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Why This TikTok Executive Refuses to ‘Pick a Lane’ — And How It Helps Her Build Diverse Teams

Why This TikTok Executive Refuses to ‘Pick a Lane’ — And How It Helps Her Build Diverse Teams
By Jinnie Lee

The biggest career wins often come with risk. On our series, The Big Bet, Chief speaks with some of the most powerful members in our network about that single moment when they bet on themselves — and won.

For TikTok executive Sofia Hernandez, her first bet may have been her biggest. When she was a young woman, a conversation with her aunt inspired her to channel her creativity into marketing. Hernandez started at traditional ad agencies but pivoted to digital and social agencies as the media landscape was evolving. From there, she “moved to Paris to run an ecosystem of agencies and left advertising to grow a consumer insights platform to Series C.” Then, at the height of the pandemic, Hernandez transitioned to lead North America Business Marketing at TikTok, at a time when the social media platform was skyrocketing. “Everything I learned over the past 20 years has served me in this role,” says Hernandez. “It’s funny how the universe sets you up that way.”

She bet on her ability to thrive in marketing, and won, but she received a lot of support from her community. “I grew up with parents who had no experience in corporate spaces and leaned heavily on youth organizations dedicated to exposing inner-city kids to the world beyond what’s in front of us,” she says. In turn, Hernandez’s Latinx identity and flexible mindset have informed her entire professional career — she actively rejects the idea that her team has to look a certain way, or that they’ve had to check off certain work experiences.

Her background, she says, powers her belief in bringing different life perspectives into the workplace. She has a proven ability to identify and take chances on promising candidates from non-linear career backgrounds. And, she provides opportunities for diverse teams to collaborate on projects and learn from each other. In this installment of The Big Bet, Hernandez, who now serves as TikTok’s Global Head of Business Marketing, shares how trusting herself and taking bets on others has allowed her to flourish as an executive.

On Identifying Your Professional Strengths

“I’ve always known three things about myself: First, I’m passionate about changing the rooms of sameness. This industry is full of innovation and creativity and there’s so much room to do more. Second, I love bringing people together to do great things — it’s why I tend to lean into global roles. Third, I’m a creative spirit with a high tolerance for operational discipline.

These things have served me well in this space because it’s so unpredictable, and I’ve actively sought out opportunities requiring disruption and change. I’m an entrepreneurial marketer, and when the TikTok opportunity presented itself, it checked off all the right boxes. It’s a mission to inspire creativity and joy and the opportunity to build a diverse, global team with a ton of autonomy.”

On The Importance of Hiring a Diverse Team

“[When applying to jobs,] recruiters have always asked me to pick a lane. They said companies want to know how to ‘label’ you. I always resisted that concept because my best hires to date have been people with incredibly diverse backgrounds and career journeys. When you can plop yourself in different environments, take on new challenges, and trudge through different work streams, that says a lot to me about how you’ll dive into the work.”

On Taking a Bet On Yourself… Every Day

“Honestly, as one of few Latinx women in the space, every single day I’m taking a bet on myself. By that I mean I’m constantly challenging myself to show up and deliver even if the path isn’t defined or I’m not explicitly invited to do so. The greatest challenge has been owning who I am at my core and letting that Sofia shine in what I call the ‘rooms of sameness.’”

On Building a Trusted Network and Asking For Help

“I’ve had a tribe of people in my corner throughout my life, and, let’s be honest, a bunch who have not been in my corner. In the past, I had this mentality of having to do it all on my own. I felt that if I reached out for help, it showed that I couldn’t ‘do it’ and I would look incapable. I’ve since released that negative mindset and actively look for people to help me through this journey. I also am incredibly committed to helping others, however possible.”

On Finding Collaborators

“I love working with humble people who are incredibly competent and passionate. What fuels me is working with people who know what they know, don’t claim to know it all, and thrive in the collaborative process of solving problems, innovating, and driving success together.”

On How Her Latinx Background Impacts Her Leadership

“[My identity] affects everything, but it [especially] plays an outsized role in how I think about problem-solving and the teams I build. So much research shows that diverse teams produce better business outcomes. For me, it’s table stakes to have people with different backgrounds and experiences at the table… My career fear is that the executive suite will look the same when my daughters are entering the workspace.”

On Advice to The Younger Generation of Workers

“You have something important to say. People want to hear it. Say it and say it your way — don’t feel like you have to mimic what this industry has shown you to date. I had the privilege of giving the commencement speech to the graduating class at Brandcenter at Virginia Commonwealth University this year and my message to them was: ‘Do not let the rooms of sameness spit you out like paper dolls. Promise yourself to walk in every door and sit at every table as you.’”

On the Future of Women In Leadership

“The rise of remote and hybrid work will help level the playing field for women who have previously had to choose between responsibilities at home and work. I love being in the office, but I also love working from home one day a week and doing laundry during calls, and replacing my commute with a long morning run, aka ‘me time.’ We need to create more conditions in the workplace that enable women to have careers and be mothers without guilt.

“As newer generations enter the workforce with a higher expectation of balancing corporate expectations and personal needs, leaders who have high EQs, and the ability to connect and relate, will come at a premium. My bet is women leaders will thrive in this environment.”