Paula Martinez-Nobles WILD Interview

To kick off Women’s History Month, Women in Lighting + Design shared eight short interviews with women from around the country including FMS Principal, Paula Martinez-Nobles.


How did others help or create challenges in your career?
I’m extremely motivated by a tough challenge, some people would call that stubborn, I have grown to think of it as dedication.

I am a first generation Colombian-American. My parents came to this country, to New York and Philadelphia in their 20’s. They confronted more obstacles than we could ever imagine – nothing I face can compare. How can I not take on a challenge with the same passion and long term view that they did in the 70’s? Of course I do.

Challenges, obstacles, hurdles, are all about your perspective. I try to focus on the ”thing” beyond the hurdle…

My fears and doubts when I started my career circled around “I don’t sound professional enough”,  “am I smart enough to work with this crowd?”, “is my Philly showing”. In my quiet-determination stage in my career, I was hungry; I needed to convince myself I was smart enough, so I observed, asked questions, listened with intent, and worked hard.

Being curious and authentic is infectious and magnetic – and fortunately for me it attracted mentors (they didn’t necessarily know it at the time) but they were building me up little by little – helping me clear my personal hurdles.

I started to discover my super power when I ramped up my  site visits, managing contractors meant that being bilingual and one of the “señoritas” helped tremendously… so did my “Jenny from the block” attitude. What I thought were my hurdles became an asset.

I have three daughters. I never could have predicted the clarity and decisiveness that one begins to develop in the workplace as a result of being a parent.  It didn’t start that way though – I was riding high with my latina super powers and discovered I actually couldn’t do it all.  There’s no such thing as being a perfect parent, a perfect wife and a perfect employee. When one takes the other two gave way.

Early commitment to my team, dedication to working alongside of them meant that we built a foundation together to support the clients, support the projects, and support my maternity leave. There is tremendous pride that comes from supporting and then watching strong women you coached come into their own and do your job even better than you can.  The clarity to let go comes from parenting fundamentals; you can’t tell if your kid can walk on their own until you let go of their hand. And when they fall, you help dust them off and try again – you continue to watch every step, quietly celebrating every accomplishment.

Trusting in my team, having the clarity to see what they were good at and what they still needed support on made it easier to juggle two things in my life that make me feel fulfilled: my family and my career.  It is important for me, as a professional and a woman, to have my now teenage daughters read articles about projects their mom worked on and watch me throw my cape on…ahem – my hard hard and vest on.

What motivates you to be involved in WILD?
From quiet determination to assertive perseverance – this current stage of my career, 18 years later, has come with a platform.  One that I don’t always love to stand on with a mic, but am honored to hold; I am motivated by my peers to continue a reputation of developing diverse talent, and a legacy of illuminating beautiful, timeless projects, I am motivated by young designers, they need to see that self confidence can be nurtured, and everything mocked up for their own edification, and most of all I’m motivated by my three daughters, they need to see women succeed.  Pass the mic.

Do you have a female role model within our industry or in general?
There is an Architect that is a woman and the owner of her firm.  She is not afraid to seek and demand perfection in every finish, every detail, and every light fixture. Her demand for excellence from the newest member of the project team and consultants thru the highest levels of the client team is infectious.  It raises the bar across the board. She has taught me by example, that it takes a team to build an excellent project; everyone has a critical role to play.  I relish in the challenge.  I carry that mantra with me through design, training, and leading.


Click here to read all the interviews.