“Being Unapologetically You”: Sandra E. Lopez with Intel Sports (Video + Transcript)

April 5, 2019

Sandra Lopez been named one of the 50 most powerful women in tech by the National Diversity Council and one of Latina Style’s Top 10 Latina executives. She is Vice President and General Manager for Intel Sports. In other words, #boss. In this Girl Geek X: Elevate 2019 session, Sandra shared the advice she shares with the women she mentors on being unapologetically you, being kind, and networking while prioritizing support over competition.


Sandra E. Lopez / VP, Sports / Intel
Angie Chang / CEO & Founder / Girl Geek X

Transcript from Elevate 2019 conference:

Angie Chang: So, next up we have Sandra Lopez, who is a VP at Intel Sports. She will be talking to us, and giving us a morning keynote on being unapologetically you.

Sandra Lopez: Hello. Can you guys see me? Good morning, everybody. I have step and repeat envy. So, I’m behind a boring white screen. But thank you for the kind introduction, and a good morning to everybody. It’s such an honor to join you at the second virtual Girl Geek Conference called Elevate.

Sandra Lopez: Today is a really special day because it’s International Women’s Day. It’s an opportunity for us to recognize the progress that has been made, and the progress that we’re making, and the progress that all of you on the phone and joining us virtually will be making as well. And I think when I talk about progress, it’s important to recognize that progress isn’t achieved alone. The intent of progress is how do we help flip a narrative? A narrative that honestly is very bleak for us women in tech.

Sandra Lopez: 20% of women are participating in technology, 5% of startups are owned by a woman, and 5% of women hold leadership positions in the tech industry. And what’s really disheartening is that a lot of young females want to join tech, and they lose interest after they hit the age of 11. While I look at these sobering stats, I actually am very optimistic because we have organizations like Girl Geek X that are providing tools and resources that are going to help us chip away at the glass ceiling. A ceiling that our society honestly has been engineered to advantage men.

Sandra Lopez: And so, please join me. I think it’s important to thank Angie, Gretchen, and Sukrutha, for not only having the vision, but also acting on the vision. All of us can have a vision, but many of us don’t take action. So, it’s important to recognize that all of you are doing your part to help shift the overall narrative. When Sukrutha reached out to me and asked me to do a keynote here with Girl Geek X, I read her email and automatically said “Yes, I’m going to do it.” I didn’t even check on my calendar. I was going to switch my calendar for everything, just to make sure I participated in this particular conference. And Sukrutha in your email to me on LinkedIn, you make a statement that I wanted to highlight. “We’re just a group of three women trying to encourage women to not give up and stay in tech.”

Sandra Lopez: And so, I think, Sukrutha, and to the two of you, you’re just not three females. You are heroes providing many of us awesome opportunities to succeed. As a panelist, and I joined you guys twice already in 2015 and 2017, you provided me with the opportunity to revisit my younger self, and also re-examine my current self. I want to thank three of you guys for giving me the gift to participate, and yet have another opportunity today to talk to the leaders of today and those of tomorrow.

Sandra Lopez: So, this year’s conference, Elevate, I love the pillars that you chose. You chose inspire, connect, and celebrate. For me, those words exude positivity. They talk about growth, progress, and fun. And the notion about celebration for me in corporate America, we often don’t use the term celebrate. But today we’re all celebrating around the globe International Women’s Day to recognize that we have made social, economic, and cultural achievements. It’s also important to recognize that there’s so much more work to be done. There’s still pay disparity, gender imbalance. There’s abuse of power. There’s microaggressions. And as we celebrate, we can’t forget the individuals that came before us to pave the way. What I wanted to highlight, is some of those individuals that influenced me when I was growing up.

Sandra Lopez: When I was a young girl, I admired Marie Curie for really her boldness. She was fearless, and she accomplished many firsts. I don’t know if you guys know her, but I wanted to highlight her first. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She was first to win two Nobel Prizes in two different scientific fields, and nobody has achieved that to date. She was first to be part of only mother/daughter team to win a Nobel Prize. First woman to be appointed as faculty at the École Normale Supérieure. First to become a professor at the University of Paris.

Sandra Lopez: First woman to be honored with an internment at the Pantheon. And she did all of this while having a family. I loved how you guys highlighted earlier in terms of the importance of having males on our side, because she too had a male ally, and that was her dad telling her that she can pursue anything that she wanted to do, and pursue her career in science despite the fact that she was in an all-male world. And so, she had nothing to fear. She inspired me to be fearless as I embarked in my career.

Sandra Lopez: That’s the past. In the present, there’s some amazing females that exist. I wanted to highlight Chantelle Bell, who I think is also going to have several firsts in her life. She’s only 25. She recognized an opportunity that many females can face a common cancer, which is cervical cancer, and I have an appreciation for what she’s doing because four years ago I had early diagnosis of cervical cancer. What she’s trying to do, she’s trying to do similar to the pregnancy test. Can she provide all the females in the world the ability to do early detection of cervical cancer? Then she’s trying to make sure we all have access to it. So, she’s looking at pricing that is economical. So, her effort to provide us females a solution to do preventative care is going to give us an opportunity to live longer, and healthier lives.

Sandra Lopez: In addition to Chantelle, I think it’s really important today that you celebrate yourself. And not just yourself, but really celebrate your individuality. Because over the time of my career, I really learned that what makes this world super special is our individuality. Now, it took me 35 years to embrace my own individuality. My background was I grew up really conflicted. I’m the middle child of a Mexican American family. I grew up in a middle class household. When I was growing up and I would interact with my American friends, I was just never American enough for them. Then I would travel to Mexico, or I would hang out with my Mexican family, and I was never Mexican enough for them. I simply was never enough, yet I knew it was important to accept my never enoughness, and my reality that I would never be enough, and acknowledge that maybe in this world I was never going to fit in.

Sandra Lopez: Yet while I recognized I was never going to fit in, I wasn’t going to let that stop me. Similar to Marie Curie, I wanted to have my own firsts. I was the first one who graduated from college. I was the first one that entered the business world. I was the first one that told my family I was crazy and I wanted to enter in the world of tech living in Silicon Valley. And as I entered different phases in my life, Sandra the college student, Sandra the recent college grad, Sandra of Silicon Valley, I did what I did best is, I was a chameleon trying to survive in my current habitat. What I mean by that is, I changed who I was based on the situation that I found myself in. And that’s what I did when I was a child.

Sandra Lopez: So when I started my career in Silicon Valley, I found I was surrounding myself with men, and men in suits. So what did that mean for me? I completely threw away the wonderful dresses, and wonderful pants, and wonderful shoes that I used to love to wear, and I purchased a lot of suits. And not just any skirt suits, I purchased pant suits. And to amplify that, I actually wore shoes very akin to men. They were square-toe in the front, and then I would add like two-inch stack heels in the back, because I thought that that extra inch would actually give me a level playing field. And no, it didn’t give me a level playing field. But I did everything that I could possibly assimilate.

Sandra Lopez: In my first job, I encountered what I realized was tension with my values. I joined a company. I was one of the ten in terms of rising the executive track. So basically, we had a path that provided us tools and resources to succeed. One of those tools was having lunch with the C-level executives. I was super excited. I prepared. I had the questions, and I sat down and on the left hand side was the Chief Operating Officer. Across from me was my male colleague by the name of Aaron. The Chief Operating Officer kind of whispered in my ear, he leaned in and said, “You know, Sandra, you’re never going to succeed like Aaron.” So I just scratched my head. I’m like, “Oh, I know Aaron’s really good at stats. So maybe he’s going to advise me to take an MBA class.” And as he whispered in my ear he said, “You know, Sandra, there’s a glass ceiling that exists.”

Sandra Lopez: I hit pause, and thought to myself, “Is he telling me because I happen to be born a female that I was not going to make it to the executive ranks?” I went home and I pondered, and Marie Curie came back to mind. I’m like, “She was bold and fearless. Similarly, I will do the same and I’ll make a statement.” The next day, I went into my company, and I quit. I quit because I didn’t think anybody should hold me back because of my gender. I knew that I was resilient, and I would be able to find a job. And shortly thereafter, I was able to find a job, still in a male world.

Sandra Lopez: When my values, such as being a female, and female equality, and the right that I should be able to be a C-level, sometimes I found myself wasting my time pursuing activities to fit into society, but not to fit into my own skin. And so, I would play golf because I knew in the business world golf was a place where decisions were being made. So every week I would spend money on practice. I spent the most expensive golf clubs thinking that it would improve my game. I would go out there all Saturday and play. And trust me, I hated, hated golf. Then I recognized that one of my female friends, who also played golf, was so good, and then yet she was never invited to the party. So I decided to quit, and I took on other activities like happy hour that men would do so I could just participate and just be like one of the guys.

Sandra Lopez: Then I fast-forward to 2006. I joined Intel 2005. 2006, I had a meeting with an individual by the name of Early Felix. Early Felix was pulling together executive leaders that happened to be Latinos. And he asked me a question. He asked me this, “What does it feel like to be a corporate Latina? A Latina working in corporate America?” And I was just like, “What are you talking about?” I was asking what he was talking about because I never made my ethnicity, or my gender an issue, yet it was bothering me, because I couldn’t answer the question.

Sandra Lopez: So each day would go by, I would take showers, I would think about it. Several months later, I was in the shower, and I realized something. I realized that I was just never myself. So in the spirit, I wanted to discover who I was. I began to shed the skin that society influenced me to wear such as the pant suit, and I began to be even familiar with who I was, who Sandra Lopez was in her own skin. 5’2″ tall. I was destined to wear feminine clothes. I wanted to wear those red suede pump shoes that you see on the PowerPoint with three-inch stilettos. I wanted to wear dresses that would accentuate my Latina curves, because that would be my ability to embrace my unapologetic self.

Sandra Lopez: If I were to advise my younger self and do it all over again, is to be your unapologetic you. I think that because in the process of understanding who you are and what makes you special, you’ll discover your own depth, and what you’re capable of. You’ll get confidence. You’ll know your place in society in this world. And because I discovered who I was over 10 years ago, arguably, my career started to succeed. I’ve been able to drive impact in an industry, which I often like to say I work in a triple male world, sports, media, and tech, often finding myself the only woman in their world, yet I can leverage my womanhood to talk about the 50% population in terms of the experiences that we need across all those industries.

Sandra Lopez: I would argue I’ve been able to have it all. I am a working parent. No, I don’t have a nanny. What I do have is a father that is amazing to my daughter that has enabled me to become who I am becoming. I found my voice in the process. What your voice does is, it accomplishes several things. I’m able to speak up and challenge senior management, and that’s something that’s really difficult to do as a Latina. Because a Latina when you’re born, you’re born and the culture tells you never to challenge seniority.

Sandra Lopez: But challenging seniority in corporate setting is really about intellectual curiosity, and trying to do what’s right for the business. And so, I have found the confidence and the voice to have those conversations. I’ve been able to stand up against microaggressions, microaggressions that exist every single day, and I use those microaggressions as opportunities to be teachable moments for not only the men, but also the women.

Sandra Lopez: I discovered the power of no. No to the meetings that just never would bring the business forward, and especially no to taking notes in the room because I was the only woman in the room. And so, arguably, the last 10 years I have been living my unapologetic life. In the process of connecting with myself, and my individuality, it was also a point to connect with others, and this is what I call networking.

Sandra Lopez: This is something that as females we rarely do, but should focus on doing. Because when I look at my career and my success, I’m attributing my success, honestly, 30% is brain power. 10% is luck, and 60% is networking. All the jobs that I have secured has been because of my network. The way I break it down for the females, and females that I mentor is simply this: network in inside your organization, network out in your industry and outside of your organization, and network wide.

Sandra Lopez: Network in. Why should you do this? It accomplishes a couple of things. First it’s important to understand how other roles in part of your organization help support your agenda in the role that you have, and linking the interdependencies. At the same time, those conversations around the business interdependencies and business integrations allow you to have and build friendships. When you’re having a crappy day, you can pick up the phone and call Joe, or Sally and speak to him or her about what’s going through you, and they’re going to provide you with advice.

Sandra Lopez: When you want to change, potentially, organizations, you’ve built a network internally that will support you and help you in that transition. Why should you network outside of your company? Because outside of your company it accomplishes a couple of things. We always talk about diversity of thought. When you’re sitting outside, and talking to people outside of your organization, there may be different ideas, different thoughts that you can apply to your work on a daily basis. It also helps you play an influential role in driving your industry forward.

Sandra Lopez: I could be insularly focused, and just focus on Intel Sports, and media entertainment within my organization, or I can also be overtly and focus out externally, and talk to the industry at large at what we’re trying to do and bring the industry forward from a market perspective, as well as talk about in the scenario that only 3% of females are in sports, and how do we change that narrative. The only way I can make a difference is by finding those individuals that want to drive change. So if that means I have to network externally, find those individuals, talk to them about the mission, and have them join me on the journey.

Sandra Lopez: And then network wide. This is what men do really, really well. Let’s just–wie should just copy their playbook. They build a wide network because it prepares them for any situation that they have in business, and how to get ahead. And so, they build value in their rolodex. As females, what I often find is that we value deep relationships. In the business, you don’t have to be best friends with females. You don’t have to build a network of five individuals, and go deep with them. This is not about being best friends. This is about building your network so you can enrich your professional career, and ensure that you’re set up for success.

Sandra Lopez: So, building that rolodex becomes very important to drive business negotiations, to get help, to cross over in different industries. If you want to pivot from one career to another. That’s why that’s really important. When you look at networking as a whole, and as you’re looking at this opportunity, as females, we need to proactively seek two things: mentors, and sponsors.

Sandra Lopez: I want to drive a distinction because I’m always surprised that often people are confused about the difference. Mentors are advisors. They can advise you on how to ask for a promotion. They can advise you how to do a pivot. They can mentor some advice. Now, what does it mean to come back as a working parent, and juggling your personal and professional life? They can advise on when you’re going through trials and tribulations at home, and how do you show up to work, and not let that get to you on a daily basis.

Sandra Lopez: Sponsors. I got to where I was because I have sponsors. Sponsors are going to advocate for you. They’re going to give you, Sally, opportunity to take a high profile initiative, or high profile program that’s coming on board. They’re going to be there on an annual basis saying, “This person should get promoted and here is why.” They become your advocate, and they can be within your organization, typically within your rank and file, as well as having advocates externally that can send notes to your management on how great you are as an individual from a business perspective, as well as from a professional perspective.

Sandra Lopez: When you have these opportunities to network and interact, you also have an opportunity to inspire. I hear so many amazing stories that never get told, and they inspire me, and they give me goosebumps. I know my stories have inspired people. The people to just do and make it happen. Your story and what you have to share will inspire the next generation of emerging leaders. It’s going to inspire my daughter, who’s eight, who wants to hear from you. We also have the opportunity to raise each other up.

Sandra Lopez: Often times people are concerned. I do not want to have this conversation with an executive, or sit down with the CEO. It’s important to realize that all of us have gone through trials and tribulations. I once was in your shoes. As I look at senior level people that I admire, they’ve been in my shoes. When people are concerned about talking to you like the CEO, they’re human. They’re just like you.

Sandra Lopez: And so, it’s important for you to inspire all of you guys who are doing chat. Inspire each other as you talk because these conferences kind of fuel and provide you with that platform. And then, I think it’s important as we are part of Girl Geek X today, and it’s International Women’s Day is that we remind you no matter where you are, whether you’re starting your career, whether you’re a CEO in a company, our collective obligation.

Sandra Lopez: First and foremost, we represent 50% of the population. We should ensure that our voices are heard, and that we’re engineering experiences not just for the few, but for every single person on earth. We have to celebrate our female accomplishments. Often times, it’s disheartening when females don’t want to celebrate other females because they’re jealous, or we want to tear ourselves down.

Sandra Lopez: You have to realize when we celebrate our accomplishments, we’re illustrating, and we’re showcasing the impact that we’re making in business. We have to raise girls–for those that are having kids and have kids–with a grown mindset. The opportunity to ask the tough questions, the opportunity not to take society as it is, and help craft a better world. As Gretchen was talking about earlier is, we have to actively partner with men.

Sandra Lopez: I too and I want to help you guys with your endeavours that I’m sick and tired of going in conferences where there are all women because men are currently in the C-suite, and they need to help us, and need to help us to elevate us. And then to–let’s be honest, it happens often for some of us is that the professional world is tough. Sometimes you want to give up, and we can’t give up because we have to help each other, raise each other up. We need to make sure that we’re there for each from a pure perspective. We’re there probably for the next generation and ensuring that we leave an impact.

Sandra Lopez: So similar to how Marie Curie left an impact on me, it’s our obligation to leave an impact for the next generation and open the doors. Now, as I close, I want to remind you to celebrate you and your own individuality, your badassness, because all of you guys are badass and rockstars, and never stop realizing what your full potential is. As you carve your path to being a CEO and entering yourself in the boardroom, I want to leave you with a quote that has been etched in my brain, which goes back to Marie Curie. “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.” Thank you. I don’t know if we have time for Q&A, because I haven’t tracked time.

Angie Chang: Yes. Thank you, Sandra. We do have some questions for you. Let’s see. There is a question where you mentioned that networking is how you landed most of your jobs. This person has tried to reach out to her network for mentorship, advice, and support in finding a job but has found it difficult, and has found closed doors and silence. Do you have any suggestions or tricks that you can share with this person?

Sandra Lopez: Yes. I’ll start with a couple of different ways. Networking is about relationships, and relationships are about human beings. So you have to connect with a person. Think about it as a marketing standpoint. The person that you want to connect with, what motivates them? You start that reach out by understanding what motivates them, and engaging with them. The simple way is if you know what they’re interested in, send them either an email or a LinkedIn message, and start with that, because that’s how other people will react to you.

Sandra Lopez: And then the other way to it, often times all these conferences exist. If you follow the person that you want to interact with, go to the conferences that they may be presenting–he or she. Do not be afraid to get up in line, and shake your hand, introduce yourself, and do it in context of what he or she spoke about, and say, “You know what? I really want to do XYZ, and can I LinkedIn with you? Or can I get your business card and follow up?” Now, one of the things that I have seen as part of networking is people do follow up, or sometimes people ask for a meeting with me, and they’re not prepared. So, know what that purpose–You’re going to have that meeting. Why do you want that meeting? What do you want to get out of it, and do your homework. Really important.

Angie Chang: Awesome. Thank you. We have one more question, I believe, on how to find a mentor. Do you have any suggestions on how to approach potential mentors?

Sandra Lopez: Yeah. In your organization, I’m assuming many of you have career discussions or input, how you’re going to go ahead and what’s next with your next with your direct manager. If you don’t, it’s your obligation. I always like to say, “You’re the CEO of your career. You own it.” If your manager is not giving you that … If your manager is not having professional career conversations, you should drive it. As part of this professional career conversations, you should ask, “I would like a mentor.”

Sandra Lopez: Again, like I mentioned earlier, mentors serve different purposes. I’ve had a mentor for when I came back in reentering the workforce after having a child. I’ve had a mentor in terms of how do I ask for a raise. I have a mentor in terms of I want to pivot from marketing to being a general manager. And so, be crystal clear and have purpose on what type of mentor you think … And you can have hundreds of mentors. It doesn’t just have to be one or two. Understanding where you are in your career, where you want to go, what type of mentor should you have, and work with your manager to help find that mentor.

Sandra Lopez: If your manager is helping you, then look within your organization, and find opportunities where you can engage with him and her via an email. As a perfect example, I saw the panel lineup today. It is amazing. Ones that motivate you, LinkedIn with them. Once you LinkedIn with them and they say, “Yes, I accept your LinkedIn,” ask for a 10-minute meeting. And then when you have that 10-minute meeting, make sure that you explain why you want to meet with them, what you want to get out of it, and then follow up accordingly.

Sandra Lopez: Sukrutha reached out to me via LinkedIn and said, “Hey, do you want to participate?” Yeah, absolutely. It’s not as hard as people think. The tools are there. LinkedIn, Go to Google, Silicon Valley females in tech, there are so many activities out there. It starts with you being fearless about being a CEO of your career. Sometimes you’re going to get someone to say, “No, I’m not interested.” And that’s okay. You keep on plugging along. You’re going to get … You’ll be surprised from one no you’re going to get 10 yeses.

Angie Chang: That’s great advice. I really like that part about going up to people at events. We’ve actually found a lot of women have seen success in going up to the speakers after a Girl Geek Dinner, and going up to other women and talking to them about their jobs – and suddenly there’s interviews happening, and the woman has found a new opportunity! So, there’s definitely a lot of great pathways in in-person events. Also, when making that LinkedIn request, having a very specific ask and request.

Sandra Lopez: Absolutely.

Angie Chang: Sometimes I get a request for, “Can I pick your brain over coffee?” And I’m like, “Can you get more specific with that? I might say yes if I knew how exactly this conversation can move forward your career. I can invest in you.” We have one last question, if we have time, I think two more minutes, on how you can be apologetic … How do you be unapologetically you, and how do you realize who you are after acting not quite you for many years.

Sandra Lopez: It’s a journey. I will tell you it was probably one of my darkest journeys in my life. The way I embarked in it, whoever is asking that question, who wants LinkedIn with me, I’m happy to have a conversation. It starts with understanding your values. I was actually not convinced. When I started my career, I wanted a title, I wanted the money, and I wanted the company. Never did I think about, “Wow, how you treat a woman is really important. Wow, the opportunities to go from different organizations is really important.” So looking at different career paths.

Sandra Lopez: The notion that I want to build and create things. I did not understand that in … You can seek to understand that at a very young age; it’s not based on all these years of experience. And so, you have to go through an exploration of what your values are. You have to go through an exploration of what you’re passionate about, and what you’re really good at. I look at those three intersection points and you start to figure out, “Well, who are you?” And then you embrace that, and then you check that with your friends, your family, and your colleagues. And I always like to send notes about if you were to have one word that would describe me, who would it be?

Sandra Lopez: And those words, we all have different language and different vernacular, should be consistent with who you want to be as a person. And so, it’s a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight. It sometimes put in the mirror of your face like, “I want to be This person, but I’m still not this person, and so how do you involve and transition to that journey?” And so for the person that asked the question, I’m happy to do that because I do believe that if everybody is being their true self, we would have a happier and kinder world.

Angie Chang: That’s a great note to end on. Thank you so much, Sandra, for joining us!

Sandra Lopez: Have fun.

Angie Chang: I’m sure her LinkedIn messages are open, and feel free to tweet. Yeah, we’ll see you at the next Girl Geek dinner, hopefully.

Sandra Lopez: Take care. Thank you.

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