Lead by example. If you want people to be passionate about their task, it’s important that they also see you are passionate about them. This is super important to keep your team motivated and fulfilled.
Currently, only about 1 in 4 employees in the tech industry is a woman. So what does it take to create a successful career as a woman in Tech? In this interview series called Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech, we are talking to successful women leaders in the tech industry to share stories and insights about what they did to lead successful careers. We also discuss the steps needed to create a great tech product. As part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Marta Expósito.
31-year old Marta Expósito is Head of the Business Intelligence team at EXOGROUP, a group of companies that develop ad serving technologies to help clients monetize the digital business landscape with a focus on online advertising. She has also just earned a PHD in ‘Viewability Contributions Towards a Better Advertising Ecosystem.’ Her thesis objective was to improve the online advertising ecosystem, by analyzing various industry challenges and showing how promising the Viewability metric is. This led her to develop the Ad Refresh feature for EXOGROUP which allows websites to serve multiple ads in one ad zone to increase viewability and monetization opportunities.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My older sister was very skilled at mathematics and enjoyed learning it. She wanted to share this passion with me. So from the age of 5, she gave me private lessons to keep me ahead of my classmates. Our parents were very proud when we achieved good grades in science and math and I think this created an environment where I was able to thrive studying science and math.
In high school, I had a great Physics teacher who encouraged us to investigate and experiment with physical concepts. It was this teacher who ignited my scientific and research interests. I enjoyed his lessons so much that I decided to study Audiovisual Telecommunications Engineering, because it featured the topics that I liked the most, waves and energies. However, as I began studying this engineering, I discovered another field I knew nothing about until then: computer science.
I then did an internship at Technicolor (in France) in the computer vision research department, and it was a great experience for me. Also, I was able to patent my results! After this experience, I was clear that I wanted to continue learning about image processing. For this reason, I enrolled in a Computer Vision MSc program.
After completing my master’s degree I worked for a year in a university department as an ML research engineer. Although I really liked academia, I missed the business approach I had during my internship. Because of this, I began looking for a Data Science role. In 2017 I joined ad network ExoClick, which is part of EXOGROUP as a Data Analyst. ExoClick offered me the opportunity to develop an industrial PhD, which I finished this year and was awarded an Excellent mark and the cum laude distinction. This year I was also promoted to Head of Business Intelligence for the whole group of companies we have at EXOGROUP.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
The most interesting thing that has happened to me is the amount of experts and different people I’ve got to meet thanks to the PhD I developed at ad network ExoClick. When you pursue a doctorate, you gradually make your work visible to the world. By going to international conferences to present my work I’ve got to talk and receive feedback from experts in the field globally, allowing me to learn from them. This was really inspiring. Additionally, the work I was doing at ExoClick also reached CodeOp, a technology training academy for women, trans, and non-binary people. They contacted me to explain my work and how data science can be applied to the online advertising industry. Being able to speak with all those people who wanted to transition into technology was very inspiring for me. As a result, I also began teaching Data Science at Cataluña’s Open University.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I believe that most people who work in artificial intelligence have, at the beginning, made the typical mistake when presenting an experiment to believe that they’ve just achieved a really high accuracy result, only to realize during the presentation that they had actually tested it on the training set or there was some error in how it was executed. We’ve all learned from that to thoroughly review the code, not just when the results turn out wrong, but especially when they seem too good.
Apart from these kinds of errors, another thing I’ve encountered as a non-native English speaker are humorous communication errors. For instance, when I worked at the university as a research engineer, I wanted to name an algorithm that predicted the aesthetics of an image using the initials of “Beautiful Ugly Machine” (BUM). When I proposed this to my supervisor, he couldn’t stop laughing! I’ve had similar experiences with others who were not native English speakers as well. For example, when working with international people, it wasn’t until a few weeks later that I realized that when they referred to the programming language “piton,” they actually meant “python.” In the end, these are funny anecdotes, but they also teach us to be flexible and empathic when dealing with multicultural people.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
EXOGROUP is a group of companies focused on technology and innovation. One of the reasons it stands out is that we are always encouraged to propose new technologies and different ways to do things. This innovative spirit is what has made the companies successful globally. In fact, Authority Magazine interviewed our CEO and Founder Benjamin Fonzé in the series From Avocation To Vocation: How I Turned My Hobby Into A Career back in 2019.
On the other hand, it’s interesting how ExoClick keeps looking for ways to provide good benefits to the employees. And I’m not talking only about free food or things like that, but also benefits that allow us to grow professionally and academically, such as paid certified training and time off to attend courses, etc.
One of our companies, AdSecure, allows ad networks and website publishers to scan for malicious advertising scams run by cyber criminals, so the ad industry can protect their businesses and end users from harmful ads. Something that I also admire is that EXOGROUP is always working on initiatives by joining organizations such as the WeProtect Global Alliance and the Internet Watch Foundation to make the online advertising industry a safer place.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
When I started doing my PhD, my main objective was to improve the online advertising ecosystem. Through my research, I’ve found different areas that could help the ad tech industry to make it more sustainable and a better place for everybody. Now that I’ve finally finished my dissertation, I’m happy to continue these research lines inside the company, by building features that respect the web user. On another hand, I’m also actively working on projects related to improving the user experience. I’m super excited about this, since this can have a positive impact on everybody using the internet!
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I believe that things are changing for the better, but still there is work to be done. From my experience, in university, most of my colleagues were men, and also most of my managers have been male too. This hasn’t stopped me nor have I ever felt intimidated by that, but I also think that my perspective was also biased by the positive reinforcement I had at home, and that I’ve been lucky enough to meet people that were not biased by stereotypes. But I know that not everybody had the same luck as me.
The main challenges for women in STEM that I believe should be addressed are:
- The lack of feminine representation in tech and in leadership roles. And this it’s not because there are no women in those roles, but they should have more visibility. And not only in the news or social media, but also on tv shows and films, in the media content that young girls consume and that can inspire them when making their career decisions.
- The salary gap between women and their male colleagues in the same roles. This can be motivated by men having higher self-confidence and, therefore, asking for more money than their female colleagues. Initiatives where salaries are transparent, in a defined range for each position, can help mitigate that but, as I said, there is also work to be done to make women more secure and fight the “impostor-syndrome”.
- Education and awareness. In order to fix a problem, we need to show that there is a problem. To do this, we need data that support the challenges that women face and that break with the stereotypes.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
Besides the underrepresentation, salary gap and the stereotypes, there are other challenges inherent of being a woman, but that are enhanced especially in STEM roles. Since most of the colleagues in these roles are men, the few women working there are expected to work as they would, without considering that we might have different cycles because of their period, pregnancy, or breast-feeding a baby. All these are natural to being a woman, but we are expected to hide it and to be more “male”. And this is because, many of us are constantly trying to prove (to society and to ourselves) that we are as good as any man would be in the same position. If we were capable of normalizing these topics, we could adapt work conditions to these necessities and make the work environment better for everybody.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
There is a myth that women in STEM wear hoodies and like to be alone with a computer. While this might be true for some women, there are many that also love makeup, heels and do not want to spend more time with their laptops after work. I’ve heard many times the sentence “oh, you are an engineer, you don’t look like one!” and this is a stereotype that should disappear.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why.
- You should strive for respect rather than obedience. I had a manager that, in order to get things done, she was mean and shouted commands. This resulted in fear of making mistakes, and at the end, we worked worse. I promised that the day I had someone under my supervision, I’d never treat people like that and that I’d supervise with empathy and respect.
- In order to be able to delegate, you also need to let them fail. It might be scary to let someone else do a job that you were doing before, since chances are that they will make mistakes at the beginning. But in order to excel at something you need to fail a few times. The advantages of delegating and showing your employees that you trust them are more important than beginner mistakes (which usually always have solutions).
- Change your communication style for each person. For example, I had a manager that never answered any emails, so there was no point in communicating with him through this channel. It was much better to approach him in person when there was something important to discuss. When possible, it’s easier to change yourself rather than trying to change others.
- Always be kind, because kindness results in more kindness. When you try to help others it’s more likely that they will try to help you back.
- Lead by example. If you want people to be passionate about their task, it’s important that they also see you are passionate about them. This is super important to keep your team motivated and fulfilled.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
I’d tell them to trust their team, at the end if you hired them it’s because they are capable of doing the job. People want to be treated with respect, and to be recognized. Show them that you are not there because you have the power to decide what has to be done, but to help them become great professionals and grow in the company.
What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
In large teams, I believe it’s important to define clear goals and to delegate as much as possible. It’s very difficult to supervise many people, so you can have senior members to supervise the junior ones. This is an excellent way to show to your senior members that you trust them and to let them get leadership skills. Also, ask for feedback as many times as you can. Be open to making adjustments based on their input. Remember that, even in large teams, communication is key.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Many people helped me get where I am today, especially by inspiring me to be the greatest version of myself. At University, my friends were very smart and that motivated me to study in order to be like them. With my master’s degree, I also had the opportunity to meet excellent people who were really passionate about research and machine learning, which made me love these fields even more. During my PhD, I had a great director that pushed me and motivated me to keep learning and investigating. I wouldn’t be the person that I am right now without them.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The greatest thing about doing a PhD is that you get the opportunity to contribute to the world with more knowledge. In my case, this dissertation was also focused on the idea of making online advertising better for all stakeholders. Also, I want to believe that by teaching Data Science and with talks, like the one I did at CodeOp, I can also contribute to motivate other people in pursuing their dreams in the world of data.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’d love to keep working on making the internet a safer place, especially for kids! It would be great to inspire a movement focused on “Ethical and Responsible Online Advertising”, which improves the quality and integrity of online advertising while promoting privacy, truth, and accountability in this influential digital space.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Shikin Haramitsu Daikomyo”. I have been practicing martial arts for 10 years, and this is a sentence we say that means “keep learning from all experiences — good or bad”. When I have too many things under my radar, and anxiety kicks in, it helps me to think that I’m just learning how to handle these types of situations better, and that it doesn’t matter if things don’t go perfectly, as long as I learn how to do them better the next time.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
It would be super interesting to have lunch with Bill Gates! I believe he is super smart and I’d love to listen to the lessons that he learnt while working in Microsoft and the projects he did afterwards with his foundation. I’m sure I could learn a lot from just one lunch with him.