Written by Martha Moniz Engineering Team Lead
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19 Dec 2018  |  Culture

What Makes a Strong STEM Leader

4 minute read

I’m Martha, Engineering Team Lead at Paddle. I was recently interviewed by 1 Million Women in STEM (1MWIS) about my role in this typically male-dominated field. It’s not always the easiest career path to navigate with far fewer women in positions of leadership, but I’ve learned that the key to leading a team ultimately comes down to prioritising and empowering the people you work alongside.

Starting my career in STEM

Born and raised in Venezuela, I never imagined I’d end up working in London in a leadership position. I did, however, aspire to have a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths).

I think my passion for Software Engineering comes from my love of LEGO when I was young. I love building things and fitting pieces together to solve a problem. I think there is real beauty in technology and it’s a lot more than code on a screen: it is all about creating something useful and innovative with a few commands.

I love working in STEM because it’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle. Good tech companies offer out-of-this-world benefits. They treat you as a person rather than an employee and ensure you have everything you need to make work a part of your life, as opposed to a burden. In turn, you are more energized and able to provide your best work, with the autonomy and power to make key decisions. You learn more far quicker which is vital in such a rapidly evolving industry.

Being a female leader in tech

Here at Paddle I lead a cross-functional team of Software Engineers. A key way we help software companies is by handling their subscription billing and, as many software businesses nowadays currently operate on a recurring payment model, the numbers are growing fast.

Being a female Team Lead in technology can seem a daunting undertaking, but it’s vital you see your own potential to spark positive change in the field. Who will change it if we don’t take it upon ourselves? If you’re someone who likes maths and science, then dive into it wholeheartedly. Technology is absolutely limitless. There is so much opportunity in it, always more to learn and so many interesting people to meet.

I think what women need to understand is that the lack of female representation in technology and positions of leadership is a cycle that we have the power to break. The cycle begins with the preconception that women are not good at science and that technology is not for them and, when some women finally do enter the industry, the pressure of being a minority or being treated differently because of their gender can be so great that they drop out.

It can be difficult but it’s crucial to remember that times are changing and that, for each negative experience, there are lots of people in places like Paddle who are willing to mentor you, help you learn and even motivate you to pursue what you never thought you could. In my case, this was leadership.

Every passing day there are more allies; other people who understand how deep the problem runs and are willing to work hand-in-hand with women to fix it. Every day diversity and inclusion are more of a priority in all the companies that are worth working for and the abundance of roles in technology gives you an advantage no other industry does: if you’re good at what you do, regardless of gender, companies will be competing to hire you.

How to lead a team by prioritising people

Great managers make a difference. I’ve lived first-hand the experience of having someone cheer for you and this is why I make an effort to learn how best to manage my own team. I have many different points of focus as a Team Lead, but for me the key to successful leadership is to focus on the people and have them be my first priority. I’m there to be a first port of call for anything they need, whether it be mentoring, coaching, or discussing things they might need for their day to day, as well as regular tasks of line management.

Leadership is also about catering for your different team members. Rather than trying to make everyone excel in the same things, it’s important to celebrate your team members’ differences and push them to achieve what they are best at to help the whole team succeed. People can only be their best if you offer them the support they need and you trust in their unique abilities.

Since becoming a Team Lead I’ve found that, as I head to work every day, I think of my team. I understand that each individual can have good and bad days and that they can be struggling with their personal lives or having some frustrations with bits of code they don’t understand. When I have bad days, I remind myself that I have to set a good example and be their source of stability. I need to be someone they can reach to if they need help and be my best self so they can count on me.

This said, setting an example doesn’t mean overworking yourself. It means taking breaks when needed, staying home if you are sick, and using the flexibility offered by Paddle to find balance between your personal and professional life. We are only human and acknowledging this is a powerful step in the right direction.

You can find Martha’s 1MWIS profile here.

If you are interested in getting involved with 1MWIS, email hi@1mwis.com or tweet @MillionStem.

Want to kickstart your STEM career? Paddle is hiring! Click here to see our available job openings.