“When you engage with other cultures, you expand your mind and have more empathy for others.”
As a Latin American woman living in Estonia for nearly two decades, Sandra Valle leverages her multicultural intelligence to lead conversations around community and inclusion in the workplace.
When I moved from Veracruz, Mexico to my husband’s home country, Estonia 17 years ago, I was met with a cultural experience that was entirely new to me, from the food and climate to societal norms. I came to Estonia really without knowing anything about the culture. I remember asking my husband, “What should I expect?” And he said, in a very direct tone, “Estonia and Mexico — they are opposite.”
I quickly learned what my husband meant by “opposite.” In my native country of Mexico, people tend to be more dependent on family and social circles and more open to meeting strangers, but in Estonia, I had to adapt to a more reserved culture known for its self-sufficient nature. There is a phrase in Estonian, Ma saan Ise hakkama, which means “I can manage by myself.” While challenging at first, I committed to making friends and learning the language—over time achieving both. They say that when you make a friend here, you will have a friend forever.
A few years after living in Estonia, my husband and I decided to start a family. I ended up taking five years of maternity leave (the law in Estonia allows up to six years of maternity leave!). In 2014, I returned to Microsoft to an entirely new role and a very international team. Working with colleagues from across the globe—in China, the U.S., Sweden, Czech Republic, and United Kingdom representing more than 37 nationalities—I grew increasingly passionate about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, feeling that the values modeled by my team members aligned strongly with my personal values.
As an employee experience program manager for Microsoft Development Center Estonia and a member of the Global LGBTQIA+ Employees and Allies at Microsoft (GLEAM) Employee Resource Group, I strive to make learning about and practicing diversity and inclusion part of my daily life. You need to make sure that on your team you have people who are different from you—who think differently than you do. Only then can you learn something new. When you engage with other cultures, you expand your mind and have more empathy for others.
For me, being a Latin American woman living in Estonia, I am keenly aware of how it feels when your voice is not heard, either because of gender or language barriers. Because of that I strive to be an advocate for people experiencing similar challenges. We have very few Latin American people here in the Estonia office, so at times the work involves having a lot of patience as well as the courage to speak up. For me, it helps to look at the positive side of things. Every time I start a work day, I say, “Ah! You are going to learn something today.”
In my role at Microsoft, I manage an onboarding program that engages new hires in sharing their personal stories and discussions around community and inclusion, work that brings me joy and continuously teaches me the importance of learning to connect and communicate with colleagues. You have to be open to listening. You have to listen to discover. You have to connect to collaborate.