“Be Kind.” With Penny Bauder & Fausta Ballesteros

For those of us in STEM, we tend to approach our life from an agile perspective. We divide activities into short sprints. Sometimes we have to gauge whether our plans for the week or even the day are still relevant, useful, or if we need to pivot and adjust. What helps is to think in […]

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For those of us in STEM, we tend to approach our life from an agile perspective. We divide activities into short sprints. Sometimes we have to gauge whether our plans for the week or even the day are still relevant, useful, or if we need to pivot and adjust. What helps is to think in outcomes. If I’m going to fail, I want to fail fast and move on so I don’t waste my time or my family’s time. I try to learn from my mistakes quickly, and this has been beneficial during the quarantine. I build lists for menus, activities, and organize the day around what we need to do and what we can accomplish each day.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place. As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Fausta Ballesteros.

As VP of Marketing and Communication, Fausta manages all global corporate communications and marketing programs, including Cognizant Softvision’s relationships with the press and analysts, internal and external communications and content strategy. Fausta also manages marketing and enhancing the company’s relations with its customers.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Mystory is a pretty common but modest story. I grew up in a small town in Argentina, and from an early age was always interested in storytelling and bringing people together for shared experiences. Even as a young girl I found myself introducing people to each other, sharing their stories and finding people with similar interests and making sure they knew about each other.

That led me to study communications at Universidad Austral in Buenos Aires. Upon graduation, I began working in Public Affairs and Issues Management for Shell Latin America, primarily responsible for communications and stakeholder engagement. The oil and gas industry provided me with an amazing opportunity for hands-on work on a variety of issues, and I was challenged and rewarded with what I was responsible for and the learning environment with those around me.

Soon I moved over to sales, where I was responsible for managing retail franchise relationships, including gas stations. Gas stations in Argentina are a way of life, a safe gathering place for people and teens, so understanding the customer and what motivated them was a big part of my role. This experience pushed me into Marketing and I ended up doing a Master in Marketing at the San Andres University.

From Shell, I moved over to marketing consultancies, where I focused on big brands such as Unilever and American Express. I found myself doing more brand PR, product launch events, and working with celebrities. This experience gave me the confidence to start my own company, a communications firm focused on women. It was an interesting time for me, because I was consulting on women’s issues really long before anyone else in the region. We developed and ran soccer and hockey tournaments for college and post-college women, providing them and sponsors with a unique opportunity to align themselves with credible activities.

From there my career took a different turn. I was pregnant, and my husband and I made the decision to move to the United States. While I left my budding career in Argentina for more of an unknown in the US, my husband encouraged me to jump in and try new things. During this time, while discovering New York, I started my own blog, worked as a freelance journalist, writing articles related to trends, business and entrepreneurship. It was that encouragement that led me to the second phase of my professional career in technology services.

Shortly after I became a mom for the first time, I started working at Globant, an IT and software development company. I began as a consultant, helping lead PR and marketing communications activities in the US. I held this role for several years, where I became a mother to three more kids and had to juggle a great deal with four young boys at home, and a job with increasing responsibilities.

I was fortunate to become the US head of marketing, communications and PR for Globant. In this role I was responsible for all the planning and execution of marketing communications initiatives in the US and Europe, including events, media, analyst relations, thought leadership and brand development activities. I was also able to help see the company through a successful IPO, one of the highlights of my career.

While things were comfortable, one of my professional mentors, Andres Angelani, left the company to become the CEO of Softvision, a 20-year-old company with a similar business model. He convinced me to cover over to Softvision, and I’ve been here now for nearly three years managing all marketing and integrated communications initiatives.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

It’s hard for me to tell one story, as there are several that come to mind. But my top three stories include:

  1. Building the Brand — Softvision really had not done anything strong to build its brand in the US in nearly 20 years of operation. The company had a good reputation for client delivery and technical innovation, but hadn’t really told anyone about it. So the opportunity to dig in and build the brand from scratch was an interesting opportunity. We went through a discovery phase, essentially designed to reposition ourselves. Instead of being perceived as a regional player, we wanted to elevate our brand on a global stage, making it more relevant to global clients.
  2. Managing a Diverse Team — I had a great deal of experience managing Latin America, India and US teams, but this was my first experience managing Eastern European talent. It has been such a rewarding opportunity to work with people from Romania, the Ukraine and even Australia, and learn more about their cultures. But more important, we have all learned from each other to help build one culture together. Culture is such an important part of an organization, especially during difficult times like the one we’re going through now. It’s easily been the highlight of my professional career.
  3. Cognizant Acquisition — Nearly 18 months ago Softvision was acquired by Cognizant, becoming Cognizant Softvision in the process. Integrating our business with Cognizant has been a tremendous experience, and they have recognized that our business and organizational model, our ability to be fully digital and our ‘brand and culture’ brings great value to their reputation in the market. We’re learning from each other, and they’re delivering value across the board.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We have been very focused on delivering a variety of thought leadership to the market. Much of this has come through Transforming While Performing, a book from our CEO, Andres Angelani and the leadership Softvision team that was published late last year. The book is meant to provide clients with a roadmap for executing a digital transformation, particularly when it comes to leveraging a partner. Many clients want to transform their business to be more digital, but oftentimes don’t know where to start. The book provides Cognizant Softvision’s best thinking and advice on what it takes to take your business digital, and helps position our organization favorably in the hearts and minds of key audiences.

Now, with the recent COVID-19 crisis, our organization has had to go completely virtual in less than 48 hours, all while maintaining productivity, engagement and resources required of a global workforce. That has presented a lot of challenges, but also a lot of opportunity.

While these are not ideal business conditions for anyone, our ability to succeed at being completely virtual has given us a great deal of confidence, and a platform to launch new offerings. We’re also doing a new chapter — a digital chapter — for the book, which focuses on how to successfully take your business into a virtual world. We’re intently focused on making our business and our brand relevant in these uncertain times, which is reassuring to our clients and to our employees.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Certainly my husband, who has been a strong and positive influence in my life. When we relocated to the US, I was pregnant with our first child. He was constantly encouraging me to take advantage of the opportunity, to go back and continue to build my career. It’s hard and also uncomfortable to move from being the wife of the expat to taking the chance and reinventing yourself in a new and competitive market like the US and with a not native language.

He was the key responsible by offering his real support and help every step of the way. He has inspired me to be a better working mom. Having a career and a family has always been very important to me, and I know I would not be successful at either without his partnership.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?

Well right now, my three year old wants a piece of candy and I can’t find it!

The biggest challenge is how to balance everything that is being thrown at you constantly. With no school to go to, and no after school sports or activities, I now have many new job titles… teacher, cook, entertainer, employee, coach, cleaner, friend, spouse.

I’m used to all those titles, but not necessarily all at once and for every minute of the day, all while still managing my work from home commitments. Balancing all those roles and titles is a constant juggling act, much greater than before we all went remote.

In many respects, I don’t think these are different for someone in STEM vs anyone who is managing their career during this pandemic. A nurse who has to go tend to patients, I marvel at how they manage to juggle everything while still keeping their families safe.

For those of us in STEM, we tend to approach our life from an agile perspective. We divide activities into short sprints. Sometimes we have to gauge whether our plans for the week or even the day are still relevant, useful, or if we need to pivot and adjust. What helps is to think in outcomes. If I’m going to fail, I want to fail fast and move on so I don’t waste my time or my family’s time. I try to learn from my mistakes quickly, and this has been beneficial during the quarantine. I build lists for menus, activities, and organize the day around what we need to do and what we can accomplish each day.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

For me, it’s about making it a team thing, not a me or a you thing. In our family, we work as a team. Each person has a role, each person has a chore or something they are responsible for. Everyone contributes and knows that we’re all in this together. I’m also a big believer in empowerment and trust, whether it’s my three year old or my twelve year old. There’s enough to go around for everyone, from cooking to doing dishes, to taking care of entertaining each other, to making beds or exercise routines and being responsible for homework. It’s important that everyone has some skin in the game, even at home.

From a work perspective, it’s similar. Everyone is empowered and accountable for different activities and deliverables, but we work as a team. If you need help you speak up and ask for help, and we all pitch in to support one another.

My family is a team, and my team is a family. Teammates and families fight, but we also look out for each other and take care of one another. That’s how we survive in these difficult times and also how we grow as a company and as people.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?

I think the biggest work-related challenge is to be present and empathetic all the time. People need connections, and they need to know that coworkers and managers are actually listening to them, despite the fact that there are so many distractions… from the news, to neighbors, to other family members, to clients. There is a great deal of noise that surrounds us, and we can’t solve all our problems by ourselves.

Sometimes people just need to share a list of what they’re doing, to make them feel better about what is on their plate, to listen to them and connect.

Taking that approach with everyone, consistently, including your family, is a big challenge day in and day out.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

The biggest thing we’ve done is continue to build our culture. We find ourselves talking even more, via Zoom or Google Hangouts or Facebook Workplace. We find time to relax and blow off steam together, whether that’s sharing recipes, participating in fitness challenges, showcasing our pets and our kids, or playing Pictionary via Zoom. All these things have brought our team closer together, and that has helped everyone stay focused and continue to be productive.

Additionally, it has also provided more empowerment and accountability. We find ourselves with a bit more time to talk strategically, to reflect on what is working and what needs to be reconsidered.

We also do more celebrating. We celebrate accomplishments, or quick wins, and we’re always looking for more opportunities to recognize each other and good work.

All of this has translated into our being more outcome oriented, quick wins, which has been very important for our role within the organization.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

Working remotely can be challenging with kids at home and no school. As a working mom of four boys, ages ranging from three to twelve, this is a daily issue. Here are some things that are working for me:

  1. Establish A Routine — Kids are used to the routine of school, and they’ll embrace a routine at home. Communicate and over communicate this routine to them, even make it visible. And the most important part is executing it. Print it or write it on the wall. What has been working for me is, we wrote on a blackboard in the kitchen so that everyone can refer to the schedule.
  2. Make A List — I’m a list person so this is not difficult. But we all did lists … of things to buy in the supermarket, a list of chores, of how we’ll divide them, of activities we’re going to do, even of books we want to read. Lists and referring back to the lists helps. .
  3. Get Dressed — This has been debated on social media, but you should get dressed for work, and don’t let the kids stay in their pajamas all day. It’s okay to do a pajama day, but don’t let that be the rule.
  4. Define Your Locations — This may be difficult for people with smaller spaces, but try to establish work and school locations. This way, kids will know where they do school, where they play, and where you do work. Explain to them where your work location is, and that when you’re in your work location you’re working, and you can play in another part of the house.
  5. Show Them Your Work — Make them participate on calls, or have them say hi. It’s an opportunity for both of you to share. They can share their schoolwork with you, and you can show them what you do.
  6. Divide the Chores — Don’t think that you need to do it all. If they are capable of playing complicated games for sure they can figure out how to do laundry, fill a dishwasher, clean a bathroom and prepare basic food. Use this as a learning opportunity that maybe will pay off in the future.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?

There are several things that we’re doing right now that are helping to keep us ‘somewhat’ sane:

  • Making it Fun — Try to do a few different things that you don’t normally do, to make things fun with your family. We don’t know how long this will last, so this could very well be about building memories. Instead of being strict, understand that everyone in your family is going through this differently, so if there’s an opportunity to make things fun, go for it.
  • Learn Something New — Maybe there is a hobby that you can do together, or that you can learn together. But doing some new activity as a family can help in the long term and can be something that everyone looks forward to.
  • Take Breaks Throughout The Day — Maybe it’s breakfast, or lunch or snack time. We brought back some old board games, and also pulled out old videos of when my kids were younger. Both of these have enabled us to reflect a bit and also not fight as much.
  • Schedule ‘Me’ Time — Despite the fact that everyone is together all the time, try to take some time for yourself. This could be a walk outdoors, it could be quiet time reading a book or your favorite magazine, but ‘me’ time is important for you. It gives you an opportunity to recharge, so you can be there for everyone else.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  • Be Kind — In some ways, this crisis has made us realize that we can all be victims without discrimination. So it’s important to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, and be more empathetic, kinder and at the end better persons. Sometimes only after you suffer do you get better at understanding others. For many of us, we now know how it feels to not be able to visit those we care about. That’s the reality for many people who come to this country seeking a better life, who then can’t visit their families.
  • Be There — Slow down. In a society so focused on productivity, consumerism, where we are always running and chasing not sure what. A pause, a break forces us to focus on the important stuff. On what and who really matters. For example, I’m an expat in America, and my family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins) live in different countries. Despite complicated time zones, we connect every Saturday via Zoom with cameras, and we share an hour together. We also talk daily via WhatsApp. I promised my dad to send him a daily text saying that we are ok and doing well.
  • Be Family — In a time where we outsource the raising of the kids to institutions, schools, we are forced again to find other ways, to become mom and dad again, to talk and connect more, to share and enjoy ourselves without trips, or distractions. I’m proud to say my band of boys is building stronger brotherhood bonds. With four different ages it’s like having a small classroom, they help each other with school assignments, they play together discovering affinities, they share more and of course they fight more. But I know they will remember this time together forever. Our family quality time is much better, we brought back some old board games, we are reading together and having family history nights where we share stories of the oldest in the family.
  • Be Creative — This pandemic challenge is also testing us to be more creative, to think outside the box, to reinvent ourselves, to take more roles, to explore other areas. Every crisis is at the same time an opportunity to grow and to learn. For example, my husband became a soccer and exercise coach for the four kids, presenting them with different challenges (3 times a week) where they need to get better. We also have pizza-movie night, board games night, reading together night, cooking together, dancing sessions, Spanish lunches, and much more. My three year old is getting virtual babysitting via WhatsApp from the grandparents, Pre-K teachers and our nanny.
  • Be Better Together — When individualism is the norm, we discover that the only way out is together. This crisis brings us back to the need to help each other, the message that we are not alone and that we are all responsible for making an impact. That we are part of something bigger than ourselves and that everything that we do influences others and that we are more co-dependent on each other than we think we are. For example, there are everyday examples of kindness and solidarity. Friends volunteering time to read or call the elderly, buying and delivering groceries, recognizing healthcare workers and truck drivers, or people cooking for others.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

  • Be Present — We are all in this together. Check in on everyone on a regular basis, with calls, texts, images, videos. Do a plan on who you need to check on, with how frequent. If you feel someone is not good, make sure you schedule time to recheck. Do group calls but also 1–1’s. I do this with my teams, with my family and also at home. Trying to have some quality time with each of my kids individually and even with my husband.
  • Focus on Quick Wins — There are so many things that we don’t control, focusing on small things that we can accomplish does a great deal of good. Encourage these quick wins, celebrate them, share them. Use them when you check in with the people that you care about. It could be a specific work or hobby project, or a new skill that you want to master, or even a physical/exercise accomplishment.
  • Be Patient — Patience is a virtue that always needs kindness. Allow extra time to get things done. Pair teammates or people with similar challenges to troubleshoot. This is also important when home schooling, dealing with elderly parents, cranky roommates. You may not understand everything your teams are going through — or how much longer routine tasks take.
  • Be More Human — Make it personal. Soft skills matter more now than ever. Break down the virtual wall by starting or finishing every conversation with something personal. How are you feeling? What’s on your mind? How can we help? Not only does this give people a sense of community, it teaches them new skills, which we may all be needing for a while. Recognizing contribution and celebrating progress is essential in these tough times. We need these rays of light to shine.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Let your life not be a sterile life. “Be useful.” “Leave it on.” “Light up.”

You always can make your mark, empower someone, open a door, coach or mentor and bring another perspective. Connect people that have the same passion. Even change the attitude of a meeting with a joke. Every day we have many opportunities to be kinder, useful and light up someone’s day. A small contribution can help bring out a better version of yourself.

How can our readers follow you online?

LinkedIn is the best opportunity, and people can find me here.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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