Time flies, for sure… It seems like yesterday I started working as a trainee at Ferrovial – that’s more than 25 years ago. It’s been 7 since I decided to accept the challenge of moving to the United States to join Webber in Houston as Deputy Chief Financial Officer and 2 years since I was promoted to EVP of the Ferrovial Finance Center in North America. I won’t deny it, it was hard in the beginning: the transition from a big city like Madrid to the Woodlands, as well as the cultural difference, was more difficult, more so than I expected. Thanks to the support of my family and the “new Webber family,” though, we managed to overcome that first bump. Today, I could not be more grateful for the opportunity and for the decision I made.
This is how society advances
Over all these years, ever since I started at Ferrovial, I have been lucky enough to work with great professionals. I have learned everything I know about this business from them since I had never had any interaction with the world of Construction. Without their support and confidence, I never would have managed to progress in my professional career.
Even so, I have to admit that being a woman in this sector is not easy, and even less so when I started. Fortunately, in recent years, the situation has improved a lot thanks to numerous initiatives in society, in the media, and at companies which are promoting diversity and reminding us that men and women should have access to the same opportunities. It is very gratifying to attend the “Welcome to Webber” event for young engineering students who have decided to spend their summer as interns, attending and learning about our projects, and to see that the percentage of women is higher every year. Society is moving forward, and the construction sector is moving with it. Our industry is no longer “just” a man’s world, though men are still the majority. However, in our daily lives, we see that there is unfortunately still a long way to go when it comes to the gender gap.
The importance of education
In my personal experience, I have learned that the responsibility for making that path as short as possible lies with each of us, men and women, and that we all have to strive for actions that bring us closer to the goal. I was fortunate enough to grow up in what, in my opinion, was a progressive family at the time. My father, an executive of the most important financial institution in Spain; my mother, a teacher who started her business teaching children at home and ended up running her own business, a preschool and primary school. In addition to their professional careers, they raised me and my siblings, three daughters and one son, in the belief that, in understanding our gender differences, we all had the same obligations and rights.
The house responsibilities were equally shared among the seven, and it was not an option. This was obligatory if we wanted the family dynamics not to fail. At that time, most women did not work outside the home. However, they understood each other’s professional needs without demanding anything from each other just because it was the socially accepted thing in society during those years. They created a universe of equity around us, where they taught us that there were no specific tasks assigned based on gender but based on the availability and capabilities of each person. We also learned that we could access the same opportunities and that there were no gender boundaries, so we each chose different career paths voluntarily, based on our own interests.
Using my personal history as a starting point, I would like to reflect on two ideas:
- Ending the gender gap is not the sole responsibility of women but of everyone. We need the other half of society to give us the support we need and to be our allies/ambassadors/sponsors, speaking on our behalf when we are not present. If we know and accept our differences as human beings and we all value them, we will be able to evolve towards a more equitable society where we all have access to the same opportunities and rights and share the same responsibilities.
Nor can we just trust that others’ actions will solve the problem; there are currently numerous initiatives promoting gender equality in society, in our community, and at our companies, but that alone is not enough. Each and every one of us must consciously strive to convey the message, even in situations that force us to get out of our comfort zone.
- We are the model for future generations, especially for our children. That is why educating them on the values of equity in the family itself is fundamental to developing a more egalitarian society tomorrow.
Within companies, any professional who has the ability to influence from their leadership position has the moral responsibility to act as a model for the other members of the organization through behaviors that contribute to gender equality. The lack of female figures in executive positions for so many years has led to companies losing the opportunity to benefit from the different ways men and women think and act. Unfortunately, by “imitating” male behaviors partly because of existing prejudices, many of us have nullified female qualities in our professional environment, depriving our organizations of the benefits that diversity brings. The different ways of thinking, cultural baggage, skills, experiences, and more are necessary for companies’ development and enrichment.
As I said at the beginning, there is still a long way to go on equal opportunities for men and women, and we must strive to break down the barriers and the glass ceilings. If we do it together, it will be faster and easier. Just maybe, a future where quota targets and similar initiatives are no longer needed is closer than we think.