From Cell Block To Corporate America: Inspirational Women (Part 2)

From Cell Block To Corporate America: Inspirational Women from Sales, Marketing & Tech, Part 2

March is Women’s History Month, and to honor the occasion, we are putting the spotlight on our incredible Televerde Graduates.  We asked several of our inspirational women to tell us more about themselves, their work, and their journey with Televerde.

Today we share our conversation with Ashley Cruz, Marketing Technology Manager.

Tell us about your journey with Televerde, Ashley.

How did you first learn of the company?

My roommate at the time was applying to work for Televerde and suggested that I should apply as well. I did not have a full understanding of the organization outside of the fact that they provided second chances, but I decided to apply anyway.

What was your educational background?

Before I was incarcerated, I earned my high school diploma with honors and I took a couple of college courses after that. I was planning to pursue a business degree.

Did you have prior business experience?

When I was 16, I started a retail job and within six months became a shift manager. About three years later, I started another job and after eight months, expanded my role there. It was a hybrid role that allowed me to gain experience in accounting, customer service and retail management. However, most of the time I was either a student or a stay-at-home mom. In school, I excelled in my computer and specialized courses as I truly enjoyed learning about technology, sociology and psychology.

What were you hired to do for Televerde?

I was hired to be a TeleServices Representative (TSR), or in today’s terminology, a Lead Development Representative (LDR) for Televerde.

The purpose of the role was to call on behalf of our partners and assist them with setting The purpose of the role was to call on behalf of our partners and assist them with setting appointments to expand their business engagements. Ultimately, our goal was to create long-lasting relationships while increasing their business revenue.

Was it challenging to get started? Did you ever want to quit? What kept you focused, motivated and on course?

Seeing as I absolutely detested talking on the phone, it was a bit of a challenge for me starting my career at Televerde. First there was the interview process, where I nailed the typing and the written test but the phone conversation…well that was a different story.

It took me two attempts to get that part down. Then we moved into phase two of the process, which included a two-week intensive training. It felt like SAT week in school all over again. By the end, I was just happy that I made it out alive. But the knowledge that was shared back then is still used after all these years. Our trainer Tom was one of the most amazing trainers I have ever encountered! I was not a natural salesperson, and I was extremely passive so calling and I were like oil and water.

There was one point that I wanted to quit, but Jason Cortel would not let me. He saw my potential at a time when I saw only my failures. He encouraged me and helped me to refocus on my passion for why I was doing this to begin with –  my children and my future. I also learned there were other roles outside of calling, and I was determined to get one.

How important was the role of technology in your professional development?

Technology had taken center stage even before I started my career at Televerde. As a child, I was fascinated with computers and how technology could transform what appeared to be a bulky box into a magical creature. My father is a wizard with just about everything he touches, but even more so with electronics. On the other hand, my mother is the best customer service person and people leader I have ever met. Between the two, my passion for what is now my career blossomed.

Computers, coding, automation – all beautiful things that helped to expand my knowledge and build the steppingstones to take me where I am today. Technology offered me a second chance and opened a world of possibilities to let me be creative and to define who I am while also doing something profoundly meaningful for others.

Tell us about your career progression. What do you do now?

I started in a calling position and after nine months moved into my first admin role as a Campaign Reporting and Systems Coordinator (CRSC). Like my initial role, it required testing and interviewing to ensure that I would be the best fit for Televerde and our partners. The role consisted of data management, preparation, and analysis along with system configuration of our legacy technology. I was also responsible for providing reporting and analysis of my assigned partners to help with recommendations to optimize and / or pivot for success.

I had the opportunity to learn Eloqua and Marketo to support our system integrations, marketing automation efforts, and to provide consulting on best practices to improve how our partners were supporting their internal systems. Upon my release, I joined our corporate office as a Marketing Automation Consultant with a focus primarily on digital marketing. I am now Televerde’s MarTech Manager, and I have the honor of supporting a variety of team members. My greatest joy is seeing individuals learn and implement their ideas to support our company and our partners. My role allows me to lead our tech team and Salesforce admin, who owns the implementation of our campaign platform or tech stack technology for our partners and corporate teams.  I also lead our Integration Specialist, who codes and maintains our system integrations and our Marketing Automation Coordinators who support our digital marketing strategies.

Throughout the various roles I have held, I’ve been able to engage with our partners and internal departments to absorb knowledge of HTML, accounting, project management, SQL, and more. Altogether, it’s allowed me to see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together and more importantly how every role carries into the next. To truly be successful, one needs to build upon knowledge and work with their teams as your career takes a village to create. And while I credit my mom and my family for my morals and ethics, my many mentors at Televerde have shared wisdom for which I am truly grateful.

In the US prison system, one of the many freedoms taken away from prisoners in access to technology. What we are learning now is that this technology gap punishes people impacted by incarceration long after they’ve been released. In fact, even in low-skilled jobs, tech-savviness is a must-have. Why is technology skill building in prisons important to reducing recidivism? Beyond learning a marketable skill, how can technology help prepare men and women for success after incarceration?

The world is built on tech. Everywhere you look someone is using a smartphone or walking around appearing to talk to themselves (using Bluetooth). Vehicles have smart tech, houses talk to you, laundry machines have more buttons than sci-fi elevators, restaurants have QR code-generated menus, MFA is a requirement to access your account, social media is overpowering, resumes need to be submitted electronically, jobs need automation and optimization, and so on. To those who have been exposed gradually, this is natural. But if you have been away from all of that for more than 2-3 years, it is daunting.

Being released after doing any amount of time, you feel like there is a stamp on your head that screams that you have been incarcerated. When you mix that with walking into a store to buy something and having to use a credit card machine for the first time, or going into a bank and being told that you need a smartphone that is connected to an app just to access your money, you are ready to throw your hands up in the air. It is overwhelming, scary, humiliating, and stressful especially if you do not have support. You feel like you are on another planet.

Technology courses that prepare you for how to utilize updated applications are essential. It may not erase recidivism, but it will help individuals entering society feel human and minimize an area of unneeded stress so that they have a foundation to do the basic things that we, as a society are teaching children to do every day. It will prepare them for what to expect when opening a bank account, receiving their first phone, being able to complete a store transaction. They need to know how important it is to make secure decisions to protect themselves from SPAM and hoax calls pretending to be the IRS or other individuals who will attempt to steal their identity. It will provide a level of needed confidence and skill that is necessary to survive in this new world to build lasting connections, self-esteem, and careers.

If we want to help individuals to create new lives, we need to provide them all the tools that set them up for success before they leave the doors of incarceration and that includes technology.

Can you share one major highlight from your journey with Televerde?

It may sound cliché, but I found my voice and acceptance of who I am. I was extremely passive before I was incarcerated, a people pleaser and I thought I needed to obtain perfection to be good. Being incarcerated was humbling and confusing and I felt lost. My goal as soon as I joined Televerde was to show my children through my actions that only you can define who you are and that they owned their destiny. Not their past, not other individuals; just them. I focused on them as it pushed me to be better, but it also made it easier to deal with my own shortcomings. It took me many years to realize that I was also teaching myself the same lesson as my children. It was a powerful breakthrough for me and one that has helped me to accomplish goals that others have told me I could not do. We are the writers of our future…whatever that future may be.

Tell us something fun or interesting that has happened to you while on this journey of transformation.

So many fascinating things have happened to me along the journey…playing tag at visitation, call center secret Santa, family, my pups, getting engaged, friends, corporate late-night RFPs, my dream truck, my own home…I have so many stories that I could fill a book. Something truly amazing that I had the opportunity to participate in for most of my tenure while I was still incarcerated was leading our LeanIn. Jason Cortel asked me to help him create a group and eventually I took over and it was absolutely the greatest experience to interact with so many women. There were moments of pure silliness, overwhelming emotion, take on the world empowerment and I learned from every one of them. Every person you meet leaves a mark that guides you to be who you are in the next moment and I cherish them all. I would not be who I am without them.

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