Mela García-Pérez, Business Development Manager at Gransolar, was honored on March 2 as one of the winners of the MIA award for the most influential women in Almería. The plataform Mujeres Influyentes de Almería grants these awards as a recognition of the effort, excellence and courage of inspiring and influential women from different fields who carry out their work in Almería or, being from Almería, elsewhere.
Mela’s work, dedication and contributions to the field of renewable energies engineering have clearly made a difference in this edition.
In a short interview, Mela describes her experience as a female engineer in the industrial sector, where most senior positions have been held by men so far.
Describe your career path within Gransolar Group until you reached your current position of Business Development Manager of the engineering area.
I arrived in Gransolar in April 2017 as an engineer on the MOCUBA project in Mozambique, as I had experience in the country having lived there for several years. But MOCUBA suddenly fell through as an EPC contract and so I started working with Óscar Hurtado and his team on the EPC contract bidding side of Gransolar, from a little corner of the ISE office in Almería.
In mid-2018 I was asked to lend a hand with some third party proposals and so, gradually, the business development department started to grow and sign engineering contracts outside the Group, and the rest is history.
It was a natural evolution, with more bids every day and contracts with external clients.
What is your day-to-day life like in the company? What are your functions?
On a normal day I usually have meetings with clients to see how we can offer them our services, close scopes and above all try to ensure that our technical and commercial proposals meet their needs. It is a job of social relationship with them and always attentive to the demand.
In addition to the part of elaborating offers, commercial management with the client and contract closings, I take the part of organization of the department, defining priorities, economic closings and the business strategy for every year.
And I mustn’t forget the interrelation with the engineering department, to fit the contracting of works into their planning.
Do you think that the company’s objectives and values are aligned with your own?
Years ago I made the decision not to work with or for companies that did not have Corporate Social Responsibility as part of their values. I can say that I am a lucky person, because it is not easy to choose, considering the situation of the market.
I can tell you that when I was in the job search phase, I personally ended some interviews when I realized that their objectives did not fit with what I had chosen as a way of life.
As I said, this is not easy to do and not everyone has the same freedom of decision as I do, not having certain duties or responsibilities.
So, yes. If its values were not aligned with mine, I would certainly not be working at Gransolar.
Why did you decide to become an engineer? Did you always want to work in this area?
I was very young when I made the decision. Since I was a child, it was clear to me that I liked social projects, but I also like physics and mathematics. I could have been any kind of engineer, but I like to travel and explore, and after listening to the talks we were given at school, I saw that civil engineering was more suited to seeing the world.
Today I would like to project work in this type of programs, but I am aware that it is different to work in a private area than in a social program. Still, the renewable energy part fits with that part of CSR, and especially potential climate change programs.
And as I always say: “You shouldn’t keep all your eggs in one basket”, so I can use part of my time and training on different projects with more social content that allow me to complete other areas beyond my daily work.
What do you think have been the keys to your success in business?
Learn, work, learn more and evolve. Although I don’t think I have been successful in business, but rather I have reached a state of emplyment calmness where I am enjoying my job and myself at work. I would call it a “labor equilibrium”.
Do you consider that there are enough women in management positions in this sector? Why?
There are very few women in management positions, and those that are, occupy traditional roles such as administrative, legal and human resources. In the engineering field we do have many women engineers, although in the mass of work, they are not coordinating or leading these teams.
It is also logical, seeing the evolution of the labor market. It will take more time to advance in these positions.
One positive aspect is that in recent years there has been a generational change in management positions, and it is no longer a novelty to have women in these positions. In the engineering world, this lack of women in management positions is more marked, mainly due to the lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) profiles.
We cannot forget that the ratio of young women who opt for a STEM career is less than 20%. Therefore, already from a numerical perspective, the ratio is 1 to 5 to reach these positions.
However, I want to make it clear that I am not in favor of positive discrimination. Reaching these positions simply because we are women, instead of making us visible, shows us as people incapable of achieving something on our own merits. It is essential to do it for reasons of worth and, above all, for having the opportunity, which has perhaps been the key in previous years. But, as I mentioned, a generational change is helping to overcome this initial non-preference.
The fact that there are more and more women engineers and that we are working with them is helping on this final push. In the end, it is through practice that the capacity of each person is shown.
Finally, I would say that the family model has an influence. It is something that has evolved positively in recent years and co-parenting is practiced almost equally between both partners, although there is still a long way to go to solve the issue of the “mental burden”. But this is a different issue.
Are there, in your opinion, equal opportunities for women? Regarding your work, is it a popular profession among women?
Today, young women engineers have the same opportunities as their male colleagues. This means that it is us who set our own limitations, when we decide what is a priority in our lives, due to the concepts assimilated over the years. In previous times it was more complicated, because it was not common to have women in engineering, but the current drift is for equality and the involvement of the couple in the family is almost 50/50, so this lack of opportunities has disappeared.
The big problem lies in the future, because STEM careers are becoming less attractive every day, and much less so for women, which means that soon the differential gap between men and women in this field will be greater, and therefore there is a risk that there will be a new generation of women who will be left out of the new labor market so digitized and focused on female engineers.
What do you think are the obstacles that a woman who aspires to a leadership position may encounter?
The discourse of male-female inequality and the glass ceiling is more than overcome in today’s new generations. We must move forward in this issue and focus, not on the glass ceiling, but on the concrete floor that holds many women back when it comes to developing their professional performance.
It depends on the age group, but it is clear that it is necessary to make a learning exercise to take off the weight of many years of domestic and family life. There is a funny website called Club de Malasmadres that focuses precisely on this. This self-pressure that we tend to impose on ourselves.
This may sound discordant, but I do not support the concept of empowerment for women. I say this because for me “to empower” is to give power to someone, and to me it is very clear that my power is a birth right. No one has to give it to me because, in the long run, whoever gives it to you can also take it away. That’s why I think we need to learn to value ourselves more internally and not to doubt our capabilities.
The visibility of women in engineering is much lower than that of men. Do you think this perception corresponds to reality? Why do you think this is?
It is totally real, there are more male engineers than female engineers, mainly because it is a type of profession that is not attractive for various reasons (schedules, mobility…) and it seems that it does not have as much social content as the bio sanitary professions could have.
In addition, we are dragging along a female caregiver consciousness that we must learn to break.
But from a purely numerical point of view, there are more male than female engineers. And besides, it is complicated when there are almost no models of women engineers since childhood. There are no examples of women engineers or scientists in textbooks. Nor are there any TV series that talk about women in engineering, but there are shows about male doctors, firemen, policemen, which means we are not aware of everything we can do.
Spanish language does not help either. I can tell as an anecdote that when I finished my degree they gave me the title “Ingeniero de Caminos” (male engineer). I filed a complaint asking that mine should read “Ingeniera de Caminos” (female engineer), to which I was answered at first with a joke: “The female engineer is the engineer’s wife”.
But facing so much stupidity, the best thing to do was to argue and defend my thesis, and it was precisely the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) who confirmed that the feminine form was “Ingeniera”, and since then it has appeared as such in the degrees issued and in all the letters from the college of engineers.
Language is important, because it is a way of setting an example and giving visibility. And when they speak to you in the masculine singular or state in any register my profession as “ingeniero”, they are concealing the whole collective of women, and the worrying thing is to remain silent. Accepting that anonymity and lack of presence.
You recently received the MIA Award, which has put you in the spotlight and made you an example to follow. What advice would you give to a woman who aspires to a position of responsibility?
I would tell her to never doubt her ability to be in that job, that she has earned it with her training and effort, and she reaffirms it every day by working. That she should work hard every day and not allow herself to be questioned simply for being a woman. That she should not accept being treated with paternalism, softness or overprotection for being a woman, nor should she accept opinions about her physical appearance, her clothes or similar, unless she is in the fashion business.
And one important detail. I would tell her to be referred to by her name. Not “baby”, “gorgeous” or whatever. That, rather than a compliment, is a clear way of professional defamation.