How I Built a Creative Career, From a Female Creative Leader at West Monroe

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Photo Courtesy of West Monroe

Photo Courtesy of West Monroe

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Fairygodboss
July 14, 2024 at 5:27PM UTC

Creativity has always been at the center of innovation — whether you are an actor, a singer, or an architect, creative professionals have always been known as “out-of-the-box” thinkers. But creative careers can also be found at management consulting firms. We recently chatted with Tate Leyba, Senior Principal and Creative Lead at West Monroe’s Product & Experience Lab, who shared some insights about how she made a career for herself doing something that she has always loved.

“I find as a creative person, I can bring a different perspective, help my clients connect the dots, and see patterns that help bring about new ideas” says Tate.

Thankfully, she has been able to bring that perspective at West Monroe and credits the company’s many resources and supportive culture. “West Monroe is a people-first firm, and I’ve really seen that in action, particularly during the pandemic” says Tate.

She also shares her experience as a woman in tech, and some of the fun projects she is working on, as well as her best tips for younger women who are looking to start a career in the creative industry. Read below.

How did you end up working in the creative space? What was your path like?

I had a love for art and a fascination with technology growing up. I was raised by a single mom who worked as a researcher in a lab studying cancer. I spent a lot of time with her at work, playing with her computer, drawing on computer paper, and looking at scientific illustrations in magazines while she was conducting experiments. So ultimately, science and scientific methods were part of my every day. I fell in love with the idea of creating captivating and ultra-clear visuals to communicate complex concepts as well as using technology to solve human problems. My interests eventually led me to an art school, The Minneapolis College of Art + Design, that valued technology and that’s where I discovered my calling for design and interactive media.

Speaking of college, in college our professors would often say they were preparing us for jobs that didn't exist yet and I think that's true for a lot of young professionals. What would your advice be for someone who's younger and wants to get into a role like yours?

My first piece of advice for a young professional preparing for their future is that internships and real-world experiences are invaluable. You gain a deeper understanding of real-world parameters like collaborating with different disciplines, managing stakeholder feedback, and balancing user and business needs. 

Secondly, build your portfolio and get feedback on it. Learn to edit, polish, refine, and practice the storytelling around your work. Being able to articulate a specific problem you are trying to solve and how you approach solving that problem is just as important as seeing a beautiful, finished product. 

 Lastly, it is important to realize that digital product design is a combination of many disciplines. Build yourself a solid base by learning the foundational principles of graphic design, user research, and business strategy. These basics will give you a holistic understanding of why a product is the right solution for the problem you are trying to solve, how you can bring the vision to life through compelling visuals, and how you can validate that it's something people can use and love. 

What is your favorite aspect of the culture at West Monroe? 

West Monroe is a people-first firm, and I’ve really seen that in action, particularly during the pandemic. I’ve been very impressed with how open and supportive the firm has been — making sure we had the tools and support we needed to work from home, and providing mental health support like regular employee listening sessions on topics like racism and imposter syndrome. I work out of the Minneapolis office, and after the civil unrest here this summer, I was very impressed by how the firm created opportunities for us to share our story in facilitated conversations. 

What is your favorite project you have worked on?

I thrive in spaces of ambiguity and where there are challenging problems to solve. I love to experiment and make things that solve real human problems through design and technology. One of my favorite recent projects was an eight-week product invention & validation project for an international fitness chain. Our product team did consecutive design sprints where we experimented to look for ways to engage the 45% of Americans, who either don’t like going to the gym or find it hard to fit it in, to determine if there was a viable business opportunity to serve this market. We created an experimental lab with a few personal trainers, a gym location, and lots of tech. We learned so much in that time and had a blast doing it. 

How have you managed to be successful in a creative role at a management firm? What were the benefits?

To be successful in product strategy consulting, you must understand business strategy — product strategy is such a core part of how businesses operate now. That’s very interesting to me. I find as a creative person, I can bring a different perspective, help my clients connect the dots, and see patterns that help bring about new ideas. 

The world is changing, and companies want to innovate and invest in the future. That makes consulting a more stable place to be than, say, an advertising agency. Another benefit is that the work I do is longer term — it may take six months to a year versus three weeks. I get to establish relationships, and dive deep. 

What has been the biggest challenge or obstacle you’ve faced working as a woman in tech? 

I am often the only woman in the room, and that can be intimidating. Additionally, I’m often the only person with a creative background, versus someone with an MBA. Early in my career, I found myself being dismissed because I had a different opinion than everyone else in the room. I had to build confidence that my opinion was an asset, and that a different opinion adds value. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in leadership retreats with The Design Department, where I met other women in similar roles as me, from all over the country. Hearing that other women encountered the same challenges helped me see my perspective as an asset. 

When you aren’t busy working in the Product & Experience Lab, what are some of your favorite ways to decompress outside of work?

Spending time with horses helps me decompress. I’ve been a horsey girl my whole life. I currently lease a horse and am learning dressage and jumping. I also love anything where I can strengthen my mind and body. I have a daily practice of meditation and try to do strength training and yoga multiple times a week. I love being outside and getting fresh air. Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time gardening, taking long walks with my family, and sitting on the patio with a cold spicy cocktail or local beer.

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