Engineering is one of those professions that, according to the statistics, does not seem to attract enough women when they choose their career. Nevertheless, history is full of female engineers whose contributions have been fundamental to understanding the world as we see it today.
Women such as Ellen Henrietta Swallow, considered to be the mother of environmental engineering for her studies on water quality in Massachusetts and developing the concept of “environmental sanitation”, the foundation of modern ecology; Emily Warren, the world’s first field engineer who led the construction of New York’ iconic Brooklyn Bridge; Pilar Careaga, the first woman to qualify as an engineer in Spain in 1929 and a pioneer train driver; Margaret Hamilton, considered to be the first software engineer in history; or Katherine Johnson, whose work was fundamental to understanding the space race.
Today, a vast number of female engineers work every day in this key profession, developing our cities and their societies. Moreover, many of them do so at Acciona.
Estela Camarero, a technical office and production engineer in Acciona’s water area, is genuinely proud of the decision that she took a while ago, which now allows her to further her learning and have new experiences every day. “The opportunity to carry out and implement projects that enormously improve people’s quality-of-life is something amazing for me. It is extremely satisfying to feel in some way responsible for ensuring access for people to drinking water… To know that you are helping meet an essential need that sadly today is still lacking in numerous regions and communities around the world”.
The decision to dedicate herself to engineering is –as is common to most careers– the result of different circumstances that manifest themselves one way or another in each individual person.
For many engineers, such as Eliana Freile, head of research for the North Zone in Acciona’s construction business, it is a real vocation. “I always wanted to be a civil engineer. According to my mother, I used to build things from sand at the beach when I was little and I pinched a toy lorry and a digger from my older brother. When I was young, the Engineer Carlos Fernández Casado cable-stayed bridge over the Barrios de Luna reservoir in León, which we would pass over on our journeys to the family village, used to grab my attention every time. I would find it hypnotic. This was probably the reason why my graduation project was a cable-stayed bridge, in this case in Asturias”.
Lucía Esteban, a mechanical engineer at the Tseun Kwan O desalination plant in Hong Kong, also felt drawn to caring for our water and improving people’s quality-of-life from a young age. “I believe that engineering is an excellent tool for providing practical solutions for real needs and problems”.
Family roots and the family environment are other reasons that have led some women to dedicate themselves to engineering today, such as the mining environment in which Lucía Alonso grew up in, head of the technical office and topography in Acciona’s construction business; or growing up in a family of biologists and engineers who instilled passion and respect for the environment and engineering, as in the case of Elena Crespo, technical manager for desalination proposals at Acciona.
“I grew up in a village in the Catalan Pyrenees where there was no industry, and school trips usually took us to factories or a desalination plant. They really caught my imagination and understanding the different processes fascinated me”. This led Maribel Forniés, engineering manager at the Jebel Ali desalination plant in Dubai to become a chemical engineer.
Cristina Alejos, works manager for the South Zone in the company’s construction area, also felt this great attraction to large-scale works and the machinery used to carry them out, from a young age. “I think what definitively led me to take the decision was attending a conference on the construction of the Canfranc tunnel, a structure that I had passed through many times on numerous trips that I made during the summer with my family. Curiously, today I work for the company that is responsible for remodelling this iconic station”.
“In my case, the decision to dedicate myself to the world of construction, and specifically to the company’s most technical field, is due to the love that my father had for this profession. He passed on an interest to his children of participating and developing major works, such as the ones that I have am lucky enough to undertake today in such a prestigious company like Acciona”, says Almudena Guedán, technical manager of Acciona’s Roads and Bridges specialised business unit.
In other cases, such as Elsa Pastó, works manager on the project to construct the structure for the Sagrera station in Barcelona, or Pilar Calvo, a project manager in the water area, they decided to follow their early capabilities in fields such as maths and science and quickly discovered the exciting world of engineering.
The infinite opportunities offered by engineering also led many other women at Acciona to choose this career path. “Engineering has always seemed like an extremely interesting field to me, especially its high degree of applicability, its analytical aspects and its focus on solving problems and optimisation. Furthermore, the training encompasses extremely diverse areas, from mechanics through to economics, including chemistry and IT, which opens numerous doors in the labour market. It is constantly evolving with new developments. It also tends to encourage multidisciplinary team work, something that I really enjoy”, says Olga Ferrer, desalination and new technologies manager on the R&D team in Acciona’s water area.
“Training as an engineer goes beyond purely technical knowledge and looks at how to tackle problems or solve the challenges that arise. Engineering introduces a particular way of looking at the world. I like to think that engineering comes from inventiveness and at Acciona I feel free to apply this aspect in my daily work. It makes me feel proud of my decision”, says María Tomey, project manager for the East Zone in the construction area.
“There is pride in being part of a sector that is dedicated to creating and developing projects that help to improve people’s quality-of-life, and to work in this field in a company like Acciona, committed to sustainability to create a better planet for everyone”, states Verónica Julia García, works manager for the Central Zone in the construction business.
For Elena Rodríguez, head of engineering for projects and warranties in Acciona’s industrial area, developing and learning about diverse technologies, as well as the opportunity to work in different countries and with different partners and clients, are just some of the aspects that motivate her the most in her work. “The opportunity that Acciona gives me to develop other cross-functional areas that go beyond my own specialisation, such as digital transformation, and to be able to grow in the spheres of technology and management, is something that helps me to grow professionally and personally”.
Loly Rodríguez, works manager for stations and shafts on the southern section of the Line 1 Quito Metro project, feels proud to have studied civil engineering. “It is an extremely satisfying profession. These works touch every aspect of our daily lives and it is satisfying to be making improvements for society. I love the challenges and the possibility to solve problems in a practical way. It is a career that takes time, dedication, discipline, commitment and responsibility and requires a capacity to reason – all things that I really identify with”.
Taking on the infinite challenges associated with this profession is not simple, but fortunately there are many women that work in it and many others that are now beginning their careers in this beautiful profession. There is no doubt that all of them will leave an indelible mark for both today’s generation and those in the future.