When the power of a story inspires a personal transformation

Sep 20, 2018   |  

Editor’s note: You can’t be what you can’t see. For people of color and other underrepresented minorities, seeing someone who looks like you can make you feel like you have the ability to create change at companies like Microsoft. This story is part of an ongoing series about women of color and underrepresented minorities working in Microsoft Core Services Engineering and Operations (CSEO).

Helen Valmeo-Yang has conviction in her identity, but she says it can be challenging to figure out what parts of herself to share and what parts to keep private.

“That’s why a lot of people of color hesitate to tell their story. You can never guarantee unconditional acceptance,” Valmeo-Yang says. “If you do it too much, it can impact your credibility. If you do it too little, it’s almost like you’re forgetting your identity or ignoring parts of your authentic self. There’s a fine line between talking about yourself in the context of your ethnicity or culture and representing who you are and what you can do.”

With increased experience and tenure, Valmeo-Yang finds ways to bring her values to work. She grew up in the Philippines, where she learned about the importance of family and giving back to her community.

“Disparity in wealth was very evident in the country. I was fortunate to have parents who can afford to send me to private schools, but the sense of responsibility to help others who are in need and make a positive impact has been important to me for as long as I can remember.”

To navigate the tech industry and stay true to her identity as a community builder, Valmeo-Yang has identified her non-negotiables in a job or work environment as well as a few guiding questions she asks herself to make sure that whatever she does for work is fulfilling.

“A mentor once said, ‘If it’s not fun, you’re not going in the right direction.’ When everything you’re doing is aligned with what you think and feel, you’re at your best,” Valmeo-Yang says. “Making decisions about this takes experience and self-awareness and being patient with yourself. And being courageous to make a change if you feel like you’re not being true to yourself.”

Thankfully, Valmeo-Yang has found a team that values her identity. She’s currently a senior engineering program manager in the Consumer Marketing and Sales Engineering team in Microsoft Core Services Engineering and Operations (CSEO), where her specific team delivers solutions to support the productivity of associates in Microsoft retail stores.

“I’m so glad that we’re investing in helping our associates with their productivity challenges,” Valmeo-Yang says. “Without associates, there is no customer experience in our physical stores.”

Of the many things she’s passionate about, Valmeo-Yang is especially interested in creating technology that positively impacts people’s lives.

“I bring the problem-solver and creative aspects of myself to bear. I love surrounding myself with people who think differently, because different points of view create magic,” Valmeo-Yang says. “I also have this side of me that looks to the future and thinks about impact. I ask myself, ‘How do I make a difference not only to the business, but for the world in general?’”

She is currently building tools that help sales associates in Microsoft retail stores spend more time with their customers. “What we do impacts our associates and customers, and that’s what we keep in mind every day,” Valmeo-Yang says. “Every time we don’t take action, it’s our associates, and potentially our customers, who feel the brunt of whatever we need to resolve.”

Valmeo-Yang’s love of community helps her have empathy for end users. On her team, she is the product owner for workforce management solutions and services for retail associates. She recognizes that these tools should be designed for a broad audience, not just people who are familiar with technology like Microsoft employees. For this reason, Valmeo-Yang develops pilots that can be tested by sales associates in the field.

“For me, it might be intuitive to use a tool, but you don’t know that until you have someone in the field using it,” Valmeo-Yang says. “I am careful about making assumptions about the level of complexity before rolling out solutions to the field.”

Sheila Colyer, a senior program manager who works with Valmeo-Yang to develop these tools for retail associates, says their team is effective at delegating responsibilities and getting stakeholders on board.

“There’s a lot of collaboration that Helen helps drive,” Colyer says. “It’s not about one thing being successful, it’s about the team being successful.”

After a consulting career at Accenture and tenure as director of solution delivery and operations at Sony Electronics, Valmeo-Yang joined Microsoft because she was drawn to creative problem solving and being on the bleeding edge of technology development.

“I love that Microsoft’s mission is not just about profit, but bringing benefits to the world as a whole,” Valmeo-Yang says. “If there’s a company that can make a difference in the world, it’s Microsoft.”

With each job and experience, Valmeo-Yang has developed strategies to share parts of her story and identity through her work.

“We should have a mentality of abundance because this company has so many opportunities,” Valmeo-Yang says. “I used to think early in my professional career that by sharing my personal story, I’m emphasizing my ‘otherness.’ Now, I value personal storytelling as a way to connect with others no matter their backgrounds. I’ve realized how very important it is to open up about my work process and how I overcame challenges in order to share my learnings and help others who might be in similar situations.”

When asked how Microsoft can stay competitive, Valmeo-Yang says that the company’s diversity must mirror its marketplace.

“If we want to be a company that reflects the world we live in and serve, we need to make sure we have diverse people and points of view that reflect the values of our customers,” Valmeo-Yang says. “We should ask, ‘How can a leader throughout our company sponsor somebody for a wide range of opportunities to accelerate diversity in our company?’”

Valmeo-Yang thinks leaders at tech companies should have an answer ready about how someone ambitious can get to the next level. “The paths should be well-known so people who are ambitious regardless of their background or who they know can go for these positions,” she says. “I think this is the essence of what it means to have a level playing field.”

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