As president of Honeywell SST, Sarah Martin leads Honeywell’s global sensing business in healthcare, aerospace, transportation, logistics and industrial applications, helping customers operate in a safer and more sustainable manner. Outside of Honeywell, Sarah balances her career as a female leader by spending time with her husband, Scott, and 14-year-old daughter, Grace. She’s a passionate fan of Manchester United Football Club, an avid reader of all things history, literature and food writing, and a devoted supporter of Children’s Heart Charities.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current role.

As President of Honeywell Sensing & Safety Technologies (SST), I lead Honeywell’s global sensing and safety business to serve a broad range of industries. We have one of the broadest advanced sensing portfolios available, with more than 50,000 sensors, switches, detectors and other solutions used in critical healthcare equipment, commercial aircraft and industrial equipment. The work we do helps drive better health outcomes for patients, protects workers and workplaces from dangerous gasses and provides cutting-edge sensing technology in electric vehicle batteries to help keep drivers safe.

I spent the first 15 years of my career in electronics manufacturing, which was one of the best learning grounds for a young tech professional. Through both commercial and operational roles, I learned how to be customer-centric, how businesses run, how to stay ahead of the curve and innovate with new services in new markets.

I came to Honeywell in 2011 in product management and, over time, I was able to take on more senior positions, oversee a team and now lead one of Honeywell’s oldest businesses.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

No, not necessarily. I’ve tried out a range of different roles throughout my working life, even if they weren’t necessarily the best fit, and I think that was key to me carving out my career path. The more experience you get in different roles, the more your confidence and credibility build. It allows you to look at problems from different perspectives.

In my opinion, if you just come up through one pillar, it can make you very deeply experienced in one area but can make it difficult to apply that knowledge in practice, especially when you’re trying to solve problems and bring teams together. So, I think not having a strict plan for my career has benefitted me in the long run.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

One of the greatest challenges that I’ve faced, as is the case for many women, is work-life balance. Balancing work with personal lives, be it spending time with family or pursuing interests outside of work, is one of the biggest priorities for many women in business – there was a study published in 2021 that showed this was more important than salary for 59% of working women in the UK.

Despite the prioritisation, the balance can be hard to achieve. Since the pandemic, there have been studies indicating that just 39% of women feel they have a good work-life balance. It can be easy to fall into a pattern of focusing solely on work and refusing to delegate, especially when you’re trying to get ahead and prove yourself. One way that I’ve found of combatting this is by setting boundaries between work and your personal life, and not allowing yourself to feel guilty for putting those boundaries in place.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world as we knew it stopped. From a business perspective, this meant that our pipeline of new orders for many of the industries we serve, like air travel, slowed down significantly. But at the same time, other industries had critical needs: our sensors were being used in 80% of ventilators around the world, and we suddenly had to meet an unprecedented demand for this vital sensing technology.

Ventilators and other medical equipment were often the only means of treating the severely ill during the initial months of the COVID pandemic. But there were not enough units to meet demand. Orders for sensors that go into ventilators and oxygen concentrators at the start of the pandemic increased five-fold.

As a leading supplier of medical sensors, we met the challenge. And we are still supporting healthcare — developing next-generation sensors that make critical medical equipment more accurate, reliable, long-lasting and high-performing.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?  

I’ve taken risks and embraced change throughout every step of my career. Moving to Honeywell, relocating to the United States and taking on merging two internal business groups within Honeywell were all major risks I took. Sometimes you have to take the risk — especially as women, we shouldn’t have to persuade ourselves that we are good enough to take on a challenge. We are already capable. Take your risk, and you’ll be able to figure it out along the way. And for the pieces you don’t know how to do yet, build a network, find a mentor and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Keeping that in mind was the thing that changed my career.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology? 

The first piece of advice I’d give to someone trying to excel in their career in technology is to keep in mind a core purpose and allow that to guide your work. For example, at Honeywell, one of the key purposes I keep in mind is enabling all the different technologies in a hospital setting to talk to each other and connect the dots, which makes for a better patient experience and stronger health outcomes.

Linking to this, it’s also important to ask yourself what problems you are trying to solve. You can end up with an interesting and technically impressive piece of technology, but it doesn’t mean much if it’s unable to meet real-world challenges. You must be able to put yourself in your customers’ shoes and keep their needs top of mind.

It is also important to embrace and get comfortable with change. It is truly the only constant. Stretching yourself into unknown areas and taking on new challenges has helped me throughout my career.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Yes, definitely. Women tend to set themselves high standards and 81% of women put more pressure on themselves than men, meaning they talk themselves out of opportunities if they don’t meet every requirement on the job specification.  To overcome this, it’s important that women entering the industry have support and access to mentors who will empower them. This can give women the confidence to see they have a right not only to be at the table but to have their voices heard in critical conversations.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

There’s nothing that beats practical experience. At Honeywell, we take on interns every year and it’s one of the most rewarding things we do. There are some amazing people out there who are hungry for experience, and I wish we could hire them all because they just bring so much life and energy to the organisation. I think organisations need to ensure that these opportunities are accessible to women and that women know about them.

Companies also need to make sure once they have women in the organisation that they maintain the appropriate policies to keep them there. It starts at the top: Having a diverse leadership group allows women to see role models in positions they can strive for.

Ensuring tech opportunities are accessible to women is only the first step – implementing practices to retain this talent is just as important. Especially during the middle of their careers, when women may be more likely to take breaks, they need the support to be able to return to work. Overall, companies need to be more flexible and invest in women’s careers from start to end.

There are currently only 15% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry? 

I would make technology a bigger part of girls’ education when they are at school. If we encourage more girls to be interested in STEM subjects from a young age and ensure they understand they have the same capabilities as boys, they’re more likely to enter the tech field as adults. Currently, women are underrepresented in the UK’s STEM sectors, making up less than one-third of the nation’s STEM workforce and comprising only 35% of the higher education students studying STEM-related subjects. Increasing the representation of women in the workforce starts by encouraging girls to consider STEM subjects in schools.

Even for girls who don’t have an active interest in STEM, improving tech education can help foster greater problem-solving and analytical skills that are beneficial in all manner of professions. And, increasingly, it may allow innovative women to identify where tech crosses into subjects they are passionate about. Ultimately, your school experience is key in influencing your career path, this is where change should start.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, e.g., podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

Networking, and the ability to dig out opportunities such as internships, is an incredibly valuable skills to have when working in tech. One of the best ways to do this is through events and conferences, where there are lots of industry professionals and experts to connect with who can help women further their careers and professional interests. A great example is the European Women in Technology conference, which covers a broad variety of technologies across different talks. However, this is just one of many, and a lot of events and conferences can now be found online, making them even more accessible to women.

Overall, the best resources are the ones that fit with the areas that women are passionate about. Whether it’s a podcast on entrepreneurship, a networking event for women in tech or even a textbook volume on mechanical engineering, the most important thing is that you make the most of it — and feel comfortable doing so.

Read more from our inspirational women here.