All-Star Ninja Snapshot
Title & Company
Sr. Executive Assistant, DocuSign in San Francisco, CA
# Years as an Office Ninja
She co-founded SIS Circle (Strength in Sisterhood), an organization that supports women’s wellness, career development, and personal growth.
Editor’s Note: We’re thrilled to spotlight the tremendous impact admin professionals have on the workforce and global business community. While coronavirus threw us for a loop this year, our 2020 All-Stars rose to the challenge with great collaboration, flexibility, and fun personal photos!
For Elaine Carbonell, being a Ninja isn’t just her chosen career — it’s a legacy.
Prior to retiring, Elaine’s mom Florentina worked as an admin, and Elaine spent the days of her summer vacation helping her at the office. It was fun to stamp invoices and play the filing “game,” but what Elaine remembers best is the way her mother commanded the respect and appreciation of her colleagues.
Later, when she became an admin herself, Elaine would truly understand what an important role she (like all Ninjas) plays in the workplace.
Administrative mastery may run in the family, but Elaine has blazed her own path over the course of her 25-year career. As one of the senior members of a global team of over 30 admins, she created DocuSign’s Employee Resource Group PAVE (Pan Asian Voice for Equity). She’s one of the co-chairs for DocuSign Women in San Francisco, and was invited to contribute to the next Executive Leadership Support Forum in San Francisco. Now, she’s an All-Star!
Read our interview with Elaine and get to know this community-driven 2020 OfficeNinjas All-Star.
Elaine says her mother is her inspiration to be a good human. Here, they relax during a retreat at Westerbeke Ranch in Sonoma Valley, CA.
How did growing up with an admin parent influence your career path?
My mother is a small Asian lady, but she is a powerhouse! When we were kids, my sisters and I would go to her work during the summers because we couldn’t afford summer camp. And I got to see how everyone was so appreciative of her and treated her with such respect.
Mom was helpful and I wanted to be helpful, too. So, she made a game for me out of filing and stamping invoices — she even gave us girls some money for our work at the end of the day!
Throughout my life, I knew what my mom did, but I didn’t really know until I became an admin at the L.A. Times.
We worked close to each other at the time, so I was able to have lunch with her every week. When she finally decided to retire, we had a surprise party for her. Everyone throughout her career (even those who knew her as a 15-year-old nanny in the Philippines!) came to celebrate her. Standing in that room full of admiration and respect for my mom, I was in awe.
She’s always cared about what she did, how she did it, and everyone she worked with. And even at 76 and retired, she is still contributing and learning. Currently, she volunteers at her local senior center doing clerical work. She is just AMAZING!
Tell us about the craziest day you’ve ever experienced as an Office Ninja.
Supporting multiple executives is always crazy. Each day has new challenges, but I can share what a typical day is: One executive will have a team offsite that I need to be at to manage. Another executive will have a high-priority meeting that involves grabbing lunch and taking notes. Meanwhile, there is an office move happening and I need to get seating assignments turned in by the end of the week for 150 people. Plus, expenses for each exec are due in two days.
Elaine has been involved in numerous office projects, in particular an entire multi-floor redesign project that required moving 100 people, accounting for interim hotel desks, and connecting with the construction teams to project manage appropriate access and controls. She never missed a step with her daily tasks. That is what I feel separates her from the rest. – Beau Vasquez, Sr. Director, Demand Marketing
Elaine and the DocuSign team participate in Light the Night at Oracle Park to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
You collaborate with up to 30 admins around the globe. Any tips for communicating well with team members?
Before landing at DocuSign, I knew I wanted to be part of a tightly connected admin team that collaborates openly and meets frequently.
The admin team here at DocuSign is first-class — our respect for each other is SO HIGH. The admin team is truly here to support one another with no competition. This is the first time I’ve experienced anything like this in my entire career. It’s incredible! And most of the admins have been here for several years, which shows how much the team values each other and the company.
Building a strong communication network like this takes intention and nurturing. One key thing we do is hold a 90-minute team check-in every month.
We’re all on different floors, so we don’t actually get to see each other face to face that much. Meeting monthly gives us the chance to share personal updates, seek advice, and connect.
Our meeting has no formal agenda, but there is always lunch being provided. Each EA takes turns organizing it via their department’s budget, which creates a unified sense of ownership.
During lunch, we each spend some time talking about what’s going on in our roles, and asking for support if we need it. Each EA has easily over 100 people per team (thank god for Slack and email) — so, we really treasure these opportunities to come together and support each other.
What’s your favorite part of being an Office Ninja?
I’m the boss behind the boss and most of the time, I can orchestrate how events will take place in the day.
“You’re going to have to ask Elaine if I can do that,” is what my executives say to the team. They understand that I am constantly playing calendar tetris — moving meetings around all day long for four executives as I manage and prioritize their calendars.
That said, I try to ask the right questions to help team members make decisions on their own. No one likes being told what to do — but everyone likes being heard. And once I have the information I need, I can usually help steer them in a collaborative and efficient way.
What’s the one thing that’s always on your desk and why?
A picture of my sons. They are my motivation. When I look at their beautiful faces, it makes me want to keep going. If I feel down about something, they light up my day.
Now that we are sheltering in place, I don’t have to look at a photo! My younger son sees me working, and he wants to participate in whatever I’m doing — just like I did during those summer days at work with my mom.
Elaine’s 12-year-old stepson and her 5-year-old son watch over her desktop dog park.
How does your team help you succeed?
Each member of the admin team, whether locally or globally, is always willing to help — I can’t say this enough.
When my boss wanted me to spearhead our charity event Light the Night in support of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, I was excited about the opportunity but my schedule was jam-packed and I was nervous about how I’d make it all happen.
One day, in passing, I mentioned the event and the amount of work to put it on to Denise Latka, an admin in a different department, and without hesitation, she enthusiastically VOLUNTEERED to help! But she didn’t just help — she became the heart of the operation with me as her support. She secured sponsors and gift certificates for the auction and surpassed our fundraising goals by 2x!
The event was a huge success because of her leadership and I couldn’t be more proud to have been a part of it.
We all look out for one another and we are NOT afraid to ask for support. We all have different strengths and knowledge bases and know that, collectively, we are smarter together.
This kind of amazing collaboration extends beyond our admin team, too. The outpouring of appreciation and gratitude from those we support is quite humbling and never ceases to surprise me.
My managers listen and take time to just hear me out. I can walk into anyone’s office or hop on a Zoom with any of my execs to ask questions. There isn’t pressure to hide your struggles or be something you’re not. Across the board, we are all human first.
Elaine and some of the amazing admins she works with stay connected while DocuSign staff are on mandatory WFH.
How have you prioritized diversity and inclusion within your organization?
As an admin, I sometimes act as a stand-in therapist. I provide my team a safe space and have an objective opinion. In many conversations, not being heard or not feeling included is a common issue. Employee resource groups (ERGs) can help us feel included.
I created DocuSign’s first Asian Resource Group called Pan Asian Voice for Equity (PAVE). It was one of my goals I shared with my boss when I first came to DocuSign, and it took about a year for me to organize.
I’m also co-chairing DocuSign Women San Francisco. As part of the leadership team for these ERGs, I have a responsibility to align the groups’ missions and visions to DocuSign’s. The PAVE leadership team created a mission that says it all: “Our mission is to provide awareness and foster communities that empower each other regardless of gender, race, career level, and education.”
Elaine has helped drive so much innovation to promote team building and culture across Marketing and Go-to-Market organizations at DocuSign. – Francesca La O, Senior Director, Analytics
What actionable steps would you recommend for another EA who would want to start an ERG?
Start by learning from those who are already doing. Talk to leaders of other ERGs to gather helpful insight into running a group. I talked to Black Organization for Leadership & Development (BOLD) and also met with the Latinx group. Other established groups are an incredible source of information that you can’t get anywhere else.
It’s equally important to find others who are passionate about your group, too, because you will need accountability and support in planning and seeking company approval.
When I asked my colleague Joyce Liang if she would be interested in starting the group with me, her eyes lit up and she said, ”Oh my gosh, yes!” Joyce and I then got to work and put together a list of people we thought would be interested in joining.
Next, meet with your Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) or HR teams who can help you determine how to get the ball rolling. Most companies are open and interested — they want to support their employees. DocuSign’s D&I Manager, Amoy Brock, was very supportive, giving us great direction throughout the entire application and approval process.
And don’t give up! It took us about a year to get our group up and running as we juggled learning, application, and organization — along with our regular daily tasks. If it’s important to you, stay with it! Because it’s truly worth the effort.
Elaine strikes a pose with her leadership team at the PAVE ERG Kick-Off and Lunar New Year Celebration at DocuSign.
Where does your drive come from? What keeps you motivated?
My children. I have 2 stepsons (19 and 12 years old) and a 5-year-old son. I’m also a single mom and sometimes I feel like I’m failing every day, but I get up and I tell my sons that today is a brand new day. We always get to start over and be better. I want them to see that hard work and good intentions go a long way. Guiding them to be good humans is my motivation because I know they will pay it forward.
What is your greatest professional achievement?
Spearheading the creation of the PAVE Employee Resource Group. Becoming one of the co-chairs for DocuSign Women in San Francisco. And, somehow, I was anonymously nominated for the OfficeNinjas All-Star Award. I am grateful and blessed to have come this far. I must be doing something right!
She is the best mentor I know. She takes many new admins under her wing, teaching them and doing all she can to make them the best admins they can be! – Bekah Nye, Executive Assistant
What are you most proud of outside of work?
My son. He is so smart. He’s reading and writing at a second-grade level — it surprises me how much he knows at five years old!
And it’s all the simple things, you know? In the mornings, I get up first and get ready, shortly after, without my prodding, he’ll be all dressed, ready to go — and the bed’s been made! Then at night, when I’m ready for bed, I go to brush my teeth and see that he’s put toothpaste on my toothbrush for me. In awe, I think to myself, “I made him?!”
Tell us about the SIS women’s group you co-founded.
My sister and I co-founded a women’s group called SIS Circle (Strength in Sisterhood) back in August 2018. SIS Circle is a celebration of sisterhood and the intersection of women’s careers and home lives. At SIS Circle, we believe that this intersection is inseparable — they inform and influence each other.
SIS Circle supports the whole woman: her wellness, career development, and personal growth. We believe that a strong community of women is the hidden force behind the most powerful women, and we want to bring that sisterhood front and center. We want to help women turn their passions into practice. We promote self-care, resilience, and help every member envision self worth.
Elaine and her family participate in Strength in Sisterhood (SIS) Circle’s Resilience Summit.
What would you say are the top 3 traits of an OfficeNinjas All-Star?
- An open mind. Always be learning.
- Knowing how to read the room, aka emotional mastery.
- Having a sturdy foundation of the 3 Ps: Prioritize, Proactive and Present.
Elaine’s superpower is dealing with many very different personalities and always making everyone feel like what they are trying to achieve is important. Elaine always appears calm, collected, and in charge. She just gets sh*t done and makes you feel good in the process. – Megan Lew, Sr. Director, Web & Mobile Business
What’s one thing you’ve done that’s been the most impactful in advancing your career?
Keeping it real and authentic, especially during interviews. Research the company, CEO, previous holders of the role, the admin team, and those with whom you’re meeting. But, you should never rehearse what you’re going to say or try to figure out what they want to hear. Be YOU. Be confident in what you know and what you have to offer and be ready to talk about your experience in detail.
As much as you should be the right fit for a job, that job should be the right fit for you. This is something I learned first from my mom and sisters. I wasn’t ready to fully understand it when I was younger, but as I grew in my career … it became loud and clear. Be human first.
Elaine’s desk setup at work includes calendars, coffee, a screensaver of one of her sons — and, yes, a red Swingline stapler.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
“If you always do what you always have done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” One of my professors told me that when I was a freshman in college and it has stuck with me ever since.
In my career as an admin, there have been times when I’ve felt my opinions didn’t matter — I felt I was just the “go-to girl.” Most of the time I would let it be and then afterward get frustrated that my ideas weren’t heard or things didn’t go my way. I would be mad at myself for not speaking up.
I’ve learned that you must ASK for what you want and need. Let it be known so you can find out how to get it. Otherwise, things will always stay the same.
Office Ninjas often have tips and tricks of the trade. Any you care to share?
Make sure you are doing the work of your life. If this is just a job for you, it won’t resonate and be fulfilling. Do you care about the company’s success? Do you value their product or service? Do you care about your team? The answers to these questions will tell you if you are in the right position with the right environment you need to do what you do best.
Elaine’s story is proof that “Stay true to yourself” isn’t some empty platitude. It’s a prescription for a multi-faceted career that’s satisfying and meaningful.
We commissioned an artist to hand letter and digitize a powerful mantra from today’s All-Star interview.
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