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“An engineer is a tireless fighter, if you leave her in a desert, she will survive”

“An engineer is a tireless fighter, if you leave her in a desert, she will survive”

June 23, 2024
It is said that 'an engineer is someone who finds solutions'. Three women from different branches of engineering share with Artículo14 what this profession has meant for them and why it is an opportunity for young women.

Original article in Spanish: Artículo14

On the occasion of International Women in Engineering Day, three women from different branches of engineering share with Artículo14 what this profession has meant for them, where perseverance, discipline, and problem-solving abilities are essential, and why it is an opportunity for young women. Some entered the field out of vocation, others due to parental advice, but all agree that it has been a career that has brought them great personal and professional satisfaction.

Our protagonists are Begoña Cabeza, Civil Engineer from the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM), who is the Director of Global Engineering, a consulting firm; Inma Cima, Industrial Thermo-Mechanical Engineer from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, Country Manager of Fastned in Spain, who develops ultra-fast charging infrastructures for electric vehicles; and Paula Oliver, Chemical and Industrial Processes Engineer from the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV), Operations Director at MET Energía España, an industrial energy supplier.

Why did you decide to study engineering? 

Begoña Cabeza (B.C.): As a child, one of my favourite games was 'LEGO,' building 'cities' and connecting them with roads and bridges. During travels, I was fascinated by how the route changed depending on the type of road (whether it was a conventional road with mountain passes or a highway with tunnels). I leaned towards science, and in my senior year, while looking for a book in the library, I found 'What it is to be a Civil Engineer.' I was quickly captivated...and that's where it all began.

Inma Cima (I.C.): Although I would love to say it was out of vocation, it wasn't... I wanted to study public relations because I was excited about what could be achieved with the gift of speech. My father made me see that I could study for any career that I wanted and that I would always have time to study public relations. I chose engineering for the challenges it presented (a more male-dominated and complex field) and the multitude of options upon graduation. Stepping out of your comfort zone is advisable and even healthy.

Paula Oliver (P.O.): From a young age, I always knew I wanted to pursue a career related to science. One of my first toys was a microscope. I realized that engineering – in my case, chemical engineering – would allow me to perform creative work that could bring real value and even improve people's lives. Science careers have a wide range of professional opportunities in many different fields.

What do you like most about your profession?

B.C.: I am passionate about putting into practice the phrase 'an engineer is someone who finds solutions' to manage the projects or tasks we develop with multidisciplinary teams and that somehow contribute to the good of society.

I.C.: I am proud to be an engineer. I remember that when I finished my degree, I wondered what I had learned because I had studied such diverse topics that I didn't know their purpose. Soon I realized that an industrial engineer is essentially a problem solver.

P.O.: I would highlight not having a monotonous job due to the constant evolution of the energy sector. This allows me to focus on providing creative and different answers to new problems, which also become tangible in specific aspects or solutions that have a significant impact on society.

Advice for a young woman considering studying engineering? 

B.C.: Civil engineering is an exciting profession, present in all daily activities. It allows contributing to improving the well-being of society and meeting the millennium goals (potable water, more efficient transportation, less polluting energies...). But, above all, if she believes she has the capacity and talent, she should take on the challenge because studying engineering ’organizes the mind’ preparing it to solve all kinds of problems, both professionally and personally.

I.C.: She must really like science because the basis is mathematics, physics, chemistry, and algebra; the rest of the subjects are built on these pillars. It is such a versatile career that it can be focused on more technical positions or management roles. Studying engineering is something she will always carry with her, and it will be valued in her professional life, so I encourage her to step out of her comfort zone. It is not a men’s career; we are the ones who limit ourselves when making decisions.

P.O.: She should always believe in herself, be very persistent despite difficulties, and have the ability to adapt to a constantly changing environment. Engineering allows full professional development, as it is highly valued in the professional environment and has many opportunities. It is possible to generate a real and tangible impact on society. And it allows to provide new and creative solutions. And, of course, surrounding yourself with intelligent teams and people.

Has being a woman affected your professional career? 

B.C.: Occasionally, I have had to face some 'out of place' comments but, in general, technical rigor, seriousness, and professionalism have always prevailed over them. I can say that I have been surrounded by colleagues, collaborators, teams and superiors who, beyond focusing on me being a woman, have valued my aptitude, attitude, and professionalism. Additionally, I have always had the support and trust of my family.

I.C.: Historically, men were better positioned than women, and having the same position, they earned more. Nowadays, this difference is slowly diminishing, but we still have a lot of work to do. Probably, if I had been a man, my career path would have evolved faster. I wouldn't change anything, on the contrary, I am proud of having studied engineering 31 years ago and proving to myself that I could do it.

P.O.: Sometimes, I have been one of the few women in many forums, meetings, etc., and this situation can be somewhat intimidating. In this sense, one must be mentally strong and very confident in what they want, be resilient, and keep going. Fortunately, these differences are progressively diminishing in the sector, and we are increasingly finding more women in managerial positions. But there is still much work to be done.

A final thought to share about women in engineering?

B.C.: If I could start over… I would study civil engineering again.

I.C.: The women graduating from engineering today have much more opportunities than before and are better positioned thanks to a changing labour market, as there is a shortage of engineers in our country. A woman engineer is a tireless fighter who, if you leave her in a desert, will find a way to move forward (and successfully!).

P.O.: Talent cannot have a gender. Therefore, the approach and perspective that women bring to the professional field must be taken into account and valued at the level they deserve. I encourage all women to study engineering and STEM careers (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), which have numerous applications in a wide variety of fields and are essential for achieving significant advancements in many different areas.