“Science Should Be Accessible and Fun”
Cristina Arespa, ICL Iberia’s Head of Operations, regrets the relatively low number of women in the field, and believes that scientific and analytical school subjects should be made more accessible to young people. The company’s gender equality policy, she says, has shot up the number of women in technical professional positions.
When we think about the working environment in mines, the majority of us imagine it as predominantly male. Many positions in mines — like maintaining heavy mechanical equipment and operating facilities and mines — are perceived as “masculine.” Even positions requiring academic-level education in this environment are mostly in the field of engineering, where the number of women is relatively low.
These facts make the presence of Cristina Arespa, Head of Operations in ICL Iberia — a position to which she was appointed in early 2018, and which requires the management of hundreds of employees — stand out. Arespa, who joined the company in 2009, has served in the past as plant manager and as industrial manager in the company. “As part of my current role, I am responsible for all that’s related to the operation of the plants and mines,” she says. “My responsibility actually includes the whole area of manufacturing and engineering in the company.”
Arespa describes her job as very dynamic and diverse: “I like the fact that no day is like another, and every day I have to deal with different challenges. I love the connection I have with people in various roles in the company and love the fact we all work together to achieve the same goals.”
Arespa, who was born in the city of Manresa in Spain and still lives there today, is a graduate of Chemical Engineering studies at the University of Barcelona, and holds a Master’s degree from IESE business school, which is part of the University of Navarra in Spain. “After five years of studying chemical engineering I started working for Pirelli, which was still under Italian ownership at the time,” she tells us. “During my 15 years in the company I served in different roles in the field of quality control and production.”
Lack of Role Models
Arespa is well aware of the fact that a woman in her position is a relatively rare sight in her field of work. The fact that in ICL itself women fill these roles makes her proud. “It is a mostly masculine field,” she says. “There are hardly any women in senior production positions, since there aren’t many women in this field in general. In all my years in the industry, I have never encountered any difficulty in advancement for being a woman, but I have noticed the relatively low number of women.”
“Girls don’t choose engineering studies because the field is considered as less beneficial to the world than medical studies or education, for example — which is not at all true.”
Arespa spoke about the reasons for the lower number of women in the industry at a recent conference which gathered leading women from different sectors in Spain,. ICL Iberia´s gender equality policy, Arespa explained at her talk, has led to a constant rise in the number of women in technical professional roles. “Women don’t choose engineering studies. Today, only about 30 percent of engineering students are women,” she said, “and it happens for different reasons: sometimes it’s the parents and other relatives who don’t support girls enough and suggest they pick easier fields of study. Another reason is that there are not enough role models. There aren’t many women in engineering who have reached senior positions and whom young girls can look up to. Furthermore, there is a misperception held by many girls that they are not as good as boys at mathematics. The other reason for which, in my opinion, girls don’t choose engineering studies,” added Arespa, “is that the field is considered as less beneficial to the world compared to medical studies or education, for example — which is not at all true.”
Arespa, whose own 20-year-old daughter is following in her footsteps and is now studying chemical engineering as well at the University of Barcelona (“even with some of the same professors,” Arespa laughs), believes that change should start within the education system. “Science should be made accessible to the younger generation,” she says. “It should be made accessible and fun, and it’s important to make girls feel they are able to excel in this field.”