By Camille Kail
Leslye Paniagua is a lifelong advocate. An accomplished mechanical and thermal engineer, Leslye is also an educator and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) leader who uses her position to champion authenticity and mindfulness.
“Even though I came out late in my life, I saw that moment as an opportunity to acknowledge my authentic self,” says Leslye, a senior principal thermal engineer at Dell Technologies who identifies as bisexual. “[I told myself,] you’re enough, you’re loved, and now you can pass this message along.”
Upon graduating from Querétaro Institute of Technology in Mexico, Leslye realized she had more to learn, both in her field and about herself. A five-month continuing studies program in Spain turned into seven years abroad, and her original goal of a master’s degree turned into a Ph.D.
After earning her certifications—and spending her 20s in a foreign country, learning life lessons alongside attending lectures—Leslye returned to her native Mexico to begin her career outside of academia. As an engineer for GE’s aviation division, she decided that the long lead time common in aerodynamics testing was a bit too long.
“I wanted to work on products that made it to market a bit faster,” she says.
A new opportunity at Intel presented itself, and despite limited experience working in the electronics industry, Leslye took a role learning alongside a coworker who became a mentor, encouraging her creative and curious mind. “I fell in love with the pace of work,” she says, smiling. “You really have the opportunity to see your ideas come to life.”
Because of her early interest in STEM, Leslye had recognized but never fully registered how lopsided the gender balance of her peer group was. “I’ve always been comfortable in a male-dominated environment, so I didn’t give a lot of thought as to how many women or girls were in any given group,” she says.
That changed during her time at Intel, where she befriended a group of coworkers that led an employee resource group (ERG) that focused on career development for women employees. As Leslye learned more about what the ERG had to offer, she was also observing how other coworkers perceived the group: “People thought, Well, it’s a group of women having fun and being a support group. I realized we had to change the perception—it’s important that people feel safe and have these spaces for themselves, but we also need to emphasize how having that space helps company culture, the teams we lead and the industry overall.”
She applied to become an ERG leader herself, and got involved in more and more groups until she was leading the DEI initiatives for all of Latin America. “I became very aware of how relevant it is to foster inclusive environments and to make sure that we provide open spaces for everyone.”
It’s not about just connecting with individuals. It’s about feeling secure enough with who you are and the environment you’re in so you can actually go and thrive in your whole life.
—Leslye Paniagua, senior principal thermal engineer, Dell Technologies
When she began her tenure at Dell in 2019, one of her first steps was looking for the ERGs that she connected with. “I joined Women in Action, the Latino Connection group and Pride,” she says. Using her knowledge from her time as a DEI leader, Leslye felt that these foundational aspects of her own being had to be acknowledged, emphasized and celebrated.
“The ability to be yourself has an impact on business results, right? So we need to investigate how that translates to making sure that employees use resources like ERGs as a place to figure out how to thrive.”
In addition to her work at Dell, Leslye remotely teaches a course on thermodynamics at the University of Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico. When she’s not giving lectures on energy, entropy and matter, she’s instructing her students on the practical realities of life as an employee, coworker and leader.
“I explain to them what it’s like to work in this industry and how important it is to be mindfully and actively inclusive. How are you being an ally? If you encounter [a homogeneous space] or unconscious biases, what are you doing to change that mindset? I want to make sure that they’re asking themselves the right questions and making their environments more welcoming.”
Action, pride and authenticity
Leslye and her partner now live in Austin, Texas, and the couple uses Pride month to celebrate themselves, their relationship and the LGBTQIA+ community at large. “Her birthday is the last week of June, and mine is the first week of July,” she says. “We also met in June, so we jokingly call it our Pride Anniversary. It’s nice to celebrate for a month and have a little extra support, but we’re proud all of the time.”
Across her many roles as an engineer, professor and advocate for DEI, Leslye knows that there’s more for the tech industry to learn and—more importantly—act upon.
“We know there is a lot of work to be done when it comes to building an inclusive culture in the workplace and I’m committed to doing my part. We need to ask out loud: How are we demonstrating allyship across organizations? What initiatives do we have in place to actively recruit diverse talent or develop existing talent? Are we creating spaces where people feel like they can be their most authentic selves? Remember that dedicating resources to support diverse people will create a benefit for all people”
“It’s not about just connecting with individuals,” Leslye adds. “It’s about feeling secure enough with who you are and the environment you’re in so you can actually go and thrive in your whole life.”