11 Dec 23

Inspiring Woman in Fleet: Sabina Martin

“Always hire the best person for the job”

Sabina Martin, Vice President of Product Management (Geotab)

Sabina Martin is part of a generation of young women who see traditional gender patterns firmly in the rear-view mirror. As a young girl, she loved math and science. It led her to a degree in engineering. An engineering project on bio-instrumentation led her into the fleet industry. At Geotab more specifically, where she rose to become the company’s VP of Product Management. 

Tell us a bit more about how you got into Geotab.

“It was definitely by accident (laughs). I first learnt about the fleet industry through an engineering research project focused on a wearable device to detect driver drowsiness at the wheel. The aim was to alert drivers of fatigue to help mitigate accidents and improve driver safety. In the course of that project, I ended up joining Geotab and found myself deep in the fleet industry. I’ve now been part of it for eight years, seeing it evolve and grow.”

Fleet is still a mainly male-dominated industry. Did that pose any challenges for you?

“Surprisingly, no. I would not say that my most prominent challenges had anything to do with my being a woman among mostly men. Could there have been subtle obstacles and challenges? Certainly; but my attitude has always been to treat these perceived issues with a grain of salt. I focus on earning and showing respect, through good work and collaboration.”

Let’s turn that question around. Do you think being a woman among mostly men gives you certain advantages, in terms of different insights, viewpoints and talents? 

“There is a tendency which I have observed in myself and also in other female colleagues: that is to listen a lot more, and to not necessarily be the loudest person in the room when you’re having a meeting or a conversation.”

“That’s a double-edged sword, as it can also signal having less confidence to speak up compared to male colleagues. Other times, it’s down to intuition and the tendency to want to process information, absorb the perspectives, put some critical thinking into an idea – and then provide a solution, rather than offer an on-the-fly response.”

“Women also tend to be the ones who call on others to speak whereas others might not have observed that someone is waiting to contribute.”

“In short, I think that bringing people of different genders and backgrounds and types of education together creates strategic advantages for organisations, especially global ones.”

On that topic: have you seen the gender balance change since you started in this industry? And if so, has it changed anything?

“The gender balance has gotten slightly better, but sadly I can’t say that I’ve observed a drastic difference in terms of overall distribution. At a leadership level, it’s been refreshing to see OEMs and other industry-leading companies bring in more female leadership. However, on the technology side, women are typically mainly present on the lower end of the hierarchy.”

“For myself, I’m privileged to have this career opportunity. And I feel very grateful that I don’t have to think often about the gender topic in my day to day.”

More inclusivity brings strategic advantages, you say. So how can CEOs improve the gender balance in their companies?

“My advice is to always hire the best person for the job. The key to inclusivity is giving the right candidates the opportunity to participate in the race for the job. But really, it boils down to picking those who have the right skill level, leadership qualities, and the culture you are looking for to ensure your workforce functions as expected.”

“To get there, I would advise that CEO to ensure that HR and recruiting practices encourage this. And then to drive these principles and this culture within their organisation.”

“My other tip would be not to have ‘poster employees’. Don’t use one person of colour or a few females to drive your advertising or conversation around this topic.  Look for diverse perspectives, even if you don’t have a high diversity number. Drive a practice of truth and realism with the principles of doing the right thing, and the rest should hopefully follow.”

What if you’re a young fleet industry entrant today? How would you advise them to further their career?

“Three tips. One: say yes to opportunities, even if you don’t feel 100% confident that you have what it takes. You will be challenged, but you will figure it out. And you’ll grow as a result.”

“Two: you don’t always need to speak to add value. There are times when there is power in listening, processing, and sharing your perspective afterwards.”

“And three: ask thought-provoking questions. If you have a complaint or want to make a statement, formulating it as a question is a good way to open up a dialogue. That can set the topic on the pathway to a resolution, whereas otherwise the discussion might have been shut down.” 

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self as she started out in this industry? 

“That’s a tough one. It would probably be something like: You don’t know what’s ahead but keep working hard and the future will figure itself out. You don’t need a plan and to always know where you are headed next.” 

You’ve been in this industry for eight years. In that relatively short time, which achievements are you particularly proud of?

“I’m proud of having started the product management team at Geotab, and seeing the evolution of design, customer thinking, and collaboration across the product development teams that have emerged.”

“We are constantly looking to improve, so it feels like an ongoing journey. But I’m thankful for and proud of the team that has worked hard to do better every day. We recently moved to a continuous deployment model to enable further innovation, and this was a big milestone for all the teams.”

Do you feel you are being recognised for your achievements?

“For me, indirect recognition comes from the career opportunities I’ve had; from the privilege of having worked across several departments: including our back-end server reliability teams, support, solutions engineering, and now product management. And last but not least, from the opportunity to lead teams of various sizes.”

How have those experiences impacted your career? 

“I think the exposure to both business and technical areas of the business have given me a well-rounded experience and equipped me with the acumen to be more strategic and focus on innovative projects.”

Female professionals often have a lot more on their plate than their male counterparts, as they’re traditionally expected to assume lots of domestic tasks as well, be it as a wife, mother, or manager of the home. How do you deal with that?

“I’m not yet a mother, but I am a wife. And I have experience with the challenge of not getting distracted with work at dinner or during the weekend. I’ve had to learn to establish boundaries, and to set time aside for personal things like spending time with family, exercising and playing sports – all of which can be great stress relievers.”

“For example, if I know I need to catch up on work in the weekend, I’ll carve out the time I need to do it, and then I will get back to quality time.” 

To finish, two questions about inspiration. Who is your hero? And which motto summarises what drives you?

“Hero questions are tough. I look up to several people, members of my family included. Besides that, there is something about athletes that uniquely inspires me. It’s their commitment to get up every day and train to get better at a single sport, and to go through waves of success and failure. I’d say Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer are up there for me. Also, here at Geotab, there are quite a few people who are a great source of inspiration as well.”

“As for a motto, here’s a quote from my mother that I always keep in the back of my mind: Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. It doesn’t define me, but whenever I have a new challenge ahead of me, it reminds me that the most daunting things can be managed by preparation and effort.”

Authored by: Laurie Marganne