Women of Ericsson: Sarah Rosales
November 8 is National STEM Day, a time to appreciate the value of careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. To celebrate the day, we talked to women at Ericsson to learn more about their experiences in the field and the paths they took to the roles they have today. From advice to women entering the field to creative leadership strategies, we’re sharing a look at what goes on behind-the-scenes at Ericsson. This week, we speak to Sarah Rosales, Head of Diversity and Inclusion in North America, on leveraging an unorthodox career path to a leadership role in Diversity & Inclusion.
You didn’t follow a traditional career path. How did you start out?
I’ve always been comfortable with numbers, which I believe is partly hereditary since my father is an engineer with a graduate degree in mathematics and my mother is an accountant. But, I didn’t think to pursue those careers. Instead, I wanted to pursue the arts, and I even received scholarships to go to college for theater.
However, my parents steered me away from theatre and strongly encouraged me to go to school for business. This left me with little self-direction once I started college and I ended up failing out of school. After leaving school, I started to focus on my part-time job in the specialty retail industry and quickly moved up the ladder.
After many years of success in the specialty retail industry, I hit a crossroads where I realized it would take me several years to become a VP, which is the role I wanted. That’s when I decided to go back to school to finish my undergrad and earn my MBA in finance and accounting.
How did your experience in retail influence where you are now?
The turning point for me was when I transferred work locations from the shopping centers in suburban Texas to downtown Chicago. My team in Chicago was extremely diverse, and encouraged me to think outside the box and stop following all the rules so strictly.
I had to rethink the way our corporation wanted us to do things. As a result, I eased up and started doing things in a more unorthodox manner. Once I decided to listen to my team and push back on the status quo, we started to succeed. Ever since then, I’ve really valued diversity within my teams – not just to check a box, but because I’ve lived the “use case” and seen the value diversity brings.
How did you end up at Ericsson?
My MBA program required an internship. I applied to so many places, but because I was older, and had only retail experience, I couldn’t get any interviews.
One of my professors sent my resume to a former student who worked at Ericsson and based on the professor’s recommendation the next day, I got an interview. The first thing I noticed was that the interview panel was diverse across age, gender and ethnicity. The feedback I received later on showed that had it just been one person interviewing me, I would not have gotten the job. That diversity of thought is incredibly important for companies, from helping to hire the right people to bringing fresh perspectives to the team.
Once you got started at Ericsson, what led you to D&I?
I started in finance and then transitioned into People Analytics. My main stakeholder became the talent management team. They needed insights into whether or not programs were working, and that’s where I developed the love and subject matter expertise for deploying D&I strategies.
From a personal perspective, my experience has been unique. Aside from gender, I’m not from a marginalized community. My spouse is Latino, though, and I notice the subtle and sometimes not so subtle forms of discrimination or microaggressions he encounters almost daily. Now that we have a daughter together, I’m doing my part to help this world be better, so one day she can comfortably embrace who she is and who she comes from.
To wrap things up, do you have any advice for newcomers in the field?
Good time management is everything. You cannot solve for everything, so leverage the 80/20 rule: Determine your priorities and bring your excellence to that 20 percent of your work. The remaining 80 percent, you can bring your good. Going the extra mile with the really important work will solidify your reputation, which is key in more easily driving future improvements later on.
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