At 18 years old Sandy Rubenstein decided she would one day be a CEO. But Rubenstein’s road to the C-suite would include an unfortunate crash course in the microaggressions and erasure that often plague the workforce for women and minorities (she is of Jewish and Chilean descent). However, Rubenstein’s work ethic, which she partially attributes to her grandfather, who escaped with his family from a concentration camp in Romania and rebuilt his life in Chile, helped her remain true to her roots as she worked to climb the corporate ladder. After a stellar career in marketing for brands including General Motors, SyFy Network and Nickelodeon, Rubenstein finally realized her dream when she became CEO of digital marketing company DXagency in 2014.
Since assuming the role of CEO, DXagency has been on Ad Age’s list of “Best Places to Work” two years in a row (2014 and 2015). Last year Rubenstein was named one of New York Business Journal’s Women of Influence and, more recently, she was highlighted as one of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. Rubenstein is a mother of two sons, has her own STEAM-focused education nonprofit, which to date has raised over $120,000 for STEAM activities, and also serves on the local school boards for both the middle and high schools in Edgewater, New Jersey, where she resides.
When discussing her tools for success as a leader in Silicon Valley, Rubenstein said, “I was fortunate and unfortunate enough to work with some interesting people and I know exactly what I never want somebody to feel as an employee.”
Read on to learn what Sandy Rubenstein thinks women should do to break down more doors in Silicon Valley:
Don’t Let People Get Away with Ignorance
I’ve always felt that my job is to educate people. I tell everyone about my country of origin and I tell everyone what it’s like to be Hispanic and what I do at home that’s different. I think part of it is on us as women and as minorities to believe that we’re just as good.
Stand up for Yourself
I was at a company that primarily employed men and I was trying to present an opportunity for the company. While I was presenting I was hushed and told, ‘sweetheart, it’s OK, we have a bunch of other things to consider.’ I turned to that person, who was actually incredibly senior to me, and I said, ‘this opportunity is just as good as the ones you had and never call me sweetheart again.’ From that moment on my offerings were listened to in a different way.
Seize the Day
When I was a kid I’d had a terrible accident and I was told that I might not be able to walk again. I said, ‘you know what? I’m not done, I’m really young’ and I wrote down all the things I wanted to do when I grow up. Part of that was to take no prisoners and I really live my life that way and I’ve raised my kids that way.
Embrace all types of Diversity
One of the things that’s interesting about [DXagency] is that besides having a good ratio of women to men and ethnic diversity, we also have age diversity. I want to make sure that we have equal voices at the table so when we’re creating something we’re able to see everybody’s different viewpoint on the same thing. Something I might think is super cool, might actually be offensive to somebody who’s 20 or 30.
Ask for a Seat at the Table
I used to go into my boss’ office and he’d be like, ‘yes, Sandy, what meeting do you want to go to?’ My response would be, ‘that meeting over there and I want to know what are they doing and what’s happening and what’s going on.’ Or if it was a meeting that wasn’t appropriate for me to be in I’d ask my boss, ‘when you come back can you tell me how it went?’ The more you ask, the more knowledgeable you become and the more knowledgeable you are, the more powerful you can become.
But Don’t Neglect the Things/People You Love
I drive my kids to school and that 20 minutes in the car every morning is awesome. Every day at three o’clock they call me when they get out of school and we talk about the day so far. I usually don’t let anybody book any meetings at three o’clock because that’s when my kids call and if I have a meeting, I’ll step out and talk to them. We have dinner together almost every night and that’s important. It’s a lot of work and people who don’t think of it as work are the ones who say you can’t have it all.
Pay it Forward
I think people forget in business how important education is. I mentor kids at our high school [and] I mentor kids at the University of Miami…business school. I think it just takes one person to change your career path and the course of your life. If I can be that one person for somebody I would be thrilled because I had somebody like that when I was in high school and I wouldn’t be here today if she hadn’t pointed me in the right direction. So, the more I can do for other people I think I’m just paying it forward.
Don’t Forget to Have Fun
If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth it. Life is too short, we’re not curing cancer. You know? Enjoy yourself…Unless you’re saving somebody’s life, there’s a way to fix whatever the situation is and whenever people get so crazy about this or that, or the other and I’m like, “OK well, take a deep breath and a step backward…you’ll probably find a better solution than the one you were even thinking about now under duress.”