As Ericsson's Head of IT Market Areas Sourcing, Julieta del Rio knows what it takes to lead a team – and she's not afraid to make waves along the way. Born and raised in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, she came to the United States to study economics at Oberlin. From there, she's held a variety of roles in telecom and tech that eventually led her to her role at Ericsson. With her expansive experience and passion for what she does, she has advice for seasoned leaders and young women getting started in STEM.
Q: It's no secret that STEM careers haven't always been the most diverse. What was your personal journey to the industry like?
I knew what I wanted to do from a young age. For one, math was always my favorite subject at school. And on top of that, my dad has always been my mentor. He was the president of the telephone company back home and the Superintendent of Banks of Bolivia, so we always talked about things like telecom and economics at the dinner table. Those conversations with him as a kid were the first foray into doing what I wanted to do.
He instilled in me and my sisters the idea that we could do everything a man could do. Because of that, I always wanted to be the best at sports and the best in class – and I didn't think there was anything I couldn't do or try out. From an early age, that was key to my trajectory. Beyond being in the top 5 percent of our class, I played varsity basketball and volleyball and played tennis at a national level.
Later, I came to the U.S. to go to Oberlin for undergrad, where I studied economics and studied abroad in France for a year. Since then, I've held a bunch of different positions at tech companies – most people assume I'm an engineer at this point!
Q: What skills or personality traits have been most helpful to you throughout your career?
The ability to get curious about things and ask questions goes a long way. When I was in kindergarten, I had a friend in first grade who already knew how to read and write. I didn't know how yet, so I asked my dad to go buy the book she had so that I could learn.
I'm very inquisitive, I read a lot and I'm curious – I ask many questions to ensure that I understand what's going on. Taking the initiative to learn things you don't know is important. That way, you know enough to be dangerous.
Playing sports has also been vital for my persistence, determination, and tenacity in everything I do. It has provided me with the discipline and mental strength to have that much-needed competitive edge in the telecom world.
Q: What are some of the obstacles women face in the industry?
At one of my first jobs, I was responsible for building a subsea fiber optic cable network around Latin America and managing a $2 billion program. It was a huge responsibility, and on top of that, I happened to be the youngest director in the entire company. Every single person who worked for me at the time was a man. I've often been the only woman at the table. As a woman in tech, you have to be twice as good, twice as smart, and twice as perfect to continue to shine.
Q: How did you get started at Ericsson?
I've had a great career. I started at Ericsson about ten years ago with the opportunity to help build and program-managing customers' networks. I made the transition two years ago into a global role to oversee IT Sourcing
My team manages all strategic IT-sourcing purchases of hardware, software, services, and system integrations. From an IT sourcing perspective, it's a great place to be because we are at the forefront of all new technologies supporting all of our customers, especially when we're developing solutions that haven't been created yet.
We get to be in the middle of everything, co-creating and coming up with that next big thing. An example is working with our Smart Factory, Ericsson incubator groups, and R&D teams, which is fascinating. If I look at all the different areas within sourcing, I think IT sourcing is probably the sexiest area to be in – but it's also one of the most difficult because nothing is set in stone.
Q: Do you have any hobbies or interests that inspire you outside of work?
As I said before, I have a bit of a competitive streak. I played tennis from the time I was 10 years old and continued to play on the college varsity team for four years. I still play now. I am also a certified advanced open water diver and travel the world looking for that next beautiful scuba diving trip! I think it's important to keep doing the things you love, even when life gets busy.
Q: What advice do you have for other leaders?
The more diverse a group of people is, the more creative and unique opinions you'll get. Diversity is a huge part of what makes our team so strong. Coming up with new ideas and solutions is easier because we're different and challenge each other to think differently.
As I've gained more experience throughout my career, I'm also extremely passionate about ensuring other women can grow and find the mentorship and sponsorship they need. It's so important to reach out to young women and let them know what positions are opening up or how they can continue to grow in their careers and find new opportunities within the company. These past three years, I co-chaired our Women of Ericsson North America Employee Resource Group. I dedicated significant time and effort to transforming our ERG thru gender culture transformation, achieving workplace gender balance, championing our moms for moms initiative, and making Ericsson a top place to work for women. As a result, we launched structured cohort-based development curriculums focused on leadership and personal growth, networking, and mentoring women's talent. My advice to all leaders is to get involved in your ERGs, mentor women's talent, and become sponsors and promoters of talent. All they need is an opportunity.
Q: What advice do you have for young women just starting?
Don't be afraid to ask for help, and don't let anyone dissuade you from doing what you want to do. When you know in your gut you can do something – and you can do it right – then go for it, no matter what anyone else says. I've always been a bit of a trailblazer because I don't mind standing out. I'm not afraid to be assertive and to take chances. I would love for other women to be able to do that, too.
Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.
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