Empowerment Series: Program Manager, Microsoft/Turn 10 Studios & Team XBox – Latinx Community Lead, Gabriela Ponce Shares Industry Experience with AW
Gabriela Ponce‘s recent interview with CNN Espanol gave viewers insight into her knowledge on the development of the highly popular racing video game Forza but the spotlight, also offered hope. It was super inspiring to see a woman that looked like me thrive in a field that is mostly, male.
AW had a chance to sit down for a virtual meeting with Gabriela. She generously shared parts of her journey to where she is today and wants us to know, the Latinx community has a place in the industry. She is thrilled to pay it forward, paving the way for others interested in entering the gaming world.
Gaming generates billions in revenue but even as it gains popularity from females players, men continue to have a stronghold of its jobs. In 2020, a Forbes article reported that only 24% of employment in this area was held by women. When I first met Gabriela Ponce, she did not strike me as a gamer. Coincidentally, she told me the story of her initial interview with Microsoft. The bold decision to candidly, express a lack of experience with video games did not get in the way of her chances for a job. On the contrary, her rockstar attitude won her the job. Microsoft provided proper training, exposure, and resources to develop the product awareness necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of the role. She has grown with the company and is committed to helping her community, in and out of the gaming space.
Some of us may already have a general vision of the stereotypical employee working in this sector. The perception of a homogeneous environment is not uncommon and Latinas do not immediately come to mind when visualizing the workplace. The industry has plenty of passionate and closely competitive individuals but the lack of diversity has the power to discourage Latinos from pursuing lucrative positions.
My interview with Gabriela Ponce challenged this perspective, as she explains the ongoing shift in the industry. I am excited to share our conversation, where she discussed her experience and provided an example of what happens when we eliminate self-limiting beliefs.
Your Computer Science professor at UC San Diego suggested that you attend a Career Fair and interview with the Microsoft Team. You were Latina from an agricultural town in Imperial Valley, CA with no experience in the field. Many would agree that the tech industry, in general, is not heavily diverse. What were your thoughts on a career path in this male-dominated industry? My professors at school encouraged internships to learn about the various jobs and firms in this field. During my sophomore year, I thought about what a career in technology would be like, it did not look like me. All these things persuaded me to consider the value I could bring to the environment if I joined. A Latina, bringing vitality and rich culture to a new place filled me with pride.
Now, you are part of the product development team at Xbox Games Studios at Microsoft, one of the biggest tech companies in the world. Congratulations! What has been the most significant contribution to help lay the groundwork for other Latinas to follow in your footsteps? How have you been empowered by the experience? There is a misconception that you are required to be an engineer to contribute to creative projects but there are other ways to make an impact. People often think they can only do one thing in the gaming industry, however, there are different options to leverage the platform. When hired at the company, I was not a gamer or had familiarity with the Xbox console. The company hired me and provided the resources to learn its products. I am grateful to have been given the necessary tools to be successful in my role.
What has been your greatest challenge as a Latinx working in the video game industry? How did you find inspiration to push forward despite any difficulties encountered during your climb up the ladder? One of the challenges for women can be the lack of connections or opportunities to network and learn everything the field has to offer. Understanding how to speak to the recruiters, meeting the right contacts, and asking the right questions. Now, I can do this work from the inside to assist others in accessing the doors that lead to advancement. Having the support of family and Microsoft has been invaluable to my professional growth. I’d like to give that same chance to another young professional entering the field. Fortunately, today there are more men opening doors and collaborating with women which is a huge step in the right direction.
Any advice you give others who may be interested in working in the gaming industry or in a field that is tough to enter? The issues that arise are part of a bigger, deeply engrained problem that requires additional resources to help move along the agenda of hiring more women in different industries. However, you have to keep pushing toward your goal! Don’t allow yourself to be discouraged, instead take action that empowers you, as you forge ahead with your dream.
- Learn to quiet the inner critic. It’s important to believe you can achieve the dream. Replace the negative words you tell yourself with positive ones. Be kind to yourself.
- Seek opportunities that get you closer to where you want to be. Build your community, it’s where you find strength.
- Find mentors within the industry and outside of it, as both add value to the progress of your journey. Create your circle, attend panels, groups, and network to build your tribe.
What can men do to move the needle in a positive direction for women and marginalized groups? Men can help encourage a shift in the mindset about the work women do and their contributions in the workplace. Let’s focus on the work that needs to be done instead of who is doing it.
AW interviews end with a positive message, mantra, or advice to help women who may be reading and resonate with your story? What words would you like to share? Do not let the fear of failure stop you from going after the things you want. Ignore the little voice in your head that’s holding you back. We tend to overprepare when we’re ready to go for it, don’t let doubt creep into your plans. Be proud of who you are and where you come from because it’s the foundation that supports you when out in the world. You can do it, believe it!
My father has a saying that he reinforced when I went out into the workplace. “Hechale Ganas!” It means “Go for it, give it everything you have to make things happen!”
AW appreciates Gabriela’s perspective on the challenges and achievements in this dynamic field. The value of sharing her story is in spreading hope among young women looking to make a mark in industries like gaming, where there is little or no female influence.
It is critical to continue having these conversations and recognize upcoming talent. We have a responsibility to mentor and empower those coming in after us, be an advocate for their success. It is one of the most important ways to promote diversity across the many industries that need it.
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