“Each of us is responsible for breaking stereotypes & pursuing an education rooted in equality”
Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? Two years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet María Robledo, Director of Engineering at Babbel.
A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?
Two years ago, we launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet María Robledo, Director of Engineering at Babbel.
María Robledo, Director of Engineering at Babbel
Born in Madrid and with 20 years of experience in computer engineering, María Robledo is the Director of Engineering at Babbel, specialized in leading high-performing teams. She studied Computer Science at the University Pontificia of Salamanca, and her first professional steps role was as a Software Developer at Lucent Technologies. The Executive MBA from IE Business School provided her with a more global vision of the business world, which was essential for her to make the jump to IT consulting and become part of a Startup. Prior to Babbel, she was Senior Development Manager at Raet, as part of the European Development center in Madrid. Her other positions included Accenture as Senior Consultant and Bwin-party Digital Entertainment as Technical Project Manager.
What got you interested in technology?
I wasn’t interested in technology, at all, until I was about to start studying at university. Even though I was always interested in science, computer science was never on my radar. My mother played a key role: after I got rejected by a university for another program, she enrolled me in Computer Science.
I’d never touched a computer before, so my initial months were very challenging. However, after that, the world I discovered when writing a software program fascinated me. I realized that it was easy for me to learn different programming languages and to start doing games and other fun stuff on my own.
I started my career as a developer in a huge telecommunication company. It was a really exciting work experience, mainly because of the people I got to work with. In the course of several years, I played different roles in several teams, which gave me the opportunity to familiarize myself with every single phase of a software project. That’s where I first learned I was more interested in managing dependencies, developing people, and assessing risks than I was in coding itself. Consequently, the transition to project management was a logical one.
I’ve been in a technical manager role ever since. That’s 10 years now and I still love my job!
I’m not terribly conscious of obstacles. Yet, it would be naïve to think that being one of the only women on the floor or in meetings, without a clear mentor, working for companies with different mentalities when it comes to gender diversity, etc. hasn’t created roadblocks for me in the past.
A strong support system
My family has always been a great support. Starting with my parents, who promoted gender equality when raising my two brothers and me.
My role models are few and not in STEM, nevertheless close to me. Lucky for me, they’re my friends. They’re women that are not afraid of taking risks and starting new projects. They’re strong, independent, and proactive, with their own opinions and an excellent sense of humor. I always find it inspiring to see the world through their eyes. When it comes to the tech world, I have awesome male examples. Unfortunately, I’m lacking, there, when it comes to women. We need to be more numerous and speak up more often.
Did someone ever try to stop you from learning and advancing in your professional life?
Not in a direct way. However, when you’re working for a company where learning and diversity as values are not present, or where you are not able to find a good balance between personal life and work, then the company is effectively stopping you from advancing in your professional life. There are many things that can prevent you from making progress.
Typically, I tried to be careful in choosing which companies I worked for, as well as with whom I work with. Unfortunately, I sometimes ended up in companies that weren’t interested in my career, at all. That’s not the case at Babbel, where I’m working right now. Learning and diversity are two key values here, and we take them very seriously.
A day in María‘s life
As one of three Directors of Engineering at Babbel, I am leading the Learning Experience domain, which is responsible for improving and innovating on our core learning apps. We constantly work to push the boundaries and thereby shape the future of language learning enabled by technology. By steering a team of six Engineering Managers, we also aim to develop a great engineering leadership team and great engineering culture.
I don’t think there is a typical day for me at Babbel. Things I do regularly include meeting with my team and peers for alignment or following up on topics, looking at operational KPIs, conducting interviews, coaching, contributing to larger strategic decisions, understanding what we’re doing technically and how it impacts our overall vision “Everyone learning languages”, attending relevant conferences.
I am proud of having had opportunities to create teams and even prouder of the people that were part of those teams. For me, a team is a group of people who share a common vision, objectives, and metrics. They collaborate and learn together, challenging each other to achieve outstanding results. All gave me their passion, time, effort and knowledge to make it happen with a lot of pain, long pizza-days and fun.
Why aren’t there more women in tech?
That’s a complex question. In my view, it’s a combination of factors:
- Education. We still live in a society in which some professions are considered feminine or masculine, just based on social prejudices.
- Lack of a healthy social balance between genders. Women have always occupied a “caretaker” role in society. The mindset driving that makes it difficult for women to advance in their professional careers. They’re forced to take jobs of less responsibility, temporary jobs with no prospect of development or autonomy in a broader sense.
- Lack of a diverse environment in companies, with even less representation of women in leadership roles where decisions are made.
- Lack of women role models. They have a key impact on girls’ interest in STEM. We need to be more visible, speak up more often, and drive change.
I strongly believe that each of us (every woman and every man) is responsible for breaking stereotypes and pursuing an education rooted in equality.
Public and private companies need to foster a diverse, flexible environment, where prejudices are challenged and where talent is developed.
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it take to see results from the current debate?
It’s a cultural change, and thus it will be slow. That being said, I am optimistic. I see a very promising near-term future. The scenario is, fortunately, changing quickly in many countries. Companies like Babbel include diversity in their business values and objectives, schools send a totally new message to our kids, families empower different roles models, society is becoming less tolerant of unacceptable behaviours toward women. The message finally is getting across!
Women in STEM
Absolutely! It should be the main objective of every company to foster a working environment in which the diversity of gender, culture, demographics, studies and so on, is respected and perceived to add value.
STEM should be no exception to this, keeping in mind also that technology itself doesn’t have the capacity to decipher between genders.
Challenges women in tech face
Unconscious bias is an obstacle; it is not a conscious effort to keep women from working in tech. However, this is the reality which we must face in order to think about solving it. The lack of diversity in decision making positions has a direct impact on promotion systems, hiring processes, employer branding and the industry as a whole.
Tips & tricks
My first bit of advice is to do it!!! It’s not easy and one needs to put in a lot of effort. But it’s rewarding. Don’t stop until you find a place that matches best with your real-life needs and aspirations and then put your heart and passion into it, and learn, as that will be the only way to succeed.
My second piece of advice is to surround yourself with good, intelligent people who add value to what you do. Choose people you can trust and welcome their different points of view. Learn from them and let them learn from you.
My third recommendation is don’t be afraid of failure. Embrace it and learn from it.
My final bit of advice is to have fun!
Did I mention “learn”?
Don’t miss our Women in Tech profiles:
- “Technology reflects the people who make it”
- “In the right company, working in tech is a great career”
- Why women fall out of the tech pipeline
- Breaking the mold: ‘It’s not that you’re good — it’s that you’re female’
- How to avoid the culture of male programmers
- Creating an equal playing field is about more than just teaching someone coding skills
- The more women you see in STEM, the less intimidating it is for others to join
- The tech industry tends to lose women along the way. Change is underway
- How to get (and stay) into the tech industry: Tips & tricks for women
- Transitioning into a tech career? Silicon Valley culture is one of the biggest initial obstacles
- Abby Kearns: “Diversity ensures continuous innovation”
- “In technology, you become a lifelong learner — More women should embrace this career”
- Cultural impact is not driven by gender, but by diversity
- Everyday superheroes: “I don’t have a role model, my career was based on my mistakes”
- Diversity talk: For tech, it’s less about a pipeline problem and more of a marketing problem
- Diversity talk: It’s important to receive support from tech communities
- Everyday superheroes: Women just need to see more of us — techie women
- Anyone who wants to learn and grow won’t continue in an industry that tells them they are stupid
- There is too much allowance for tolerating toxic people in tech
- Coding myths and how finding communities like Hear Me Code helps you learn best
- 3 strategies to try out if you want to support women in tech
- Young women carry less career gender bias and more media influence
- Women are often pigeonholed into “soft skill” roles and pushed away from engineering
- Diversity talk: Many women suffer from the impostor syndrome
- How to succeed in tech: Shutterstock’s Rashi Khurana gives her tips
- Diversity talk: Using lingo is making tech sound harder than it really is
- Diversity talk: “We can’t expect men to hand us equality on a silver platter”
- How to succeed in tech: Agnès Crepet gives her tips
- “Many people still need to be taught that diversity is more than just a trend”
- “Many companies lack the infrastructure & career growth opportunities to support female employees”
- “Diverse teams can help prevent unhealthy competition that occurs sometimes in male-dominated teams”
- How to succeed in tech: Testlio’s Kristel Kruustük shares her tips
- “As the tech field becomes cloud-based, the flexibility and remote work culture will grow”
- How to win the diversity battle: Tips from Atlassian’s Molly Hellerman
- Diversity talk: “Women should not be herded into a career to meet quotas”
- “The tech industry can move even faster by increasing the diversity of talent”
- Diversity talk: Even if your team is not very diverse, what matters is that they value you
- Diversity talk: Exec reveals her secret to success — Always be curious
- How to win the diversity battle: Tips from GitLab’s Barbie Brewer
- Diversity talk: Tips from Lisk’s Gina Contrino on how to succeed in tech
- “The combination of tech IQ and people EQ can set you apart in the tech world”
- “Mentorship, acceptance, and trust are really important in fostering gender diversity in the workplace”
- The tech industry is not solely responsible for pushing gender diversity
- “There isn’t enough clarity on what it means to work in tech and to be a woman in tech”
- Diversity talk: Exec reveals her secret to success — Become comfortable with change
- Diversity in the AI world & how imposter syndrome is vital!
- “Even if women decide to work as developers because they are passionate and qualified, they are sometimes treated like diversity hires”
- “We need fewer WiT luncheons and more women coding & deploying projects side by side with men”
- Diversity talk: How to overcome challenges in the workplace
- “We need to increase the awareness of the benefits and challenges of diversity”
- Diversity talk: The biggest obstacle we currently face is the idea that equality is here already
- How to succeed in tech: “Go ahead and do it. This is a great option for women”
- “I think the topic of diversity is viewed very narrowly to only mean race or gender”
- Breaking the mold: “Women are not solely responsible for solving the diversity challenge”
- How to succeed in tech: Katerina Skroumpelou gives her tips
- How to get (and stay) into the tech industry: Ana Cidre shares her tips & tricks
- Diversity talk: “We need to ditch the idea that women don’t love their careers as much as men do”
- How to succeed in tech: Samantha Quiñones gives her tips
- Diversity talk: People who act as gatekeepers in the tech community are part of the problem
- How to succeed in tech: Tzofia Shiftan shares her tips
- Diversity talk: “Tech is one of the most flexible and evolving industries that can work in women’s favor”
- Diversity talk: “If you want to advance, make it known and be persistent. You’ll need a thick skin”
- How to get (and stay) into the tech industry: Sherry List shares her tips & tricks
- How to win the diversity battle: “Well behaved women rarely make history”
- Diversity talk: “When dealing with challenges, it is not a time to be depressed or let self-doubt engulf you”
- How to win the diversity battle: “The tech industry is not as bad as it sounds”
- How to succeed in tech: Áine Mulloy gives her tips
- “Having more women in management roles can and will create a safe place for other women to flourish”
- “The number of women in tech is increasing but the growth path for them is not very lucrative”
- How to succeed in tech: Sauce Labs’ Pamela Prosperi gives her tips
- Diversity talk: Not everyone wants to be a ‘pioneer’ and be the ‘first female developer’ or ‘first female VP’
- How to succeed in tech: CloudBees’ Isabel Muñoz Vilacides shares her tips & tricks
- Diversity talk: “You need to take accountability for your own success”
- How to succeed in tech: StateZero Labs’ Tazz Gault and Katie Mills share their tips
- Diversity talk: “It often takes the people who have the privilege or are not oppressed to speak up”
- How to succeed in tech: InnoGames’ Maja Matic shares her tips
- “The lack of women in technical roles stems from the lack of mentors & skills-based training”