Taking diversity in leadership to the “Next Level”

Autodesk Life 7 min read

NEXT LEVEL is a new sponsorship and leadership development program at Autodesk in partnership with our employee resource groups (ERGs). The goal of this program? To increase diverse representation in leadership positions by empowering talented individuals who could be top contenders for those opportunities. By cultivating a workplace where all employees can realize their potential, we offer more than just a place where Autodeskers come to work.

As the first cohort of the NEXT LEVEL program wraps up, meet a few of the Autodeskers who got to be part of the inaugural group:

Diana Villa is a Manager on the Territory Adoption Team based in Denver, Colorado. She leads a global team of Autodesk Construction Solutions (ACS) Adoption Specialists, whose main focus is to drive adoption of Autodesk Build with customers in the construction industry, so they can maximize and find value in our solutions to make their workflows more efficient and productive. She is also a member of the Autodesk Latinx Network, Autodesk Women’s Network, and Autodesk Black Network ERGs.

Elissa Flandro is a Principal Customer Success Manager based in San Francisco, California. She works with enterprise construction customers to help them define and execute a strategic roadmap for technology that supports their business goals, builds organizational alignment, and allows them to innovate to gain a competitive advantage. She is also the global lead for Autodesk Indigenous Network, a new ERG launching in February 2023.

Guillermo Ortega is a Principal Business Consultant based in Colorado. His job involves learning and understanding customers’ recurring challenges and goals and how, with the adoption of Autodesk software and our advisement, they can improve their processes and outcomes. He is also a member of the Autodesk Latinx Network and Young Professionals Network ERGs.

Heather Wolf is an Offering Manager based in San Francisco, California. In her role within the Business Models and Pricing organization, she works with the Entertainment & Media Solutions strategy team to review and analyze go-to-market plans, evaluating both customer and business benefits and bringing strategic alignment across Autodesk to execute those plans. She is also a member of the Autodesk Indigenous Network and Autodesk Veterans Network ERGs.

How did you come to participate in NEXT LEVEL? Why did you want to join this program?

Diana: My manager and one of my Denver office colleagues, Colleen Lucksinger, nominated me to be part of this program. Once I learned more about it, I became really excited about the possibility to improve my skillsets and learn from others. I always strive to better myself.

Guillermo: Programs like this are absolutely necessary and important. In many companies, diversity and belonging are limited to fancy slogans and logos, but there are no genuine opportunities or programs where underrepresented minorities can really demonstrate their value. At Autodesk, we honor our values by creating opportunities like NEXT LEVEL.

Elissa: My manager nominated me for the program. I was excited about the opportunity to network and meet other professionals globally at Autodesk outside of the organization I’m in. I also wanted to continue to develop my skills as a leader.

Heather: Someone from my organization reached out to me with the opportunity. I discussed the program with my senior director, and he quickly supported my nomination and the entire journey I’ve been on.

What do you get to do as part of NEXT LEVEL? What has been your favorite part so far?

Guillermo: I’ve had the opportunity to learn from other Autodeskers about their journeys, challenges, motivators, and professional aspirations. We embrace our differences as a way to support each other and our professional development. We focus on networking and sharing our experiences to find solutions to our day-to-day struggles.

Diana: The program is well structured with different phases. We completed The Leadership Challenge training and assessment, power speaking lessons, and diversity and belonging workshops. We also worked in designated groups on a capstone project.

The most exciting part of the program was the networking opportunities. I’ve been able to meet like-minded colleagues with such great attitudes and willingness to help me navigate challenges. And the opportunity to have a mentor and an executive sponsor is invaluable.

Heather: I’ve experienced a lot of skills development and introspection in the program. We kicked off the program with a leadership assessment. In my case, I sent the survey to employees I managed, peers, leaders, and a few vendors I’ve worked with. Their feedback has been the most impactful and the program provides the tools to elevate my abilities as a leader. It’s cliché, but feedback is a gift and as I’ve learned, we tend to be harder on ourselves in areas where others see us as successful. Uncovering those blind spots has been exciting.

Elissa: We identified a small group of coworkers and asked them to provide anonymous feedback about our leadership characteristics as part of a 360 assessment. After several months of practicing various leadership characteristics, we will survey the same group of peers again. It has been very helpful to receive feedback, identify specific areas for improvement, and learn about what actions we can take to improve.

Diana Villa meets with fellow Autodeskers at the Autodesk office in Barcelona, Spain

How do professional development opportunities like this help with your future career goals at Autodesk?

Elissa: As part of the program, I’ve been paired with both a mentor and an executive sponsor. It has been a great opportunity to learn about other areas of the company and see the variety of opportunities that exist within Autodesk. I’m happy to work for a company that values diversity and inclusion and is actively looking for ways to invest in talented professionals.

Heather: The mentor and sponsorship component of the program has been invaluable. I’ve had the opportunity to partner with leaders in my own organization in a mentorship capacity, and my sponsor leads a completely different organization. Having the opportunity to get real-time feedback and recommendations on approaches to solving problems and how to move ideas forward, from leaders, is powerful.

Diana: It is not just helping my future career goals at Autodesk – I can already see some results in the present. After our Leadership Practices Inventory assessment, I realized I needed to work on sharing more of my vision and making myself more visible. So, I participated in a fireside chat in one of my department’s all-hands meetings where I talked about my life and career journey. It was not easy for me as I am not good at public speaking, but after a lot of preparation and determination, I was able to be successful and have a positive impact on the rest of the organization.

Guillermo: It helps me to understand that no matter your origins, culture, skills, race, or color, Autodesk is a place where you will be appreciated, considered, and valued. More importantly, you will have equal opportunities to develop your professional career and achieve your personal goals.

What advice do you have for someone who might be interested in participating in NEXT LEVEL in the future?

Heather: Do it! Don’t hesitate to reach out and inquire about a nomination — and have fun with your recorded responses as part of the application process.

Elissa: I would recommend the program to anyone who is considering applying. It is a great way to prioritize your personal development, learn more about leadership characteristics, and meet a driven cohort of participants.

Guillermo: NEXT LEVEL is a fantastic opportunity to leverage our talent, values, and culture. It’s a way to learn from each other and grow with the training, challenges, and courses available in the program, but more importantly, learn from mentors and sponsors how to leverage our capacities to achieve our professional goals.

Diana: Get out of your comfort zone and make the time — even if it is taking time out of your own personal life — because it is worth it. At the end of the day, the skills we learn through the program are for life — and they apply not only at work but also in our personal lives.

NEXT LEVEL is a great program because knowing there are more leaders like me — with accents, coming from different cultures, backgrounds, and underrepresented groups —makes me feel that I am not alone, and empowers me to do even better each day.

Looking for a career where you can take your leadership game to the next level? You’ll love it at Autodesk! View our current openings here.

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