Marina Arnaldos, Area Manager at Cetaqua, has been present in the web pages of iAgua since she started her career, whether when she was interviewed about her professional excellence, or through her blog. It is a privilege to hear from her in our interview series 'Women and Water'.
Question: First, we would like to know in detail about your career path up to your current position.
Answer: My career path in the water sector started with a PhD at the Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago), while I worked as a research associate for the same institution. I returned to Spain upon receiving a EU Marie Curie scholarship to work as a researcher for the Research, Development and Innovation Department of Acciona Agua. After two years, I became the head of the area of Desalination and New Technologies at that same company. Currently, I am responsible for Water Resources, Production and Reclamation at Cetaqua, the Water Technology Centre of Aguas de Barcelona (SUEZ Group). In addition, I chair the Spanish Chapter of the Young Water Professionals association, the leading Spanish professional network for young water sector professionals.
Corporate measures to bridge the gender gap are necessary and any company that takes pride in their social responsibility should include them
Q: In the water sector we continue to see an important gender gap. Why do you think this is?
A: As I see it, the gender gap in this and other sectors stems from a tradition of male profiles in senior management roles, with a management style that up to now was considered the 'right' one to manage large clients, accounts worth millions of euros and workforces with several hundreds of employees. That style was associated with a certain aggressiveness, self-confidence, and a generous dose of authority; a style that new leadership trends are questioning (in particular for teams of professionals from recent generations). So the generation gap is closing slowly and at the expense of many women who could be doing a tremendous job in top positions of different institutions. It is important to understand that this is not just a loss for women as a collective; it also has a high cost for society at large, who does not benefit from the talent of these women that is not taken advantage of.
Q: Does your entity have any programmes and/or tools to foster equality, aimed to bridge the gender gap?
A: Corporate measures to bridge the gender gap are necessary and any company that takes pride in their social responsibility should include them. Beyond the corporate image, it is true that not all business cultures are the same. In this regard, at Cetaqua both women and men can become a head of area and I never even considered that one of my colleagues could think I am not as good because I am a woman: it sounds almost ridiculous. Also, the SUEZ group has now a series of measures to increase flexibility, both internally (using open office spaces, with no individual offices and with areas designated for collaboration and meetings, designed with that in mind), as well as externally (with a flexible working schedule where you can work some of your working hours from home), aiming to improve the work-life balance and productivity of staff.
When staff start having family responsibilities, the gender gap threatens to end the gender balance among new generations
These type of measures are highly relevant for my generation; in surveys with members of YWP Spain we have seen that these aspects are very positively valued when you choose a company to work for. Moreover, they will be even more important when staff start having family responsibilities; at that point the gender gap threatens to end the gender balance among new generations. Companies' flexibility is key to do away with traditional management models, as well as traditional productivity and gender models; flexibility measures are always beneficial for companies that implement them.
Q: Do you think that gender differences are less remarkable in younger generations? Why?
A: In the case of middle managers, and specially as we get closer to the 'millennial' generation, gender differences are less evident, and I have found that people do not perceive overt or hidden gender differences in how they are treated or considered. A clear example is the fact that I am the president of YWP Spain, or the natural gender parity in our association's steering committee. The reason for this I think is that we have lived in an age where society has advanced in terms of gender roles. Every era breaks with the one before, and in our era we have questioned the traditional roles of men and women in the professional and personal arena. As a result, we accept a female manager as a natural thing and also men who do not want to become managers, and even men who want to stay home and adopt a role traditionally attributed to women. I consider this a nice break for everyone, because it is as bad for women to necessarily have to be submissive as for men to necessarily have to be aggressive. In this regard, I have always felt the same as my male colleagues: we both want to be and do what we feel close to our identity and our natural skills, regardless of gender. We are all in this challenge and we all stand to win.
Companies' flexibility is key to do away with traditional management models, as well as traditional productivity and gender models; flexibility measures are always beneficial for companies that implement them
Q: What other measures (aside from those contemplated by companies) would be, in your view, effective to reach parity in the water sector?
A: As I mentioned earlier, we will reach parity when society advances in the way that the attitudes and roles of men and women are perceived in pre-adult years This is a lot more intangible than the generational replacement I mentioned before, and it has to do with the education we receive at home since childhood and the feedback we receive from our environment as we grow and develop into adults.
We used to encourage certain attitudes in women, and different ones in men; it was not accepted for women to be authoritarian and pushy, or for men to show signs of emotional intelligence (that type of intelligence that sounds dangerously close to weakness). The result of this training was that when it was time to play the game, each gender played different positions, where the attitudes encouraged in men meant higher success (feisty front players scoring goals) than those encouraged in women (patient goalkeepers stopping the ball). The key is to change the training: women are not patient nor are men aggressive; each person is unique and we have a right to interact with others in our own terms, without being condemned for showing attitudes that do not conform to the 'norm'. And this is not about men versus women; this is about us against the traditional settings which no longer allow us to express ourselves genuinely as the individuals and professionals that we are.
Every era breaks with the one before, and in our era we have questioned the traditional roles of men and women in the professional and personal arena
Q: Now let us talk about your experience, what difficulties have you faced in your career because you are a woman?
A: There were moments when I felt I had to show a higher degree of professionalism, preparedness and resolve than what would be asked from a man. This compounds with being young: being young and being a woman is quite complicated when you meet certain client or collaborator profiles. In contrast, I remember an instance when a senior colleague advised me to take advantage of being a young woman to win the sympathy of managers. This makes me feel disgust when I recall it, and at the time I could not believe what I was hearing.
Logically, you pass the test and win the approval of those around you, but it is something that shows we have some homework to do as a professional sector and as a society.
We will reach parity when society advances in the way that the attitudes and roles of men and women are perceived
Q: Are there any other pressing challenges that you think need to be addressed in the sector?
A: One of the important challenges we have ahead of us is getting close to the final user. Up to now, our sector has been highly technical, with great knowledge about infrastructure, its operation, and in general, management of water as an essential resource. But there has not been enough transparency to make the user at the other side of the tap understand the importance and the difficulty of our task; that is, what is involved, in terms of human and financial resources, in bringing water to homes and industry with the quality and in the amounts we provide it, thanks to our technical knowledge and our experience. In my view, as a sector, we stand to gain a lot by working closer to the user.
Q: Conversely, what do you think are the main achievements in the sector?
There were moments when I felt I had to show a higher degree of professionalism, preparedness and resolve than what would be asked from a man
A: I think that one of the great achievements of the water sector are the professionals it has been able to attract. The colleagues (men and women) I have encountered while working at different positions have been people open to collaborate, responsible, who appreciate their work and with a sense of calling that brought them to this sector, something I have not seen in other sectors. It is a positive starting point that at organisations such as YWP Spain we foster; the atmosphere we have in our chapter, working as a team, sharing achievements, and striving to contribute to the sector, is undeniable, and that raw material has led to our success over the years.