Working for Microsoft was a dream that Mariana Castro worked hard to turn into a reality. In her long journey with the company she has learned a lot about business resilience and how to achieve big dreams with clear goals.
Mariana Castro is the Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Operations for Microsoft Latin America. Since the beginning of her career, when the tech giant first arrived in Buenos Aires in 1992, she learned how to adapt, take leaps and seize opportunities. And she’s gone above and beyond her roles to make sure everyone has a voice at the table.
For breaking the glass ceiling in a male dominated industry and relentlessly opening doors for women and under represented groups, the Red Shoe Movement honors Mariana Castro with the 2021 Hall of Fame.
A Dream Come True
RED SHOE MOVEMENT – Tell us about your dream of working for Microsoft. In what ways has it surprised you?
MARIANA CASTRO – Being a student in the IT sector, which even now has limited female representation, I wanted to work with a company that would have a significant impact and change the world. The moment I found out Microsoft was opening offices in Buenos Aires, I went for an interview and, in 1992, I was the third person hired. The rest is a long history of learning, opportunity, working with great people and, of course, having the chance to make an impact in our countries, Latin America at large, and the world.
Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to learn in different areas, reinvent myself, meet and work with people from other parts of the world, and be part of how technology has reshaped the way we work and live. I have also had the opportunity to meet great women in the process and, hopefully, inspire some.
RSM – What are the most important lessons you have learned about adaptability during your journey within Microsoft?
MC – Someone I admire once told me, “If you want to learn, venture out and try something you don’t know anything about,” and I have indeed embraced that concept. I have reinvented myself through different roles by being flexible and open to new positions, leveraging all the valuable opportunities available in the company.
I have learned that adaptability is critical to both personal and professional growth. Success is a personal journey that is not linear. Every person defines success according to their own goals, so the key here is for everyone to have clarity on what they want to accomplish and then intentionally pursue opportunities to get the knowledge and experiences that will help achieve it. Being adaptable is vital to gain the most out of that journey. Even if intimidating at first, trying new things has taken me on some of the best rides.
What is Business Resilience?
RSM – What is “business resilience”? What practices do you think are necessary to ensure it?
MC – Resilience is a crucial driver for value, as it is the agility to react to different challenges and conditions that can arise during an unexpected situation. In other words, business resilience is about reimagining and rethinking processes and traditional models to build upon the learnings and bringing the business to the future, accelerating growth for all to succeed in new circumstances.
There are several practices related to ensuring business resilience, including building agile operations based on data analysis, enabling people to be competitive through re-skilling and upskilling, and accelerating the adoption of secure platforms enabling fast recovery and security.
We all benefit from each other’s ability to reimagine the future. We must promote inclusive economic growth for every community, every business, small or large, and every member of society.
RSM – What new technologies do you think will be indispensable when reimagining the business world inside and outside Latin America?
MC – The world is evolving fast, particularly coming out from the health crisis that impacted all of us. In the early stages of the pandemic, we saw an average of two years of digital transformation take place in the span of just two months. Now, customers are reimagining how they think about their products, connect with customers, engage with employees, and revisit their processes. This has unleashed a realization of the real impact of digital transformation on the economy and society.
Now that we are rethinking the way we work and interact; I think some technologies will be critical in this evolution across the region and the world. To mention a few, I would say that AI will allow businesses to analyze data to develop better products and solutions. Cybersecurity will become a priority as companies strive to protect people with tools that ensure privacy and compliance in a hybrid environment. Finally, cloud migration will bring the agility needed to compete.
With a solid digital strategy, organizations will adopt new technologies and help their employee’s skill and upskill to reactivate the economy and build a more inclusive society.
Clear Goals and Staying Curious and Self-Aware
RSM – As someone who knows how to achieve their goals, what practices do you consider helpful to fulfill these dreams in different professional stages?
MC – I believe everyone’s career is a very personal journey connected to our aspirations in life, and it shapes and evolves in the same way we evolve. Several things have worked for me. For example, keeping a learner’s mindset, staying curious about things that can happen, and taking risks, even if sometimes it meant taking projects or roles that initially might not have seemed aligned to my ambitions. Those ultimately brought me to new places and experiences that helped me grow and achieve my dreams. Additionally, engaging with mentors and becoming a mentor has allowed me to realize that there is learning in all situations. And finally, understanding the value of being flexible. Life is not something you have to balance with work; work is a part of your life.
Having an open mind and flexible view of things has allowed me to succeed and enjoy the process, which is equally important. Regardless of our career stage, we should remain curious and continue aiming for new dreams.
RSM – You give great importance to improving as a person and professional; how do you stay self-aware? How do you decide which are the areas you need to grow the most in?
MC – To stay self-aware, I remain authentic and look for ways to find joy in everything I do. Every day I have specific intentions to meet. These guide me and help me stay focused.
Some people have compartments, like their “professional,” “personal,” and “social” personas. In my case, when I integrate the different areas of my life, I can make the journey to authenticity a reality. This helps me be more aware of the areas I want to continue developing and honestly tackle the challenging areas that will help me keep a well-balanced approach to life.
Only when we are ourselves can we truly impact those around us.
RSM – If you could suggest one action that organizations can take to accelerate the representation of women at the top, what would it be?
MC – Be aware of unconscious biases preventing the organization from opening the right doors to the right talent. We need to be intentionally inclusive and invite everyone to the conversation. We need to move beyond the gender discussion and empower everyone to bring their best to work and feel they are in an environment that promotes growth and opportunities. In that type of environment, we retain the right talent and see them go up the corporate ladder.
I want to inspire others to continue opening doors. Let’s use our voices to promote change and make it viral!
RSM – If you could suggest one action that women could take to accelerate their career growth, what would it be?
MC – Trying to keep it to only one action is difficult, but I would say be yourself. As mentioned earlier, having clear goals, and intentionally taking advantage of opportunities that will help you grow is critical. Also, continue learning. For example, regardless of your education, career experiences, or industry, staying up to date with technology and digital advances will allow you to be more marketable and have better chances to compete for new, challenging leadership roles. But, at the end of the day, being authentic and bringing the best you have is what will ultimately open the doors, help you enjoy the process, and allow you to impact others.