Marta Ostroumoff, Finance Director at Oxbotica | Oxbotica

17th June 2020

Marta Ostroumoff, Finance Director at Oxbotica

Marta Ostroumoff 

Finance Director, Oxbotica

From car showrooms, through to manufacturing and motorsport, and now software engineering; Marta has always worked in male-dominated industries – and now, she’s never more at home than when she’s juggling funding rounds and joint ventures in the boardroom at Oxbotica.

Read more about Marta’s experience as a woman in the technology industry, what she thinks women bring to the boardroom and her advice to those just starting out.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and where you were working before Oxbotica?

I’m originally from Poland, and I came to the UK in 1998 as a student. Like many young Polish students, I wanted to study here to learn the language. When I graduated, I completed my ACCA and took a job as a management accountant at a manufacturing business. My real breakthrough was with ProDrive, a leading motorsport business where I was Head of Finance for the engineering division which serviced Tier 1 clients and OEMs. After the birth of my first daughter, I decided to start my own business so I could work more flexibly, and Oxbotica was one of my clients. Back then, there were only six employees. I worked with Oxbotica for two years, before in 2017, the then CEO Graeme Smith approached me and asked me to go full-time.

Why did you choose to work at Oxbotica?

What inspired me was the technology – it was a totally unique concept, and the company had such an exciting vision. There aren’t many businesses out there, founded in academia, but determined to develop and ultimately to commercialise a pioneering solution in an embryonic industry.

I loved working as a consultant and had worked hard to build my business, so nothing short of an exceptional opportunity would have persuaded me to take another full time commitment.

  • “There aren’t many businesses out there, founded in academia, but determined to develop and ultimately to commercialise a pioneering solution in an embryonic industry.”

Can you describe a typical day at Oxbotica?

Well, of course, there is no typical day at Oxbotica. We have a very relaxed culture which is wonderful, there is no clock-watching or micro-management. Your contractual hours are 9-5 but no one truly works that, you’re welcome to adapt your hours to suit how you work best.

I get up at 5:30am – and commute for a couple of hours by car each day, and I really enjoy it. People laugh, but it’s testament to the commitment I have for the business. It gives me time to process what I need to do that day. My meetings, the deadlines my team must meet, and any ad-hoc tasks.

There’s plenty to do – as a successful scale-up – you have to do your daily job but you have to be ready to respond to change and leave time in your day to adapt at pace. This can be daunting for some but the right kind of people thrive here – I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing my team all working away.

As I sit on the Board of Management, I am very much part of the decision-making process – from funding rounds to expansion plans – it’s fast-moving and exciting.

What is the most fulfilling aspect of your job?

It sounds like a cliché, but for me it’s definitely the people. We are lucky that we foster an environment in which my colleagues will ask for advice very openly and honestly. It means a lot to me that I am held in high trust – whether the challenge is personal or professional. I love interacting with people and feel very fortunate to have a hand in influencing decisions and mentoring people.

How do you find being a woman in a predominantly male industry, like technology?

Throughout my whole career, I’ve worked in predominantly male teams and so that’s all I know; from car showrooms, through to manufacturing and motorsport and now software engineering.

I am encouraged to speak openly about these things at Oxbotica – but there is a lack of women in senior roles in our industry, and that makes it more challenging for women to reach their potential. And so, everything I do at board level I do to promote women in the workplace, I stay true to myself and don’t meter my behaviour.

I think the dilemma is that women work differently, and whether we like it or not in a male-dominated industry, the way we do things will be perceived as ‘different’,and people are resistant to change. Women work more collaboratively, and the industries that embrace collaboration like fashion, are very successful because collaboration breeds innovation, and creates industries that are fast to adapt.

  • “Women work more collaboratively, and the industries that embrace collaboration like fashion, are very successful because collaboration breeds innovation, and creates industries that are fast to adapt.”

What advice do you have for other women looking to progress in the industry?

The more senior you become, the more likely it is that you might be the only woman in the room. This can feel like hitting a glass ceiling, and it can become frustrating to continuously express your ideas, and see those ideas not being implemented. It is easy to feel that you are not taken as seriously as your male colleagues, and there is an argument that it can take more effort to achieve the same outcome.

I believe you gain respect in a male dominated environment by ensuring you’re an expert in your field. It gives you the ammunition to stand out, and also gain respect around a table. So, specialise – find something that you love, discover your niche – and pursue it.

Do you think that more needs to be done to recruit women into STEM careers?

I think more young women are choosing maths and engineering, and the situation is starting to right itself. The main challenge for us as an employer is being able to recruit more senior women within the engineering space – though it is not through lack of trying. There is a shortage of skills at this level anyway, but this is compounded by decades of prejudice which has led to technology and engineering being perceived as ‘male’, meaning that there are very few senior women in the space.

I am a firm believer, as a mother of two, and as a STEM professional that we must work on keeping women in STEM industries, and to do so we must focus on making the experience for returning mothers as friction-free as possible.

As a parent yourself, can you tell us a little about your experience as a working mum?

As you progress, you are faced with a choice – it is inevitable that there will be more pressure on a woman to be the primary caregiver. Sometimes women are put in a position where they feel they cannot continue to climb the ladder, and that they must compromise by looking for more flexible work.

It is hard, and when my girls were younger I felt guilty all the time. I would lie awake thinking, ‘should I be a working mother doing long hours like this?’ Ultimately, it was the right choice for me, and I think Oxbotica has been pivotal in allowing me to reach my potential.

I do think it’s a bit of a taboo – if you have a bad night with the kids you still attend the meeting, you push through – you don’t let your guard down. It is getting easier, but it’s still not fully recognised how hard it can be for women in the modern world. We just don’t talk about it enough.

Graeme’s view was always “as long as the work gets done, I don’t care when you do it”. If I had been made to feel guilty about all the times I had to juggle my work around the children, then I would not have been able to get through those first two years. I think businesses need to make it more accessible for women to come back – only then will we see more women in senior positions.

  • “I do think it’s a bit of a taboo – If you have a bad night with the kids you still attend the meeting, you push through – you don’t let your guard down.”

What excites you most about the future of mobility?

The potential is extraordinary. It will impact on overall quality of life, it’ll mean higher quality jobs for women and better mobility for those with a disability. What we’re doing will change the world, and make it a safer place.

We’re early into the space, and because of this, we are helping build the legislation and consulting with governments across the globe. We are modest, or perhaps we simply take it for granted – but looking at the bigger picture, it’s extraordinary what we are doing.