María Fernanda Cabrera: "Women Shouldn't Conform or Pretend to Be Somebody They're Not"

María Fernanda Cabrera, Innovation Director at the LifeSTech Research Group, is one of GenderSTI's #WomenInLeadership nominees.

María Fernanda Cabrera was nominated for Gender STI's #WomenInLeadership Campaign, which celebrates women leaders in science, technology and innovation, by the LifeSTech Research Group in Spain.

She is the Innovation Director of the LifeSTech research group and an Associate Professor at the Telecommunications School at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. Cabrera has been involved in European Research Programmes since 1998 and has been responsible for the concept development and coordination of large multi-disciplinary national and international projects.

Cabrera spoke to Gender STI about her experience as a woman leader in honor of International Women's Day 2021.

Can you tell us a bit about your job and your responsibilities?

As an innovation director of an internationally recognized research group in the areas of e-health and e-inclusion, my main role is to design, plan and model innovative solutions that contribute to improve the quality of life of people. This role requires me to be permanently up to date on the latest technologies and developments and also have the creativity to apply them in specific areas. It also gives me the opportunity to share this knowledge through teaching at the university as a professor of biomedical engineering.

Did you face any challenges on your journey to become a woman leader? How did you overcome them?

I have rarely faced situations in my career where there were preconceptions against me from other collaborators questioning my leadership to run a new program. Another challenge I had and occasionally still have is how to get work-life balance right, particularly when you have young children. I do not think there is right or wrong or “one size fits all” strategy, it is a personal choice on how you balance your work and personal life. This applies both women and men.

What goals do you have as a leader?

I feel privileged to work in a group where our main objective is to contribute to creating a better world by transforming health and social care models through information and communication technologies. As a leader, I strive to convey my passion for research and inspire group members, partners I collaborate with, and, of course, my students.

I am strong believer that if you are good at what you are doing, you really enjoy your work and you do the right thing, you will create the work atmosphere to succeed in your initiatives.

How would you describe the gender balance in decision making in science, technology and innovation (STI)?

As per my experience, most of my high-level meetings are unbalanced in all areas, such as European projects, conferences, committees, etc. However, there has been a positive trend over the last years and the situation is changing. I feel proud to work in a research group where the senior management are mostly women.

What would you tell young girls and women who would like to become leaders in their professional fields one day?

I would tell them not to conform or pretend to be somebody they are not. They should focus on their strengths and abilities, do what they think is right and, most importantly, remain authentic. In my opinion, this will inevitably make them excel.

As you may know, the Gender STI project focuses on promoting gender equality in international cooperation in STI. Do you have any ideas on how we could promote gender equality in this area?

Some ideas could be to select leaders and promote conferences where experiences and gender equality topics are shared. Additionally, ambassadors with communication and networking qualities could be chosen in different countries to continuously promote equality. Moreover, a frequent communication channel could be established on a biweekly or monthly basis with specific gender equality issues of experiences, projects, initiatives, opportunities, etc.

What do you think needs to be done to increase the number of women leaders in STI?

One relevant action could be for the university to publicize the professional careers within the scope of STI and feature the success stories of women. In addition, through the Gender STI initiative, we could create a network of women in science and technology that perform coaching and mentoring work.

Follow Gender STI’s #WomenInLeadership campaign on TwitterLinkedIn and Facebook for more great interviews. Join the conversation using #WomenInLeadership, #IWD2021 and #GenderSTI.

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