Barbara Marti has worked in IT at PostFinance for 32 years and has held management positions for 28 years. Since the beginning of March 2021, she has been responsible for the Payment Solutions IT Services unit – and therefore for all IT matters relating to card money and to national and international payment transactions. In this interview, she answers questions about her professional career and leadership in an area that provides exciting opportunities for employees who enjoy analytical thinking. Both women and men.
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“Even difficult truths need to be told.”
We are profiling women who work in management positions at PostFinance. We start with Barbara Marti, who has been Head of Payment Solutions IT Services since the beginning of March.
Who would enjoy a job in IT? In other words: what kind of person would you recommend IT to as a profession?
It is a cliché to equate IT jobs with technology, although this is not the case. In many IT jobs, collaboration and communication with people are far more important than machines and technology. The field of ICT encompasses a wide range of professions. And this broad field is an attractive environment for anyone keen on analysis and with an inclination for logical thinking. Anyone with these strengths should take a closer look at jobs in ICT.
How did you get into IT and your first management position?
After studying physics, I made a lateral career move and started in IT at PostFinance. Since there was no official qualification in software development at the time, I took a crash course that the Swiss Post Group provided for its internal employees, which was common practice among many major companies at the time. I then trained other career entrants to become programmers. After three years of working in programming and data modelling, I was entrusted with the management of a training team, giving me my first management role.
Why did you decide to study physics?
I liked mathematics, I enjoyed mathematical logic, so I knew what direction I wanted to take in school. When choosing my university studies, I weighed up the options between mathematics and physics, and opted for the more applied discipline. So my choice of studies and career were a logical consequence of what I enjoyed at school.
What’s important to you as a manager?
Ensuring that I keep questioning myself and my impact on others, and that I remain true to myself. That includes telling it like it is and not glossing over unpleasant situations. Even hard truths need to be told. I had to learn that. It’s the only way to keep your credibility and to show your counterpart that you take them seriously.
What else did you have to learn at first when you became a manager?
I used to want to do everything myself. I had to get used to the idea of other people doing something on my behalf for which I was responsible. I realized that I liked that feeling.
Are there typically female skills?
It is massively simplistic to reduce the types of people in a professional setting to men and women. The key factor is personality, of which gender is only a part. But of course there are differences between men and women, especially in their preferences. I always try to deploy employees according to their preferences. Man or woman: it’s important to enjoy doing what you do. Because when you enjoy your work you also develop your skills. That’s why I’m strongly against quotas. There are areas that men or women are more attracted to. I think it’s wrong to impose artificial quotas.
What advice do you have for women who aspire to management positions?
My advice is aimed equally at women and men: if you notice that you have affinity for leadership – you can usually tell early on in childhood or adolescence, when doing sports or club activities, for example – I recommend that everyone take on responsibility in a management position. For women, I believe it’s especially important that they don’t try to act like a “better” version of a man, but that they simply remain women. This applies to your behaviour, how you come across or how you dress. Personally, I never understood, for example, women in management positions wearing suits and disguising themselves as men.
How did you become aware that you wanted to take on managerial responsibility?
As early as high school and university, I had jobs and was given responsibility relatively quickly. I was also on the board of several clubs before my professional life. Obviously I had some managerial tendencies very early on. But I only noticed this much later than the others around me and my former bosses.
You are a manager in a male-dominated environment. What is that like for you?
I’ve always worked in a male-dominated environment and never found it a problem. Maybe that’s also because I never turned gender into an issue. That’s how it was for me growing up: we were two boys and two girls and we never noticed any difference. The world was equally open to all of us, and there was nothing we shouldn’t strive for. By the way, IT is not male-dominated in all areas: in less technology-oriented IT occupations, the mix is closer to 50:50.
And how do you deal with situations where you encounter problems with acceptance just because you are a woman?
In IT, we deal with specialists from all over the world and a wide variety of cultures. It’s important to be attentive and notice when difficulties arise – whether they are gender or hierarchy-related or whatever else. I respond by addressing and clarifying them – very pragmatically.
In your opinion, how can managers contribute to promoting women to management positions?
Above all, a manager must address the fact that motherhood and a management position can be combined – whether in the form of part-time management jobs or the possibility of putting your management career on hold for a certain period of time and then resuming it. On the other hand, it is important for women to signal that they want to hold management positions and that they want to commit to it. As a manager, it is often up to me to give them that final push to apply for a management position.
How do you deal with setbacks in your day-to-day work?
I find out whether something was just bad luck or whether and what I could have done better. But I don’t spend too much time obsessing about what happened. That’s a waste of energy. Instead, I concentrate on the next steps. I also do this when I fail to push through an idea. Then I have to ask myself: was I too hasty? Was I wrong? Did I steamroll somebody with my idea? Or was it just not ready or right? Were there too many other factors? Or was it the right idea but at the wrong time? In summary, I analyse, organize and move forward.
Is the way you do things learned or an innate ability?
A lot of it is learned. For example, nowadays hardly anyone believes that I rarely used to communicate in large groups and was rather shy. You can learn a lot and find great enjoyment, particularly from the things you have worked hard to overcome. However, what I do have – whether it is innate or learned from my parents – is my basic confidence that things will turn out well. This is a great gift and one of my strengths.
One more question about the next generation of IT professionals: the proportion of men is still significantly higher in technical IT professions. Shouldn’t more be done to steer girl’s preferences in a more technical direction?
If we want to intervene, it has to be at the lower grade levels. Although I’m not sure this is a task for our educational institutions. When I look back on my own path, my initial impetus came from my home life: my father and brother are electrical engineers, and I was drawn to that sector too. To me, the most important thing seems to be an education that emphasizes that there is no disadvantage to being a woman or a man.
Barbara Marti is Head of Payment Solutions IT Services at PostFinance.