The Latina energy executive bringing science to the lives of young Hispanic women
In her role with BP, Kathleen Martinez does ample work in promoting the careers of fellow Hispanic women.
If there’s one thing that can be heavily credited for the work ethic that Kathleen Martinez exudes in everything she does, it’s the dynamic of her family.
Growing up in a large Latino family, the youngest of eight boys and six girls, it didn’t take long for Martinez to begin noticing some differences between the way her brothers were treated, and how she and her sisters were treated.
The boys were often catered to, with few expectations of them to take care of responsibilities around the house, she said, whereas the Martinez girls had far more expectations at home and beyond.
“Of course, my sisters and I didn’t like this growing up,” Martinez told AL DÍA. “but, in the end, I’m grateful because it made us strong.”
“Growing up in my Latino family culture, I understood early on that it was not an even playing field; I knew as a woman I had to work harder in life to succeed,” she continued.
That hard work followed her through her childhood and into her adulthood, as she became a first-generation high school and university graduate, earning her degree in Marketing and Business from the University of Texas in San Antonio.
Now an accomplished professional based in Houston, TX, she is the senior director of national strategic relationships and initiatives at BP, a multinational energy company with operations in more than 70 countries worldwide.
“What I love about my role is that I have the privilege of leading BP America’s science, technology, engineering and math national strategy, encouraging young students across the United States to pursue STEM education,” said Martinez.
According to statistics from NGCP resources, out of minority women who earn their bachelor’s degrees, a very small percentage of them major in the STEM field. That number declines even more when looking at the percent of minority women who are in the STEM workforce.
In addition to her corporate role, Martinez also manages the BP Foundation’s global programs, which promote employee engagement and volunteerism, as well as encourage employees to invest time or money in their local communities. BP then matches that investment.
The work Martinez does is very impactful for many. However, despite all the great work she’s done and continues to do, she can’t say for sure it was according to a grand plan.
“In terms of career progression, I never really had a long-term career plan,” she said, “I worked hard and made decisions as opportunities presented themselves, and I let my gut and passion help me decide what chances to take and where to go next.”
“I believe that a diverse group of people at the table makes more dynamic, holistic and impactful decisions,” said Martinez. “And in terms of women, I think we have a lot to bring to the table – with our perspective, our views, and how we analyze situations.”
With the underrepresentation of women in STEM education, Martinez leads the charge in helping level the playing field by creating awareness and opportunities for students who otherwise likely wouldn’t be regularly exposed to science.
The idea behind it is both to create a more gender-balanced workforce at BP, while also offering opportunities for underrepresented groups and cultivating a new line of future engineers and scientists.
“Because STEM professionals are in high demand, students and their families will benefit a great deal from careers in STEM fields,” Martinez said. “It’s a win-win and I love being a part of something bigger than me – helping to build the next generation of innovators.”
The need for diversity and inclusion has resulted in BP partnering and building relationships with a number of third-party organizations that share similar goals and values, and can help further BP’s initiatives. These organizations include the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME), Society of Women Engineers (SWE), the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).
BP recently launched a national initiative called the BP STEM Ambassadors programme, which provides BP employees with tools, resources, and support they need to build strategic relationships with schools and students. It also provides an opportunity for BP STEM ambassadors to volunteer at school science fairs, career days, and other science and engineering activities within the classroom.
In addition to providing important opportunities for BP to raise awareness about the energy industry, and helping improve the understanding of current energy challenges, these partnerships also help attract diverse talent and foster a positive working environment for all employees.
“BP is committed to building a diverse workforce, and for this we need to attract talented professionals that bring advanced skills and perspectives,” Martinez remarked.
Of all the programs Martinez has participated in helping launch or support, the one she is most proud of is her involvement in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.
In 2018, BP support SHPE’s new ‘SHPEtinas’ program, which focuses on developing and supporting Latina engineers, and introducing them to additional roles in the energy industry.
“As a first-generation high school and college graduate, I know only too well that education changes the trajectory of a life,” she said. “I didn’t know a STEM professional growing up or have a college-educated role model, so my sphere was limited.”
“Unfortunately, this is still true for many students from economically disadvantaged homes – and we know that this disproportionately affects underrepresented minorities,” she continued.
Through BP’s STEM Ambassadors programme, employees can provide needed support for students and teachers, especially those in high-need. The employees serve as volunteers and mentors to both students and teachers, and help bring science and engineering to them.
It’s all about engagement.
“While we do feel our work is making an impact, our goal is to significantly grow our BP STEM Ambassadors programme in 2019,” said Martinez. “The more employees that are engaged in this program, the more students we will be able to reach.”
As a Latina who learned about the value of hard work at a very early age, Martinez hopes to see more women adapt that same work ethic and take on any and all challenges.
“My advice to young women out there would be: work hard, contribute, share your perspective. Believe it or not… your perspective might just be the one that’s needed to find a solution to the challenge at hand.”