Inspirational Woman: Karina Hernandez | Senior Technical Project Management Leader, Ninja Motorised Team, Shark Ninja

Karina HernandezKarina holds a BEng in Chemical Engineering and an MSc in Polymer Science and Engineering. After starting work in the polymer industry, Karina gained experience in roles such as Polymer Technologist, Processing Engineer and Senior Plastics Technologist.

After discovering her love for project management, she joined SharkNinja as Senior Technical Project Management Leader for the Ninja Motorised team. Karina is a passionate advocate for change, improvement and equality, so proudly operates within SharkNinja’s internal WeLead, DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) and Environment committees.

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

I graduated in Chemical Engineering back in Colombia and then moved to the UK for personal reasons, seeing the move as an opportunity to improve my language skills and learn about other cultures. I spent a couple of years improving my English before I landed an internship within a polymer consultancy department. This led me to do an MSc in Polymer Science and Engineering, this consequently leading to the start of my professional career.

I currently work at leading home technology firm SharkNinja as a “Senior Technical Project Management Leader” within the Ninja Motorised team. The key part of my role is communication. Some of my colleagues describe me as the “glue” which keeps the three sites connected by communicating technical updates and any issues which arise. Another element of my role which I particularly enjoy is making sure the Motorised team members have everything they need to carry out their jobs as efficiently as possible and looking after their wellbeing too.

In addition to my role and responsibilities, I love participating in initiatives which have a positive impact on the daily routine and personal lives of my colleagues. I am part of “WeLead”, SharkNinja’s incredible internal programme which promotes women in the workplace, the “DEI” (diversity, equity, inclusion) committee and the “Environment” committee. It’s important for me to work for a company which prioritises these issues and enjoy dedicating time to progressive initiatives such as these. I see it as a way of giving back to future generations and helping to lead the way for better opportunities.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I honestly didn’t. However, along the way I learned to identify what I wouldn’t want my career to become. Through this, I have worked to find alternatives that allow me to be successful whilst having a reasonable work/life balance and a very happy life.

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

I certainly have. Starting my career in the UK as an immigrant wasn’t easy. It wasn’t as difficult as other people I know, but nevertheless, it was a constant challenge…

Obstacle 1: Getting an internship in the UK with a degree from a non-European country.

Not an easy task. I started knocking on doors and leaving my CV at different places and I finally got an unpaid opportunity working as a Polymer Consultant assistant. I would work very hard during the day to prove myself and then work in catering jobs in the evenings to cover my living expenses…luckily, the department then offered me a salary after two weeks so I could leave my evening job and learn even more!

Obstacle 2: Holding a passport that wouldn’t allow me to get a full-time job.

At the time I learned about a scheme called “Highly Skilled Migrant” which would award you points based on your qualifications, age and experience. If you were part of the scheme, you were able to look for a job in the UK without needing a formal job offer. So, I started preparing myself for that - hence my internship and then my MSc. By the time I applied for the Highly Skilled Program, not only did I qualify without problems, but I also had a full-time job which offer to cover all the expenses.

Obstacle 3: Being a woman in a male dominated industry is not easy, let alone belonging to a minority group. I have learned what discrimination feels like, but have come to understand that often it is caused by ignorance.  Therefore, I always try to respond to any discrimination with facts, hoping that I can teach others that neither your gender or ethnicity defines how good you are or what skills you possess. I am so passionate about this message and being part of SharkNinja’s WeLead and DEI groups allows me to exercise this in my working environment. Being part of a company which promotes these changes is extremely motivating and I love being part of initiatives which continue to make our workplace even more progressive from a gender and ethnicity point of view.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I honestly think there isn’t one, all accomplishments have had an impact on my career development…but being able to succeed at leading projects, switching between industries and being able to adapt and learn quickly is something I feel happy and proud of.

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

Determination, resilience and a constant will to learn.

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

  • Always be ready and never stop learning. Technology moves fast and if you want to be on top of your game you want to be in the group that is leading/showing the way
  • Identify what you like and what you don’t like, we excel at things we enjoy
  • Be strong and determined but also kind
  • Stand your ground but always listen to what others have to say

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

There are certainly less barriers now, but it would be wrong to say they don’t still exist. For these to be overcome, it is important that firms offer more internships and other avenues for women to get into STEM and that schools promote engineering/technology studies to everyone – these subjects are not only for boys! I also think initiatives which encourage female confidence are extremely important, whether that’s mentoring programmes or support groups in schools, universities and businesses. When I joined SharkNinja, I was so pleased to learn about its innovative WeLead programme, which provides a global support network for women across the company, as well as education and entry avenues into STEM through joint ventures with universities and schools. Being part of this group allows me to offer my support to other women, whilst surrounding myself with strong women means I can continue to support myself. It’s been amazing to see the ratio of women in Senior Roles steadily increasing at SharkNinja and how their performance has made a significant impact on the business. I love knowing that I am part of a group making a tangible difference when it comes to gender equality in STEM.

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

  • Promoting training and learning new skills
  • Representing the companies in talks/conferences
  • Equal pay
  • “0” tolerance towards gender discrimination
  • Equal opportunities to promotions and pay rises
  • Extend flexibility for mums

There is currently only 17% 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?

  • Going back a few years I would make sure education was a priority for all, so that all women were able to go to school and undertake technology related subjects
  • I would also work to give mums more options for part time jobs and training

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

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