STEM Innovation of Tomorrow
By Gloria Romano-Barrera
Continued growth in STEM industry jobs means increased opportunities in STEM occupations, however, in a 2018 Pew Research Center report, Hispanics were shown to be significantly underrepresented in the STEM workforce. According to the report, Hispanics only hold seven percent of STEM jobs, less than half the size of their share in the U.S. workforce (16 percent). Meet three dedicated and innovative Latinas, Yhanira L. Adán Martínez and Itzel Martinez, who did not miss any opportunity to accomplish their goals in the STEM field.
Yhanira L. Adán Martínez
Assistant Vice President
HR Operational Excellence
A first-generation Mexican born and raised in Eagle Pass, TX, Yhanira L. Adán Martínez is the youngest of eight children and was the first to venture off to college receiving a bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Management Science.
After 10 years away from the family, first at college in Boston and then at Hewlett-Packard’s headquarters in Palo Alto, CA, she felt it was time to return home since her parents were getting older and wanted to grow some roots with her immediate family and son.
“San Antonio was the closest I could be to my hometown, Eagle Pass, and still have a corporate job,” she shares. “USAA stood out as an employer of choice. I visited its website, read the mission and quickly applied. Talk about timing and opportunity: they were looking for individuals with my specific skills and background and was quickly flown in for an interview. The day after the interview I received a phone call with an offer and an opportunity to start in two weeks. I ended my job with HP after eight years on a Friday and reported in for my next chapter that following Monday. To this day I credit God for lining up every opportunity and obstacle I have encountered. Each one of them has led me to where I am today.”
As a first-generation Latina, her values are heavily influenced by the upbringing of her Mexican-born, Catholic and traditional parents. “To say my family greatly impacted me and my work ethic would be an understatement. I still struggle with being an overachiever because of that influence,” she shares. “We also love hard. When we care for people, we really care. Being the youngest of eight children I always felt loved and supported. Honesty and integrity are also nonnegotiable and for that reason, I always extend trust immediately – given for someone to keep or lose based on their actions.”
After joining USAA in 2007 she furthered her education receiving an MBA from the University of Texas at San Antonio. During her tenure at the financial services company in San Antonio, she has held several leadership roles, most recently the Assistant Vice President responsible for HR Operational Excellence. She leads a team that focuses on improving employee experiences as well as building a financially-sound foundation across HR capabilities for the enterprise.
She currently co-sponsors and was also highly involved in USAA’s launch of Elevate, a gender diversity and inclusion business group. She is also an active member of Aspire, a DBG that focuses on advancing women in technology. Her true passion lies in developing others and creating conditions for people to succeed. She inspires others by sharing her journey from childhood to college, from IT to Marketing, and most recently from the Business to HR.
“Hispanic mentors are very limited, especially as you move up the executive ladder,” she shares. “If you picture the pyramid distribution of women in the workforce, we represent half and about 50 percent of entry roles. That representation shrinks significantly to about 15 percent as you move up into C-suite positions, and the same applies to people of color. While it would be great to see more Latinas in executive positions, some of my best mentors were not of my heritage. Don’t just focus on finding someone who looks like you: look for someone who genuinely cares about developing you, someone who challenges you and holds you accountable, someone who shares their personal experiences with you – successes and failures – and someone who serves as your advocate when needed. I looked for people who were great leaders, knew the business and who I would personally work for if the opportunity came up. Seek good quality mentors, invest in a brand that you respect, and as you advance your career, pay it forward.”
Software Engineer, Pandora
Founder, Latinas Engineering Leadership Program
A graduate from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Itzel Martinez had three important moments in her life that helped to lead her to pursue her career. In high school, she attended a Math and Science magnet school where she was exposed to engineering and planted the seed of pursuing engineering, but it was not until she began college at UC Berkeley, that she got exposed to the career that would change her life forever – Computer Science (CS).
“When I went off to college I was actually declared as a Bioengineering major and was looking for an extra class to meet my unit requirements for my first semester,” she shares. “A college counselor at the Cesar Chavez building at Berkeley recommended that I should take an introductory course to Computer Science because he said it was important to be exposed to this field that was very popular in the Bay area, and so I did. My first exposure to Computer Science (CS) was through an introductory course that I took my first semester called, “The Beauty and Joy of Computing,” which was taught by the most enthusiastic professor I have ever met – Dan Garcia.”
This intro class opened her eyes to the limitless job opportunities in computer science, an industry she looked forward to being a part of – Technology, Education, Media, Health Care, Travel, and Finance.
“By learning coding skills, I wouldn’t have to stay in one industry throughout my professional career because technology is everywhere, and that was a very important reason for deciding to pursue Computer Science.”
For Martinez, her experiences and roots have shaped the person she is. At the age of seven, in 2002, her family decided to move to the United States, like many other families, in search of a better life and educational opportunities for their children.
At the age of nine, her parents separated, which left her mom to raise three kids on her own. “Life as an immigrant kid without my family around, not being able to speak English, and living in a single-parent household within a dangerous community taught me to figure things out on my own at a very young age,” she shares. “At a very young age, my mother instilled in me the value of education, and even though my grandma never learned how to read and my mom only graduated from middle school, I knew that the only way to help out my family was by pursuing an education and so graduating from college became my dream. I didn’t really think of my future beyond graduating college because I didn’t know what lied ahead but the values I learned growing up have never left me.”
One of Martinez’ greatest accomplishments was being part of the team who developed the features to transition Soundcloud’s advertisement business over to Pandora. Another accomplishment she is very proud of is to participate in the Pandora Women in Tech Summit a year after she started working at the company.
“It is really important to believe in yourself,” she shares. “There are two types of confidence, the first is confidence in your communication skills, and the second is technical confidence, which is how confident you are in your ability to figure out a technical or scientific problem. It is very important that you practice building your technical confidence because once you know how to navigate and explain a technical problem, it will be easier to share your ideas in meetings.”
Martinez is a member of the Advisory Committees for Code.org and FabFems – an initiative that aims to expose more girls to role models in STEM. She also serves as a Tech Advisor to the Hispanic Heritage Foundation and is a Code2040 Alum, Latino Board Leadership Academy Fellow, and a 2019 Winner.
The Latinas Engineering Leadership Program has been recognized by the Westly Foundation, which awards a $40,000 prize once a year to three early-stage, young social innovators in California with novel solutions to community challenges. She also co-created a YouTube Channel () where she shares her experience working in the tech industry as well as professional development advice (careers in tech, resume tips, what to expect during an internship) for college students interested in tech.