Clever Hybrids with GabyV

S4E5: Understanding the Rules of the Game | Gretchen Rodriguez from PagoNxt | Cuban expat in the US

Episode Summary

Learn some of the unwritten rules of working with American businesses to save you some time and help you get to the next level of your career faster!

Episode Notes

Learn some of the unwritten rules of working with American businesses to save you some time and help you get to the next level of your career faster!


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Episode Transcription

GabyV: Hey, Gretchen. It's so nice to see you again. Now from your home office in Florida, all the way on the other side of the US. How are you feeling?

Gretchen Rodriguez: Thank you, Gaby. I'm feeling great. Thank you for inviting me into this conversation today.

GabyV: Yeah, I was really excited because. I've known you now for, I think it's about almost a year and a half, and you were also interviewed on Thaisa's Latinx in Power podcast. I'm like, 

'We need to continue some of these details. I need more details from this conversation.'

So I'm glad you said yes.

Gretchen Rodriguez: Yes. Yes. Yes. I love Thai and we've been collaborating in a couple of podcasts and meetings and conferences and yes, I'm glad we're connecting the dots. At the end of the day, it's great to have this community, no? - where we help and support each other and we can grow together, no? I'm glad we're reconnecting with that excuse these days.

GabyV: Yeah, technology is making it possible for all of us to get together, no matter where we are now.

Gretchen Rodriguez: Exactly. Exactly, Gaby yeah.

GabyV: So how are you feeling now with the transition from California to Florida? Of course the temperature is different, but how's the cultural temperature over there?

Gretchen Rodriguez: It is quite different too. I moved here in December when everything, the middle of the COVID situation was happening in California and I asked my manager to work remotely because the office is closed. It's still closed in California. They were okay with that and now I extended a little more until the beginning of next year and see what happens over there.

But yeah, I feel great. I've been able to reconnect with the Cuban roots and being able to get again in contact with a lot of friends and family. And it's quite different, no? But I'm really enjoying those differences these days. It's putting me in the test of understanding where I come from but at the same time, what I've learned, no? 

GabyV: How is the Cuban population doing there in Florida with everything that's going on on the island right now? There's a lot of drama at the moment.

Gretchen Rodriguez: Yes, it's definitely- it's been very intense, but it's been also very beautiful. You wouldn't have never imagined this some years ago. So the community here is very strong and there are a couple of leaders that I see here. I particularly have met them in the past in California. And I really love their approach and what they're trying to bring to the country, no? With this mindset of,

'It doesn't matter if you are from one side or the other. Let's work together.' which is refreshing.

In my case, I just want to see it change and go back sometime with my family, go back to the place where I was born. So we want to see that. But again, you have to understand there is a lot of resentment too from people that live here based on what they have lived [through] in the country. So what I see is a community that is getting together more and more, and just trying to eliminate those differences. Hopefully, we can see that happening and changing, but let's see, let's see, there is a big legacy that it's difficult to change in a couple of days no? I am hopeful and I wait - I'm waiting to see something new for my country.

We all deserve that.

GabyV: Yeah, it's definitely going to be a process. It takes a while to change the system that's been there for so long.

Gretchen Rodriguez: Exactly. Exactly and some people are used to that because that's the only thing they know. Some are afraid. 

'This is the only thing I know. I probably have to keep this because it is what it is.'

But the reality is that when you leave the country, you realize that there are other options and other opportunities.

So hopefully we can see that for the people that are still in Cuba.

GabyV: Yeah, definitely. And it must be a bit of an adjustment now, too. In Florida, Cubans are more of the majority amongst Hispanics, but in California, it's mostly Mexicans. Then before you lived in Venezuela and also in Spain for a little bit. Were there ever any situations, of course it's not the same culture, but where people tried to purposefully make you feel less than?

Gretchen Rodriguez: Yes. That's a very interesting topic. When I moved to Venezuela, it was exactly 1999. We were leaving Cuba to go to a new place. So definitely I experienced a lot of discrimination in Venezuela, even though I was coming from a country that was speaking the language, et cetera.

It's tricky because I understand that back in the day, there was a lot of collaboration with the Cuban government. So maybe Venezuelans were thinking that all Cubans were with the government. So that's why I was probably caught with the same line of thinking, 

'Okay. She comes from Cuba. She's also with the government. We hate Cubans that come with the government.', no?

So it was quite difficult for me. It created a lot of trauma for me 'cause I had to change the way of talking and everything just to try to go underground and not be perceived as a Cuban and create the drama you know.

When I moved to Spain, I experienced a little bit, but it was not because I was Cuban. It was because I was probably Latina. And then, 

'Okay, you speak differently. We don't talk about this here. We don't say this word here.' 

These type of things again. Or I remember I was [at] a party one day and one of my colleagues he was saying, 

'Oh, if you are so smart, why don't you go to your country?'

He was of course a little drunk and everything, but it's a way where you realize,

'Okay, there is fear here and there are other sentiments against people like me,' but it's okay. 

You just have to disattach yourself from that. 

But then when I came to the US it was a way to reconnect with that identity. I think I was in Venezuela, losing my Cuban accent. In Spain, losing my Hispanic, my Latina, way of thinking and acting. But then here [the US] gave me the opportunity to reconnect with all of that again. That feeling of being proud of being Cuban and Latina and having the flow that we have in the Caribbean. I was like, 'This is what we need.' no? 

I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba for business when I was at eBay. So it was in 2016. So it was the closing the cycle moment that I was needing, no? I travelled with my American colleagues and they were super. They got very emotional again with the trip and all of that. So I said 

'Okay, this is actually nice. I should reconnect with all of that.'

So that was great and definitely in California, I felt fully embedded in the culture, in the way of living, working, et cetera, because it's very diverse.

It is true that if you think about the Hispanic population Mexicans are the majority in California. Coming back here [to Florida] is like feeling at home ,no? It's like being in Cuba, but with all the access to things, where you can speak in Spanish in all the places, that you [hear] Salsa it doesn't matter where you are.

It's almost like the other extreme, but it's nice 'cause I feel maybe stronger, no? Like I've been experimenting or experiencing all of this and now I feel like, 

'Okay, this is one more layer in my life.', no?

So it's been nice just connecting the dots. That's what always happens, right?

GabyV: That's amazing. It's a bit of a process, 'cause I don't have anything that extreme, but since I'm African-American and grew up in between like Latino culture, White culture and Black culture. I don't really feel like I belong sometimes. So you're like, 

'It's okay. I'll just put all of this together like a oatmeal raisin cookie.'

Gretchen Rodriguez: Yes. Yeah. I realized that Gabby, when I moved to California, where I said, 

'You know don't have to be this OR this. I can say this AND this. Yes, I am this and I'm this too.'

I decided to see it with those lenses. Yes, I can add more and guess what? That's cool. If I get different layers, if I understand different cultures, and ways of living. Let just not embrace it, but just brag about it. Let me switch the theme. Let me brag about it. 

'Guess what I believe in different places. I know different things and I'm here now, but tomorrow I might be in another place. And this is one more experience that I take with me.'

When I realized that...that changed my life, because before I was hiding. 'I don't want people to realize with my accent that I'm from here. I don't want this.'

Now I'm like, I don't care. I want people to ask me where I'm from and I can tell you a beautiful story for sure.

GabyV: It's amazing Gretchen and Thaisa has been talking to you about this too, but you've already been speaking with me now for 12 minutes and your English is very good, but you only learned it in 2013 as an adult. So how did you get to this point?

Gretchen Rodriguez: You know the story, but just sharing with the rest of the community. I came to the US when I was 30 years old, because my dream was always to speak the language. One day, I just said, 

'You know what? I have to stop like crying in the corner and I don't speak, I just have to face it and be there in the middle of the war, like understanding and live in the language.'

So that's why we moved to the US, to San Francisco and it was very hard at the beginning. I remember when we went to watch movies at the beginning, I was crying. 

'I don't understand anything. Like I will never get it.'

At the same time, you have some people in your life that probably encourage you to do good things, but others are more like 

'No, you will never do this. Come to Florida. You are comfortable here. You don't have to speak the language.'

I'm like 'No, I came here. I left all my comfort and good things that I had in Spain, in Madrid, to come here to achieve this. I have to do it. '

So for me, yes, I took classes full time classes. In school, I was listening to a lot of podcasts and was my best ally. I realized that I should be doing this at the end of the day at night. Just go to bed, listening to something in English. 

So I did that fully embedded in the American culture again living here. If you don't have the opportunity, of course having classes in your country is great but the only big change happened when you are fully embedded here. Like on your own, you're fighting with the reality, asking for food, just having those shaming moments where you ask for something people don't understand you. So I think that's the only way. And that's what I did. 

And then lastly, I think when I was able to start working, that gave me the last layer in terms of the corporate mindset and all of that. But, I'm just realizing now that I remember when I was working on mondays, I always had a lot of calls of Monday and then I was not understanding anything. 

I was like 'Why is that?'

Of course, it was because I was speaking in Spanish the whole weekend. I realized maybe Sunday let's start speaking in English at home, so I can go fully warmed up for the week. 

But yeah, those were the main things just fully embedded in the reality and just cry if you have to cry and keep moving. You will get it. It's about insisting and being surrounded by people that support your idea. Just also think about how many doors will be opened when you speak more than one language. That was for me, like, 

'I need to do this. I don't want to be in a comfortable corner just waiting for that idea. I just have to make it happen.'

So that's the only way and it's possible. If I did it [at] 30, everybody can do it. It's just keep going. 

GabyV: That's awesome. You've completely tailored it for you. But how many years did it take from arriving to being able to work in English?

Gretchen Rodriguez: For me, I took the first year to go to classes and everything. After a year, I said, 

'Okay, I'm ready. I can start to look for a job. I will get it super quickly. That's what everybody says. Like come on, I can do this.'

Of course, it took me like six months to get a job in the US and it was not the job that I wanted in tech. It was not extremely straightforward for me, but I'm like, 

'Okay, I'll keep focused on that.'

So I started to work in another company small company for six months, but then I continued with my dream.

'This is what I want. This is what I want.'

And after six months there, I was able to get the offer at eBay. It took me a year and a half, because I wanted to take the time for me to feel more comfortable with the language, but you can definitely fast track it. And again, it will not be perfect. Your first days will be like, 

'People don't understand me,' et cetera, but at some point it will work organically and you will start speaking in English and having the full conversation. And again, it will not be perfect. 

When people try to correct you in a very polite way. 'Oh, you mean this? Oh yeah, sure.'

I'm like, 'I didn't say the right word.'

In those cases, don't dwell on that. Just say, 'Okay, this is bad, but then let me keep going.' And I try to find a couple of people close to me, native Americans. 

'Hey guys, if you see something that I'm saying something [wrong], please tell me, and I need that.'

So that helped me a lot for those terms in the work environment.

GabyV: And then you're still progressing. You're not leaving it to just be by osmosis now. So last year we worked together a little bit. What was it that you felt you had to focus on a little bit more when we were working together?

Gretchen Rodriguez: Yeah. So for me, I feel like at that time it was... 

'Okay. I have this foundation, maybe it's 70% or 80%, but I need that final 20%.'

When I am able to expand the language, get different choices of words and exact, or more sophisticated or more elaborated, particularly for the working environment.

I was needing those tools to go into more like awkward conversations like negotiations or just proposals, specific meetings that I wanted to deliver a stronger message. So that's why I was reaching out to you. I think one of the beautiful things that I have realized here in the US according to the language is people can say the same thing in different ways and sometimes so sophisticated that I'm like, 

'Okay. So you mean this, right?'

But I'm like, 'Okay. I understand why you're picking other words.' 

The story telling, I think that's quite critical, no?

So for me, that's what I was needing. Just keep improving on that 20 or 30% to deliver a stronger message but at the same time a more beautiful one with the different choices of words.

GabyV: Yeah, it's definitely important, especially in business culture, because most Americans are immigrants. We have to be very specific [with] the words that we use. It's a very explicit language. Not that we curse a lot, but it means that you have to be very specific [about] what you mean.

Gretchen Rodriguez: Or even some buzzwords have become a trending topic. Like you realize like someone starts introducing words at the office and suddenly everybody's saying the same words. I don't know. 'Keep momentum going' or suddenly you start like 'pushing the agenda.' 

It's about that understanding those things and also Gaby I think it's about understanding the rules of the game 'cause sometimes that's the most difficult part. Like I want to play, but I don't know the rules. Sometimes it's just learn the rules and then decide maybe I don't want to play, or maybe I just pick a couple of idioms or a couple of ideas and you stick to that. I will not go too creative because maybe people would not understand me. That's what I've been trying to apply. 

There is always one person close to you that can be an inspiration that is also from outside of the US that probably has gone through the same things as you and you still see the way they talk, the choices they pick and all of that. So it gives you confidence. 'Okay. I can go into this path.' At the end of the day, it's being aware, just being aware, observing around and understanding what is happening in the game. And sometimes understanding that the silence can be stronger than saying something. That's okay. 

One thing that I have realized is that in the US culture, it seems like it's valued a lot when you intervene and say things, even though they might be not important or relevant, but it doesn't matter. You just say or repeat the same thing that the other person said, or maybe you bring [up] a question that was answered before. In that case, I just realized I cannot play that game 'cause I don't know how to do it, or I probably don't have that spontaneous way to answer, ask for things, or bring [up] questions that I don't feel at that moment. When you realize that, you just play your game and that's okay. At some moment, all of these will be understood and that's fine.

You just need to understand where your strengths are and where your weaknesses are too. And that's totally fine.

GabyV: I'm not good at that either. We'll be having a conversation and then maybe five hours later, be like, 'I should've asked them that!'

But it's good to know your boundaries and how to deal with certain things. One of the things you mentioned in an interview with Thaisa [Fernandes] and Alma Lopez is Latino business culture versus American business culture. The way you give feedback or present results is different. So how would you explain how that works for someone who might be new to that environment?

Gretchen Rodriguez: Yes. It's completely different. I think in our culture again because our language is so rich, in my case, Spanish, we say a lot of things just to answer the same question. And probably if we have to present something we start [with] like, I don't know, 60 slides and then you put the colors and animations and then you go all over. But at the end, it's, 

'Okay. What did you want to say? Or what was the final idea that people took when they left the office?'

So I learned here [in the US] that things can be, or should be a little different where the focus should be on. 

'What do I want to say? I want people to leave the room with this idea.' 

So once you define that, then you can build or craft the story around that. You can put a little bit of ornaments around and some color, et cetera, but at the end, you are completely clear on what you want to deliver. 

That's one of the things, and the second is it's a lot about numbers and about perspective.

I remember at the beginning, when I was working at eBay, my manager was asking me, 

'Okay, how was this campaign? Or how was this initiative?'

I started to say, 'Oh, it went really well.', or this and that and started bringing ideas. 

So it doesn't matter what you think just come back to the solid facts and say, 

'Okay, it went well, because there was an increase in XYZ. Or it went bad because there was a decrease in XYZ.', no? Just bring numbers to your story. It's great to craft it with words, but you have to put some numbers. 

And the other thing that I learned, it's more with the structure, the intro, the body and the closure. Sometimes for us [Latinos], the closure takes years! So you keep in the closure bringing more facts and this and that because again, you're trying to fill it with details. And in fact, the other person is getting lost. So just go straight to the point and then if the other person wants to open a little more the conversation, you can go with the colors, the details, but I think that's the most important. 

So I think those are the three main things. Just focus on the numbers and telling the story, just go straight forward to the message and be sure that you can improvise, but don't improvise too much. Leave that for later.

GabyV: And you did it right there with that answer. Awesome.

Well, this last thing that is really hard for most cultures, really. We need to self promote. How can you get that in your brain?

'I need to not brag, but I need to show what I did and why I deserve this.'

How can you get that mindset when your culture is telling you like, 'No, you don't do that.'? 

Gretchen Rodriguez: Tranquila niña. No pides tanto. I know. I still, Gaby, I still struggle a lot with that. I've been improving a lot though. So when I came to the US, of course, zero idea about that. I worked with an organization that is called Upwardly Global. They help immigrants to get to their first job. They do an amazing job.

So I had a beautiful coach, Susanna. She was very instrumental in my growth like 

'Gretchen you have to go on and ask. You have to do this.', et cetera.

So I learned that foundation with her. I didn't get an amazing job in my first job at eBay or the first negotiation, but I was able to catch up later.

Why? Because I said, 

'If I don't talk, nobody will do it for me.'

So every six months, I put an invite in my calendar to my manager. 

'Hey, let's talk about development, growth and all of that.'

Not only I tried to gather the facts, but at the same time, I asked people that I work with to send notes to my manager. That helped me a lot. I learned that trick with a very strong woman at eBay. So every time that I was working with someone, 

'Gretchen, you are awesome. You did...'

I'm like 'Guys, I don't care. Just send that note to my manager. I know I'm great. Don't make my ego grow more. Just send it to my manager. I don't want to hear that.'

'Oh yeah, sure.'

People love to help and they understand where you're coming from and everybody understands that. 

One third thing that helped me, Gaby, a lot was, you know what, when I go on, ask for things. I will not think [about] me. I will think of my family that depend on me. So I say, 

'Okay, my daughters need me or my husband, my parents. You know what? I'll think of these guys. I'll bring them in my mind to the conversation that will empower me. I'll go and ask for them.'

That helped me a lot. It's not for me, it's for others. Why you have to do it too because it's more painful if you don't do it. You stay in the corner. 

'Oh I'm still underpaid.' and all of that. 

Yes you are, but guess what? If you don't talk, nobody will know it.

The struggle that I still have is understanding what is big for me, meaning maybe I'm just waiting to launch a big project, or maybe I'm just waiting to, I don't know, launch a sky rocket to the moon to come back to the conversation. No, you don't have to wait for that.

There are small things that you do that are powerful enough to bring the story or to bring the case. So, work with the benchmarks. What is happening close to you? What are the other let's say packages that you see around? People in the industry, what are they making? Maybe your colleagues can give you some idea of what they're making, although it might not be the right way or the most straightforward, but just collect all of that and go strong and don't wait for an special occasion to ask for it. Ask all the time, schedule six months, every six months and go and talk. You have the no, by default. So what else could you lose? You just go on ask.

GabyV: Yeah that's true. It's a 50/50 chance. 

Gretchen Rodriguez: Exactly. So what else can we do?

GabyV: But that's a wonderful point because most people think, 

'Oh, freelancers or companies, need testimonials.'

But no, if you're an employee and you want to get to the next step, you need other people to be talking about you too. 

Gretchen Rodriguez: Exactly. exactly. It is... it is so critical. I was not aware of that, but it is. And it's not about bragging. Just forget that word. It's not bragging. It's just being where you have to be and yeah, you just do it.

GabyV: Yes. Especially now humans have very short attention spans. They have to be like, 

'Hey, remember this happened. And this happened', just to keep yourself in the front of their brains.

Gretchen Rodriguez: Now that you're mentioning that Gaby not only that tension, but I think the other stopper that we have in our culture is again the scarcity mindset that we have. 

'Oh, I asked for money, but they said there is no money. There is no budget.'

You know what? There is always money. There is always money in a company. Don't believe that.

I get a little upset with that because a manager did that to me. I was asking for a course, and then he said, 

'Gretchen, the course that you are asking for, it is from a pool of money. And then if I give you this, then the other people cannot travel.'

Something like that. I said, 

'Well, guess what? don't care. I don't care. If they haven't asked you for traveling or for other courses, that's not my problem. I'm asking you. I want this. So just give me other options. Maybe you say Gretchen 'Maybe it's too much. Let's do something else.', but don't try to shut me down when I'm trying to grow.'

So I think, again, our mindset coming from scarcity is that I will not ask because they say there is no money. That's not true. That's not true. You go and ask. I've seen people get promoted in the middle of whatever month, random month, like suddenly you get an email, 

'Oh, this person, Fulano, was promoted to director.'

You say, 'What? Isn't it that the cycles are, I don't know, June and December?'

It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you are a strong candidate, if people like you in the company, if you do a great job, they will do everything. I remember when I left eBay, my manager told me, 

'Gretchen, why are you leaving? Is it because of the promotion? I'll promote you right now. I'll do it.'

I'm like, 'No, you know what? No, but by the way, you should have done this before, but whatever. I'm leaving because yes, I just want to go to a new industry, et cetera. I love you.'

I had an amazing relationship with my manager. He was very instrumental in my growth. I know it's fine, but moments like these things happen.

Plus you can be the person that break the rules too. It's fine. The rules can be broken for you too. It doesn't have to be for that other person all the time. So I think the moment you realize that, boom! You feel empowered. You go and do your things and the rest will happen.

I think that's very important because we come with a huge bag that has a lot of scarcity or a lot of 'You don't do that. You don't do this.', from your mom, your uncle, or your grandma. Grandmas are usually the ones saying, 'No,no mija don't do this. Don't do that.'

Guess what, grandma? I'm going to do it. I'm going to do it. I'm going to fight for this. But now it's time to get exposed and it's time to fight for what you want. It's the only way. 

GabyV: Yeah. Even in some shows about Latino culture that they've had in the past few years of sitcoms, whenever the main lead [character] Oh, I lost my job or I quit.' 

Then the abuela is like, 'Ay no!'

She'll start going into like village famine mode and it's not at that level yet abuela, calm down. 

Gretchen Rodriguez: It's always abuela because of course abuela is coming in still from a even more scarcity moments. So... I think it's about again, and it's not about fighting with our culture. It's about being compassionate too, with what people have gone through in our culture, the wars, the things, everything, but we're lucky enough to break those cycles now. Let's embrace it. Let's have it there. Celebrate it and move on. Let's move on from that. Let's move on from not [saying] what we want. Let's move on from being afraid of being a stereotype. 

'Yes, I'm Latina. I have an accent and so what? I will never change my accent.' 

That's the only thing we can do. But if you keep dwelling on that or trying to change, that's where things can get very bad because you will not be happy with the consequences.

GabyV: Yeah, it's a very important point to remember. The gringos have some things right.

Gretchen Rodriguez: Exactly. 

GabyV: Yeah, that's awesome. And Gretchen, I'm sure people will enjoy this interview very much, but if they want to talk to you some more, where can they find you online?

Gretchen Rodriguez: Yeah. So I'm definitely very active on LinkedIn. I'm not that super millennial active on Instagram. okay, it went really fast this hour or so. So I really enjoyed it Gaby. I'm always enjoying talking to you.

GabyV: Yeah, we had a good time catching up. I hope we can do it again sooner than last time.

Gretchen Rodriguez: Exactly. Exactly. That's great. So let's stay in touch and if I can help someone please do reach out. I do this all the time not only for people that want to enter into the corporate world, working as product managers, which is a very in demand position here in the US but also from the cultural standpoint of people that are [moving] to the US. I still collaborate with Upwardly Global, which is the company, the non-profit that helped me came to the US. So anything... anything that I can do, I'm more than happy to do it and I really mean it.

GabyV: Yeah, that sounds like an excellent resource. Is their website just or what is it?

Gretchen Rodriguez: Yes. Yes, it is and they do an amazing with your resume, with your letter, that nobody understands until you come to the US. All of that. They help you tailor your resume with the numbers that you need to put, the type of resume. It's a whole industry around crafting resumes. So they help you for free. I mean, it's amazing. They put you in contact with employers. I went to different campuses like Google, Oracle, different ones for interviews and all of that thanks to them. So they have a footprint in different states in the US, but yeah, you can definitely include that as a great resource.

GabyV: Yeah, I'm definitely putting that in the show notes. People.

Gretchen Rodriguez: Yes. Yes. Yes, definitely. 

GabyV: Well, thank you so much Gretchen and I'll let you go ahead and get back to work.

Gretchen Rodriguez: Okay. Thank you Gaby.