Diversity & Inclusion: Q&A with Maria Naveira Sund
Promoting diversity in technology is a huge passion of mine and following on from my Driving Gender Diversity Within The Workplace blog, it’s time for me to dive into my next segment, with the purpose to inspire and encourage more females to join the industry.
Over the next few months, I will be speaking with influential Women in Tech, discussing their career journeys and challenges faced, their inspirations and personal opinions on how we can further embrace diversity.
EPISODE 1: This week I had the pleasure of catching up with Development Director, Maria Naveira Sund to hear about what it’s like to be a woman working in tech, her journey to date and what inspires her.
Hej Maria, we are very excited to have you involved in our initiative, thank you for sharing your insights and experiences in tech! Can you please share a little bit about what it is that you do?
“I’m responsible for our development department at Kambi — We have more than 30 development teams allocated at five different locations and the organization is divided into 6 different value streams. For each stream, we have one Head of Development (HoD) who is responsible for the dev teams within their stream and the HoD:s are reporting to me.
I started this Development Director position in January 2019. The first half of the year consisted of forming our management team and sorting out expectations on each other. I am super happy how far we have come and nowadays I feel that if we get a tough problem to solve we do it together in a very efficient way while at the same time we are having fun!
I’m also investing time keeping aligned with the IT management group that consists of my manager (CTO), IT Operations Manager, Head of Architecture and our Chief Product Officer. It is important that we share the same goals and that we move in the same direction. I work a lot with improvements in our way of working across the organization and also try to sort out where we have bottlenecks that we can address.
No matter how much work I have, I never down prioritize the one-to-one meetings with my direct reports and I always attend our joint meetings. I have the philosophy that the most important part in your work as a leader is your people and working close together is what makes you succeed together. If you are present and reachable so that the team get the support they need, we can do miracles together.”
You are a very busy lady Maria! What do you enjoy the most about your position as Development Director?
“This is my first experience in a ‘Development Director’ position, if I’m honest, at first I was unsure if it would be the best fit for me as I love working directly with teams. But I actually like it…Being able to look at the whole picture and work with the direction of the organization is great. I enjoy giving the mandate to the organization so that they are able to act and make decisions, contribute and grow.“
That’s great, so are you happy with the move?
Are you still learning? How are you further developing your career in this area?
“Definitely! I’m learning all the time. I’m not used to having management layers between me and the teams, so I’m learning how to work with the organization even when I am not directly involved in the team’s day to day work. I’m learning a lot about people and myself and I love it, everything is about people and communication in the end. I learn the most from mistakes I make and the good feelings I get when succeeding.
I’m trying to further develop my skills through reading books and articles that interest me. I also do a lot of self-reflection and collect actively feedback from my colleagues. This year I will finally attend the Women in Tech conference in Amsterdam where I expect to be inspired.”
That’s really great, I know personal development is valued highly at Kambi. How was your journey to reaching a management position and what were your biggest challenges?
“Since I was a kid I got to hear that I was bossy and thought that that was a bad thing but when I started my working life I noticed and also got the feedback that I was always an informal leader in the teams that I worked in. I knew early that I wanted to move into management but the biggest challenge for me was to get my first management position.
Before becoming a manager I believe I was quite good to have as a team member as I was always delivering and also helping the manager with the soft parts of teamwork “undercover”. I was clear on what I wanted in my career and got nice projects and roles but not the opportunity to take the next step into management. Then when I worked at PostNord we had a manager joining the IT department. Our paths crossed maybe two times at meetings and when there was a big reorganisation coming up, she said that she wanted me in her team as People manager for a new team starting up. For me that was amazing and the greatest moment in my career, we didn’t work long together, but she was a great mentor and coach. The fact that a woman who hardly knew me saw my potential was so cool and I will always have the utmost respect for her because of that.”
How did you feel when you achieved that first management position?
“I was so happy as it was something I had been wanting and working hard to achieve for so long. I feel that after the first management position it has been a much easier ride and I have been able to take on more and more challenges and responsibility.“
That’s awesome. What has been your most memorable or proudest work moment to date?
“The most memorable would be the transformation journey we did at PostNord to set up our in-house business development teams. Not even a year after finally achieving my first management position, an opportunity to start a completely new way of working within the company with in-house agile development teams came along and I was asked if I wanted to start the first team. This would, however, mean that I would be a team leader and not management.
When asked initially if I wanted the role, I was thinking “Oh my, I’ve only been in this management position for 10 months, it’s something I’ve wanted for so long, will I ever get the opportunity to manage again?”
At the time I was reading a book by Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook (Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead) which writes about how women typically are afraid to take what may be perceived as a step back in their career because they don’t think they could get offered the same opportunity again. Sandberg uses some great hands-on examples and explores the fact that once you have a position on your CV, you will be able to get a similar job again (assuming you put the work in). The book is a fantastic read and I would highly recommend it for any aspiring leaders.
I really embraced this mindset and believed that management would for sure happen for me again. I took the chance and set up our 1st team. The 2nd team soon followed, and then it just grew and grew. I then became the manager for this new unit and by the time I left the company, we had reached 18 teams. And, except for the business development teams, I was also responsible for the whole customer facing area with all webs and apps, meaning both in-house development teams and outsourced delivery. I’m very proud of this achievement and the journey we did together with my colleagues was amazing but I hope it’s not a once in a lifetime experience!
And now the rest is history! Did you always know that working in technology was what you wanted to do?
“No, but I knew I always wanted to work with people. After Senior High School, I took a year off to work at my uncle’s small IT company which was installing and selling servers back when having computers at home was kind of a new thing. All of the customers were so surprised to see me working there, hands on with installing and fixing the computers. This inspired me to study technology, not only was it super fun but that experience made me think ‘yeah I’ll show them it’s not only guys who can do this.”
Awesome! A reoccurring topic through my discussions with Women in Tech is the worry of starting a family and the impact it could have on their work and long term career progression. How have you managed to find a comfortable work-life balance and what top tips do you have to make this work?
“I have two children (7, 9) and a husband who I met working in Barcelona. I would say the most important thing is the partner you choose, as the relationship should be on equal terms and have a high level of respect.
My husband and I both work in the IT field, although he is more a hard-core tech guy and I am on the “soft” side. We both have ambitions to constantly evolve and mutual respect for both of us to achieve that. Therefore, we share everything equally, if one of us drops the kids off to school, the other should pick them up, it’s all about balance.
Most companies in Stockholm are very understanding of family situations which is great. It’s important to have a set up that works for you, creating your own flexibility.”
Sounds like a dream team!
“Yeah for sure, it’s great! We also get a good understanding of each other’s areas in IT and he challenges me and inspires me to keep up my knowledge in the tech area.“
Have you ever seen yourself be treated differently by an employer because you have a young family?
“ I haven’t to any extreme, but back when I was pregnant with my first child, a previous manager said to me ‘you are pregnant, maybe you shouldn’t work on this project as we will never know how you will be feeling.’ At the time I was 4 months pregnant, it was surprising to me and I took the attitude of “well sorry, I’m going to work with this project anyway!” I got support from higher managers as well so there was not a problem in the end.”
Maria, we have had a great chance to now get to know your journey, it’s super inspiring! We would love to know a Fun Fact about you…
“Well, I’m quite open and honest that I’m a feminist and believe everyone should have equal rights for opportunities and salaries. However, with this in mind, I’m a huge fan of hip-hop music, even with some of the bad wording and connotations! Wu-Tang Clan and all of the old school sounds are my favourites, but also new hip hop is what I mainly listen to.
Something that made me laugh was I recently saw a Ted Talk by Roxane Gay: Confessions of a bad feminist where she explains how she sits in her car listening to hip hop music and I could really identify myself with her!”
Thanks so much to Maria for an epic and inspiring conversation. Tune in next week where we will explore Maria’s views on diversity and ideas on how as a collective, we can appeal and attract more women in tech!
Are you a woman in the technology field too? How has your experience been similar or different? Do you have any questions for women in the technology industry? Would you like to get involved in this initiative? We would love to hear from you, please contact me on email@example.com
By Ellie King - Principal Talent Partner - Data / AI - Nordics