Natalie Ruiz is the CEO of AnswerConnect and the Board Treasurer at PDXWIT. She has been honored with several awards, including the Women of Influence award presented by the Portland Business Journal and two Stevie Awards for Female Executive of the Year and Women Helping Women. She is committed to life-long learning and doing work that matters. While she is a CEO now, she started her career with the company as a temporary employee — and almost quit during her first week because she wasn’t sure the job or the company was the right fit.
In an interview with WomELLE, Ruiz attributed her success to purpose, luck, and perseverance.
“I also give some credit to myself. I have been a loyal employee of the company for 16 years and know many aspects. All these helped me to be what I am today.”
Talking about her journey with AnswerConnect, Natalie Ruiz says she never intended to get into tech or telecommunications. Still, she could see that she was always passionate about human connection and being a helper. She joined AnswerConnect and initially looked at it as just a job, but found unmatched opportunities to grow, learn, and impact.
Within a week of joining AnswerConnect, Ruiz wanted to quit her job because she did not find the environment conducive to her. But after a chance meeting with the founder, she changed her mind and decided to stay on to help make the organization better. It planted a seed of possibility. This brought a dramatic change in her, and she started working to improve things. Since then, she has never thought of going anywhere else.
According to Ruiz, her growth as an individual and a leader has been pretty organic. She is grateful to all of the helpers and opportunities that brought her to this place.
Ruiz often says that her path to success has been unconventional – and that’s one of the aspects that fuels her to continue to challenge assumptions about what work, success, and the concept of balance in life look like. She believes that her success is unconventional. Because when we talk about top CEOs, we seldom think about women, even less about Black women. Usually, women’s careers are restricted to retail, healthcare, and hospitality; that is why we see very few women CEOs today.
When asked why she joined AnswerConnenct, Ruiz said, “I always worked and was loyal. Earlier, I was heavily in sales doing jobs in restaurants, retail, etc. I was looking for a job with a better schedule, less stressful, and more secure. This is how I entered a tech industry – AnswerConnect.”
Natalie Ruiz Being Promoted to CEO
After being promoted to CEO in 2015, Ruiz continued to battle her own limiting beliefs. She had difficulty introducing herself professionally and including her title early on without her voice shaking just a little. She was often the only woman CEO, a woman of color, and a person with a background like hers. After introducing herself, men would routinely question her in ways that seemed to be their attempts at disqualifying and undercutting her success. She often felt alone, she said.
Ruiz goes on to add, “I spoke at an employee event, and in addition to discussing company goals, I shared my career story. Afterward, I was approached by an employee who shared with me that she was unsure if she would find a future with the organization when she had joined the company.” After she learned more about Ruiz’s background and saw that a brown woman was the company’s CEO, she felt inspired to grow roots and see what was possible. The moment made Ruiz look at her position from a different perspective.
Ruiz says she is thankful to so many people who surrounded her life, and there’s no way she would be the person she is today without each of them lifting her, cheering her on, mentoring her, and helping her grow.
“When it comes to my career, I have to acknowledge my boss, the founder of AnswerConnect, who gave me a chance to grow within the organization and lead. I didn’t have experience or anything close to fancy credentials when he met me, yet he listened to my input and gave me his trust.”
Natalie Ruiz On Diverse Executive Team
According to Ruiz, it has been proven many times that diversity of thinking leads to better outcomes. She feels that organizations will produce results by inviting more voices with varied backgrounds into conversations and creating an environment where individuals can speak up and contribute equitably.
When we think about the places where decisions are being made, we need to see those spaces representative of the world’s diverse population. It makes no sense to have homogeneous teams making decisions in a varied and ever-changing world. That is a recipe for disaster, she explains.
Creating an Inclusive Society
Ruiz believes that so much work needs to be done to create an inclusive society, and it can feel overwhelming. She says that for everyone, especially Black women, real change requires learning and unlearning, and it requires action. This is deep, ongoing work without a finish line. She is happy that she can speak about her approach and the approach of AnswerConnect. “Our core values are learning, sharing, and giving back. Our employees are given paid learning time, and much of our knowledge is crowdsourced from our employees. We are increasing our exposure to new ways of thinking every single day. We are also making connections across cultures and backgrounds,” she said.
AnswerConnet has a global team that works together on projects and initiatives that matter. They create an environment where it is okay to dissent, encourage speaking up, and know that they are stronger because of their differences. They are willing to question and rethink their beliefs.
“To create a genuinely inclusive, representative, and equitable society, we have to be willing to step far outside of our comfort zones, meet new people, commit to learning, and take action. Those with power, privilege and a platform are responsible for taking the lead,”
Natalie Ruiz On Challenges Faced by Women Executives
There are still so many glass ceilings to shatter, so many ‘firsts’ to happen. Women have a long way to go to reach equity in opportunity, representation, and pay — and this is not just for women; this is for all underrepresented people. The challenges that come up for people who have been historically excluded from executive teams are too plentiful to list, which is the biggest challenge we face. It takes a lot of energy to simply exist in spaces that were not designed with women in mind.
Natalie Ruiz’s Advice to Other Leaders
Her advice to other leaders on leading their teams is,
“Lead with your heart and head. Remain connected and human in all that you do. Commit to learning something new every day. Admit when you’re wrong. Apologize when you’ve hurt someone. Share your knowledge and expertise freely. Don’t operate with a scarcity mindset when helping others; a rising tide lifts all boats”.
Outside of her day job, Ruiz writes and publishes a series on Medium highlighting powerful women, is a mentor, serves on the board of directors for PDXWIT, and is a keynote speaker. In all that she does, Ruiz aims to leave people and places better than she finds them.
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