is. “Tell me your story.” I love to ask this question because it speaks louder sometimes than the many achievements that we call in a resume.

One of the things that I learned early on in training opera singers is that your story is a sales tool. I like to use the word enrolling. You are enrolling your manager to be on your team or enrolling somebody like Jennie Lopez to hire me. Your personal story is part of that, and it makes sense to practice it. As you talk about this, you had another great phrase when we were talking earlier about breaking the cycle of creating the same type of leader avatars. That is a great phrase. What do you mean by that?

You touched a little bit about that when you are talking about, “I wonder if this because of,” let’s go back to the United States and the nature of the leaders and from the Military background. For the longest time, they created this leadership style. I’ve seen it in my company and many other companies. That proved them successful but that is not going to work in the future. We need to break that cycle. I have to be very grateful for the people, females, and Latinas before me because they had to feed that cycle to be able to get a voice and get to a certain place.

Now, we have the numbers, know better, and need to break that cycle and put a flashlight on the different types of leadership. That’s the true meaning of diversity. Inclusion is that everybody has a different style. It may be different from the past but it’s still beneficial, valuable, and incredible. We need to see more role models there because if people don’t see the role models, they continue to think, as Jennie Lopez when she was 22, that the only way to achieve her goals was to be part of that avatar. We need to break it.

Put a flashlight on the different types of leadership. That's the true meaning of diversity and inclusion. Everybody has a different style and it may be different from the past, but it's still very beneficial, valuable, and incredible. Share on X

Where would somebody start if they have been feeling for quite some time that it wasn’t safe to talk about who they were or where they were? I have been with my wife for 32 years. For the first fifteen of those years, I always said, “My other half or the person I live with.” I never mentioned gender because it wasn’t safe. Where could somebody start besides buying your book?

I will say it goes hand in hand. The organization also needs to lead by example. They need to create an environment where people feel that it’s psychologically safe to be who they are. You are voicing your story and breaking any barriers so you can unleash the best of every single employee or person in your organization. As a person, you have to almost connect with a big why. Why it’s so important for you to be the best you and to share with you? For me, I wanted to become that role model I didn’t have. Was it easy? No. Was it worth it, and did I have a bigger why? Yes. That big why was what drove me whenever things were not easy or when things felt monumental to be able to continue to be the best me.

When I connected with my why, that drove me. I’ve seen a lot of people that have shared their stories with me because I enable that. It’s maybe part of who I am. I’m myself at work the same way I’m with my kids and with my students teaching Zumba. People feel that they can trust me. I have a lot of people who say, “I can’t believe I’m telling you this. You are the first person with whom I have shared this side of me.” If you have a big why then you have a bigger reason other than yourself as to why it’s important to bring the best you and the entire you.

Before we go, I want to hear more about your WOW emails, the Words Of Wisdom. Talk to us a little bit about that.

The Words Of Wisdom is all about strategies, tools, and actionable things that you can do to succeed in life and your career. Success is 80% mindset. A lot of people focus on the training and the actual things that they have to do. They take for granted the mindset. I get a lot into the mindset space here. It’s one of the reasons I also wrote the book, Intentional Unicorn. A lot of the things that are in the book, I break down into even more details into these WOWs.

In the book, it’s not just about my story because nobody wants to hear that. What people want to hear are the lessons. When you go, for example, on LinkedIn, what do you hear? “I got this award or I’m humble. I got this promotion.” You see all the highlights. You don’t hear the down, challenges, struggles or feedback. I’m not going to say failures. I’m going to say the painful learnings. That’s why I talk about Intentional Unicorn and the framework that I have on how to achieve any kind of goal.

Thank you so very much for joining us. This has been fun. Although we’ve discovered each other, you are going to be hearing from me a lot because I want to hear lots more about what you are doing, and we will go on. This has been Speakers Who Get Results. My guest was Jennie Lopez. Let me remind you. If you enjoyed this, please go to the website and click on the link on how to leave a review. Review us and recommend us on Apple Podcasts. Subscribe to us on YouTube. Tell your friends so that I can bring more fabulous people like Jennie Lopez. Thank you, Jennie, for joining us.

Thank you for having me.

I will see you at the next one.

 

Important Links

 

About Jennie Lopez-Reed

SWGR 124 | Intentional UnicornJennie Lopez embodies “Bring Yourself to Work” in everything she does. She empowers diversity and engages employees and organizations to achieve new highs. Her superpower? Her authenticity! She realized that her strengths are a combination of her Latinx heritage, passions, and learnings from being a mom. Intentionally using her strengths has been the secret towards her personal and professional successful growth journey.

Jennie is originally from Puerto Rico and moved to the US to complete her Master’s Degree in Chemical Engineering. Her engineering career includes roles in both Manufacturing & Quality (including Site Head roles) and the business side (Global Brand Leader, Sr. Leader & Chief Operating Officer). She is currently the Associate VP and Head of Global Recruiting and Talent Acquisition for Eli Lilly and Company. Jennie is also an executive board member for the Organization of Latinx at her company focusing on developing and accelerating Latinx talent.

In 2021 Jennie Lopez joined the Board of Directors for Genesis Research. In parallel she has also found success in her dancing and fitness careers. Her experiences include: Back up dancer for artist like Julio Iglesias and Ednita Nazario, TV shows, Superbowl Winning NFL Cheerleader/Captain, Fitness Instructor, Presenter and Zumba Master Trainer.

Jennie is the author of the recently launched book “Intentional Unicorn”. Jennie is also a featured author of the book Hispanic Stars Rising Volume 2. Jennie is frequently invited as a guest speaker at many local and national organizations and was awarded 2020 Working Mother of the Year. She enjoys making intentional fun memories with her family Brad, Izzie (12), & Ethan (9)- they are the WHY and fuel for everything she does. After many years of working hard to hide her unicorn horn she realized that that’s where magic takes place. She is now proud of being an intentional unicorn and empowers all to do the same.