Ada Lopez

Inspirational Woman: Ada Lopez | Manager, Product Diversity Office, Lenovo

Meet Ada Lopez, Manager, Product Diversity Office, Lenovo

Ada Lopez

Ada Lopez manages the Lenovo Product Diversity Office team and is responsible for the daily operations of the Diversity by Design Process. In addition to leading the team, she works with development teams across the company to implement inclusive and accessible design practices. With over 18 years of professional experience as a teacher, and both a product and project manager, Ada understands the importance of creating processes that increase diversity and inclusion which are supported through education, employee empowerment, and are championed by leaders.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and your current role

In some ways, my job as Manager for Lenovo’s Product Diversity Office seems almost foreordained. I was born in Cuba and moved to the US when I was five; my mother died when I was 11, and I entered the foster care system. Consequently, issues related to diversity and inclusiveness have been essential to my survival—and I mean that literally—for as long as I can remember.

Just as I had to confront and solve issues of cultural, linguistic, and familial exclusion as a child, I’m now concerned with removing technological barriers or biases that might exclude any of our customers.

To choose just a few examples to make that rather idealistic and abstract sounding statement more concrete, I want to make sure that Lenovo’s products are as accessible users of all abilities and other underserved populations as they are to everyone else. Because we are constantly breaking new ground, my job is very exciting. We’re working in a long-neglected area where that are no set answers. It also means that I need to be a bit disruptive since—at the company level—I’m asking technology specialists to expand their view of what constitutes a successful product.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’d like to tell you that I sat down in high school and systematically mapped out an ideal career path the way that some people decide they want to be a doctor or a lawyer and then take all the requisite steps to reach that goal. But my childhood was a bit too hectic for that linear kind of pursuit.  During my junior year in high school, I wasn’t thinking about how to boost my SAT scores and apply to colleges. I considered dropping out and living on my own.

Fortunately, my foster mother and my teachers prevailed upon me to see education as crucial to a rewarding future. As a result, I graduated from Florida International University and went on to become a high school science teacher. Before I came to Lenovo, I worked at a company designing educational technologies and finding better ways to learn. You can see a kind of throughline to my current work here since I developed an award-winning e-book on astronomy that was fully accessible to blind students.

So, while I didn’t have a storybook career path, you can retrospectively see a pattern: I’ve always been drawn to work that empowers others—whether they be students or Lenovo’s users. Ever since I made the decision driven to attend college, I’ve also been driven to succeed as a way of honouring the sacrifices and investments of those who supported me. I like to think my example might inspire others with the knowledge that you don’t need to take a traditional approach to career success.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

The most significant challenge I’ve faced has been lack of confidence: the constant second guessing and self-reflection on what I can or cannot do. That can become paralyzing: Do have I enough skills, training, or experience to take the next step? As the soccer great Abby Wambach says, “you have to demand the ball.” You must believe in yourself and your talents so others will too. This isn’t a trait I was born with, but I’ve acquired it over time, and now it’s become second nature. As a result, I’ve learned to take risks, and I work to inspire my team to do so as well. If you hope to do something great—and I do—you can’t simply play it safe. You have to take calculated risks every day and learn to enjoy the tension that comes from pushing yourself.

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What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

As a rule, I try not to think in those terms. Can you quantify what it means to change the life of a young student or a Lenovo user? Those big achievements are generally inseparable from the series of small challenges you meet every day. I try to focus on those daily triumphs. I can say, however, that as manager at Lenovo embedding diversity and inclusion into our product design and development process inspires my professional journey and gives me purpose. Each time we expand our research and design practices and include the voices of underserved populations, my heart is filled with joy. I celebrate impactful collaborations with product development teams to ensure inclusive and accessible design practices are implemented. That’s what gets me up in the morning—and sometimes what keeps me up at night!

What goals are you trying to achieve right now?

For many years, Lenovo has been focused on building a diverse workforce, and I think we’ve done an excellent job with that. But it’s not enough anymore to focus exclusively on this goal. We need to ensure that our products also meet the needs of people from different backgrounds and abilities. We’re not just growing our workforce to have this diversity and representation. We want that for our products as well.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Let me give you a bit of an unconventional answer here: I get bored easily. I’m excited to discover and experience new things. All my life, I’ve been relentlessly curious. My motto is, “Let’s try it and see what happens.” I always keep a full schedule, but I also always find time and energy for a new adventure.

Obviously, we all need to focus and discipline ourselves. We can’t just abandon our challenges because a new idea pops into our minds. But this goes without saying—don’t you agree? I think the bigger challenge is to avoid simply endorsing the status quo and going stale. Sometimes the answer you’re looking for isn’t on the well-trodden path. Sometimes the world needs a paradigm shift. If Copernicus had stuck to convention, he’d have just accepted that the earth was the center of the universe. I’d like to reach a point where diversity and inclusion become second nature—like our view of the solar system.

What tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Building on the answer I just gave, I’d say that one needs to strike a balance between digging in and mastering a body of knowledge and not getting stuck in a hole you’ve dug—remaining free to explore flights of learned inspiration. The jazz trumpeter Winton Marsalis is great on this topic. He makes clear that unlearned inspiration is almost always useless. One needs to pay one’s dues and master the fundamentals before your improvisations are likely to bear fruit. But once you’ve achieved that mastery, it’s time to add your own individual voice to the voices of others.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Absolutely there are still problems. We’ve made progress, but a lot remains to be done. However, I don’t think I can give you a simple recipe for achieving this complex goal. There’s so much variation between specific companies that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the answer. I can say that working for institutional and educational change are vital. That’s why I do work to promote STEM for women. Beyond institutions, it’s also important that women cultivate the kind of confidence and self-belief that I mentioned earlier.

Do you think companies can do more to support careers of women working in technology?

Yes. In this regard I feel fortunate to work at an enlightened company like Lenovo that sees the value in a diverse workforce. I’m hopeful that this kind of enlightenment will become more widespread in the next few years.

Why are you hopeful about that?

For the simple reason that empowering woman and promoting diversity is good for business efficiency. It’s tied to corporate success.

Your example is inspirational to other women. Who has inspired you?

Susan B. Anthony is my hero. As an educator, she advocated for the integration of people of all skin tones and gender to be educated together. As an activist, she fought for women’s rights, economic equality, and the abolition of slavery. If she were alive now, I’m certain that she’d be advocating for the kind of pioneering changes that are happening at Lenovo.  If we acted courageously and fiercely advocated against injustice as she did, the world would become a better place. Like Susan B. Anthony, I strive to affect social movement while connecting with people.