Women in Leadership #5: Paula Fonseca, People Director for Tech and Corporate Functions at VTEX
We are back with yet another installment of our Women in Leadership content series, in which we celebrate the female leadership that has marked VTEX’s trajectory. During the month of May, Mother’s Day is celebrated in both Brazil and the United States. It’s only fair that we invited a VTEX leader and a mother figure to discuss motherhood, career plans and leadership. Let’s learn more about Paula Fonseca, the new Director of People Tech here at VTEX.
Paula is a mother of two with a Psychology degree with a thirst for knowledge. If you were to join an online meeting with Paula the first noticeable thing is her backdrop: a wall of books, which she produly showcases. She is an avid reader and you can check out how books changed her perspective on career in this article she wrote. She is also a self-proclaimed introvert who has learned that by understanding herself she can achieve to greater heights.
With 15 years of experience in recruitment and people management areas, Paula has worked in a lot of different environments but she found herself thriving in the scale-up companies environment and eventually the tech world.
Even though VTEX isn’t a scale-up, Paula finds that the surroundings are very similar: a place where people have “a craving to evolve and get things done”. And that’s where she shines.
Come with us and hear more about Paula’s words on career, leadership and motherhood.
Hi Paula! To get things started, please tell us more about your current area and responsibilities at VTEX and what brought you here.
Paula: Hi, everyone! I was recently given a new role at VTEX as People Director for Tech and Corporate Functions. It’s the team that deals with career management, people and leadership delevopment experiences and strategic alignments for business and management inside the Tech and Corporate area. I’m relatively new at VTEX since I started only six months ago, but I’m already geared up.
It also helps that my leader inspires me imensely. Renata Lorenz is someone that I have been learning and still have a lot to learn from. My first thought when I got face to face with VTEX was that it would work out greatly!
Talking about people that matter to you, do you have role models?
Paula: That’s hard because I do have a lot of people I look up to. One that comes to mind is a male leader I used to have when I was first starting out in leadership focused roles. He was the CEO of a company I worked for. Even though he didn’t know, he was my mentor in many moments. From when he created opportunities for me to grow to when he used to sit down and help me understand and solve a problem.
One thing about him was how genuine, transparent and vulnerable he was. That is one thing that I try to bring to my leadership style.
Can you share a bit more about this vulnerable and transparent leading style?
Paula: Transparent and vulnerable is having someone correct you or presenting an opposite point of view in front of people and instead of overpowering them, you invite them to join the conversation. I suffer from panic attacks and I’ve always been open about this with my peers because I know it also makes them feel comfortable to be vulnerable themselves. Admitting you are wrong and having humble actitudes are what makes a great leader.
What were the biggest lessons you learned from being in a leadership position?
Paula: The moments where I have failed as a leader are the ones that pop out the most because those where the times I really learned most. There was one scale-up company that I collect most lessons from. At the time, I was very idealistic. I believed that I needed my role as a leader to be the one of a facilitator, a catalyst of the team itself, and bring solutions to the problems that we had. I didn’t know of a concept called situational leadership.
What is that?
Paula: It’s a framework that I really like, which is called Skill vs. Will. It is a chart in which you measure the person’s skill level with their engagement level, the will to make the business happen. And for each quadrant there is a different leadership style.
At the time, I was leading a four-team team underneath. It was a big team as well. I hired people who had never sat in a leadership position before, but who were going to lead small teams. This is not a problem in itself.
Where I failed was that I didn’t stop to develop these people. I would throw the problem on the table and try to facilitate the discussion. When the skill is high, I see it in people, you know? Does skill solve the problem? It’s useful and the results pan out.
But, when the will is high but the skill is low, it will take years to solve the problem. And that’s when you need a different leadership style, you go in with more knowledge, assigning more or less of what people need to do and giving them autonomy to do it. I will not go into all the quadrants here, but for me this was one of the great learning experiences:
Different teams, with different maturity, different levels of engagement, will need different approaches to leadership.
Today I think that at VTEX I already do this and understand how am I going to work with them not only at the individual level, but at the team level as well.
Being a mom is a full-time job. How do you handle balancing work and personal life?
Paula: I learned when to stop. And having other peers that also respect their own personal time is better than constantly working overtime (like I did when I was younger). I learned the importance of having that time for my own workplace productivity.
Seeing other co-workers who are parents separating time to have lunch with their children or take their kid to swimming lessons is a good example of that. I block my calendar in the evening to spend time with Charlie, my 11-month old.
Talking about Arthur, I understand that there is a story you would like to tell about your motherhood journey.
Paula: Yes. Before, I would like to make a disclaimer because I come from a place of privilege and I have the privilege to make some choices that most mothers in Brazil don’t and I am aware of that. Even so, I think it’s a good story to share.
I was a young mom to Arthur. I was only 25 when I had him and I had a different mentality back then. I had just graduated college and refused a job opportunity when I learned I was pregnant and that was a lot. I also wrote on my blog about how I went through two recruitment processes and was refused – clearly because I had a child. That was very hard for me.
So when I got faced with a one of a time opportunity, I made the decision to leave my son with his dad in Bahia and move to São Paulo, where I live today. It was the most difficult day of my life. I lost a lot, but I also gained a lot. I really believe that focusing in my career helps me be a better mother today.
One lesson I take out of this is that we have to give people the opportunity to integrate things and not to give up on them. I had to give up motherhood over my career, but the challenge to leaders today is giving everyone, especially minority and vulnerable groups, the chance to integrate. I didn’t have that chance back then, but now, as leaders, we have tools to do so.
This is a really important topic and thank you for shedding light on it. It was a pleasure talking to you!
Paula: Thank you!