Infrastructure

Experiences

Diversity in team management - Juan Ruiz De Gopegui

As head of the Space and Defence Development area in SENER Aeroespacial's Electromechanical Systems division, Juan Ruiz de Gopegui is used to working with multidisciplinary, intergenerational and multi-local teams.

 

Juan Ruiz de Gopegui

Juan, tell us about the diversity you have encountered in the different phases of your professional life.

In each of the projects in which I have participated, as well as in each position I have taken on, I have had the opportunity to work with very diverse people; this has made learning rewarding and professional growth greater.

Having just graduated in Industrial Engineering, specialising in mechanics, at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), I joined SENER as an aeronautical and space project engineer. My first project was the EJ200 (Eurofighter) nozzle, where I learned a lot from Jesús Lata, who was 10 years older than me and had a strong technical orientation.

Already in the Herschel satellite optical bench project, Carlos Pascual was my mentor. He taught me the peculiarities of space projects and much more. He was about 30 years older than me and had a lot of experience in project management in many different sectors, from nuclear power plants to artificial satellites. Later, during my participation in the development of machinery for the manufacture of fibre struts for aeronautics, I had the opportunity to share a project with colleagues from SENER in Barcelona, who came from automotive projects, and I realised that the different sectors and different geographies made the common work richer and more complex.

In 2005 I left SENER to join, as project manager, a boilermaking and machining company for large components. It was a company where the ways of working and interacting were very different from those I had experienced at SENER, neither better nor worse, but different. From the technical director, from whom I took over after his retirement, I learned a lot about welding and boilermaking, and about the particularities of the steel sector.

Three years later, I returned to SENER to manage Space projects. This was a phase in which I had to work mostly with younger people. Their drive and good humour helped me a lot to overcome the difficulties of a project that was becoming more complicated than it should have been.

Colleagues from different backgrounds, in this case from other disciplines and geographies, are helping me to grow as a professional and to enjoy my work every day.Juan Ruiz de Gopegui

Once again, in 2014, my career took a turn and I became manager of the Structures and Mechanisms section, taking over from Fernando Artigas, with whom I had the great good fortune to share several months of overlapping and carry out a very orderly transfer. I don't think any other manager has ever been made so easy! This new position meant managing a team of more than 100 people, a guarantee of diversity. Indeed, the team ranged from interns who were just starting to get a taste of what a company is all about, to senior people with a lot more experience than me. In addition to the Aerospace sector, which I knew, we worked in the Energy sector, which even in the same company had its particularities and differences. I enjoyed learning as I went along, helped by many colleagues. After the spin-off of SENER Aerospace and the consolidation of SENER Aerospace as a company, the area I manage is both multidisciplinary, with Electronics and Control as well as Mechanics, and trans-geographical, between Tres Cantos and Las Arenas. Once again, colleagues from different backgrounds, in this case from other disciplines and geographies, are helping me to grow as a professional and to enjoy my work every day.

How does diversity affect team management?

In a first step, one might think that teams that are not very diverse, composed of people with similar temperaments and ways of working, are easier to integrate as a team and to manage. Maybe in teams oriented towards a very specific task and with few deviations from the established plan this is the case, because indeed the affinity of the members facilitates some things, but I think that these teams are not suitable for complex projects such as those we develop in SENER, with activities of very different natures and in which the initial plan is almost always profoundly rethought several times.

In most SENER projects, we have to look for this diversity in the teams, select people with diverse skills, know how to see the particular talent of each person and assign them to the activity in which they will perform best.Juan Ruiz de Gopegui

In our day-to-day work, and within the same project, we need creativity to conceive new solutions and products, analytical rigour and technical robustness to guarantee the viability of our developments and plans, the ability to understand people (be they clients, subcontractors or colleagues), specialisation or in-depth knowledge of a specific technology, transversality or knowledge of different technologies with the ability to integrate them, negotiating skills to align conflicting interests, ability to improvise in unforeseen situations, meticulousness to look for the 'devil' in the details, ability to present our achievements in a convincing and inspiring way,... These are very varied, and in some cases conflicting, skills that cannot be found in a single person, but can be found within a team of diverse capabilities.

I believe that, in most SENER projects, we have to look for this diversity in the teams, select people with diverse skills, know how to see the particular talent of each person and assign them to the activity in which they will perform best. We have to bring this diversity together in a constructive and positive way, tackling potential conflicts and always valuing diversity. As individuals, we sometimes tend to seek the company of peers, but I believe that those of us who have worked in well-articulated diverse teams can see the multiplier effect.

The coexistence of people from different generations in the same team is advantageous. It allows us to take advantage of the knowledge, the experience in different situations and the composure of the older ones with the drive, the openness to incorporate new solutions and the mental agility of the younger ones.Juan Ruiz de Gopegui

Nowadays, in companies, four generations live together in the same workspace, in the same teams. What do you think are the advantages of this intergenerational coexistence?

First of all, I think we need to be able to look beyond the categories we use to analyse sets of people, whether these categories are age or generation, geographical origin, gender, or any other. Each person is the way they are, whether this correlates better or worse with the categories they fall into. I can think of examples of people, young and old, who do not fit into what is said of their generation at all, and that is perfect!

Having said that, I believe that in general the coexistence of people from different generations in the same team is advantageous. It allows us to take advantage of the knowledge, the experience in different situations and the composure of the older ones with the drive, the openness to incorporate new solutions and the mental agility of the younger ones. At the same time, each person is enriched by working together: the senior people age less and the younger ones mature earlier. And the intermediate ones? For them, it serves as a reminder that they still have much to learn and little to forget.

In many cases, beginners tend to consult more with peers of their generation or slightly older, whom they feel closer to them. Operationally, this may often be appropriate, as they have recently gone through the same learning process. However, if they do not consult with their more senior colleagues and do not build up that trust, they will miss out on many occasions when the answer, in addition to the technical solution, will lead to sharing experiences or reflections that will contribute much more professionally. I always encourage overcoming excessive respect, breaking the ice and establishing these relationships of transgenerational trust.

My eyes were opened in this respect by a project we called Millenium, because of the ages of the Project Manager, the Materials Expert and the Thermal Manager (it was a cryogenics project). I started off a little bit shy, and worried about getting bored. But it turned out that I learned a lot, technically and humanly, we did a lot of things that had never been done before, and along the way we had a lot of laughs and a great time.

I have always experienced a great openness to share knowledge and experiences from all the people I have turned to at SENER. I think this is something that is learnt as soon as we join, and when we have something to share, it comes naturally to us.Juan Ruiz de Gopegui

What strengths and weaknesses do we have in companies when it comes to managing the transfer of knowledge between the different generations?

Instead of talking about companies in general, I am going to shift the question to SENER, or at least the parts of SENER that I know best.

I think our main strength is in the unmanaged transfer: the day-to-day transfer of projects shared by different generations. As we are a company with a long history, the population pyramid is balanced in many areas and allows close contact with other generations. It is well known that a high percentage of the learning we do is done through daily work, and sharing it with people from other generations is an opportunity.

On the other hand, I have always experienced a great openness to share knowledge and experiences from all the people I have turned to at SENER. I think this is something that is learnt as soon as we join, and when we have something to share, it comes naturally to us. It is one of the company's values and, of course, a very strong point for the transfer of knowledge.

The younger generations have technological knowledge, and especially a capacity to integrate innovations, which would greatly enrich companies that are able to give them a voice and the means to integrate them into their activity.Juan Ruiz de Gopegui

In addition, in recent years I am detecting a 'groundswell' with the different standardisation processes and actions across disciplines, which encourage us to share knowledge in a more structured way. As a result, internal procedures and trainings have been prepared to accelerate knowledge transfer.

These initiatives, not so day-to-day, are limited by a difficulty intrinsic to our way of being: the pressure we impose on ourselves for high productivity, in many cases measured in the short term of each project, which does not encourage "sowing for the future". However, as I say, this is something that in recent times is being mitigated, although we have to keep at it.

Finally, I believe that there is a difficulty that can be extended to most companies, and that, while the transfer from the older generations to the younger ones is something natural and sought after, the opposite transfer is less common and is not sought after. I think this is a mistake in these times of great change. The younger generations have technological knowledge, and especially a capacity to integrate innovations, which would greatly enrich companies that are able to give them a voice and the means to integrate them into their activity.

 

The very diversity of people is a facilitator of innovation, of finding new answers, and even new questions that lead us to the right solution.Juan Ruiz de Gopegui

What role do you think the combination of diversity (demographic, cognitive and experiential) and innovation plays in business?

When it comes to being efficient, improving results and solving today's problems, a certain degree of diversity and innovation already allows for a better response. If, as is usually the case in companies like ours, it is a question of improving existing products or responding to new customer needs (or new specifications), diversity of profiles and innovation in solutions is essential. The very diversity of people is a facilitator of innovation, of finding new answers, and even new questions that lead us to the right solution. Having people with different experiences and skills in the team allows for a greater diversity of options and to work better on the selected ones, innovating more efficiently.

But the really important long-term innovation, which can make the difference to survival in times of change, is the exploration of technologies, products or sectors that are new to the company. Seeing and working beyond what now "feeds us". This requires a greater diversity, not only of personal profiles or skills, but also of focus, of high and low lights, of ability to take risks and to control them.

It is important that, from positions of responsibility in companies, even if our personality or skills are specific, we know how to see everything that different people bring to the table. That we encourage this diversity, promote innovative proposals and provide a channel for their assessment and development, if necessary.

What role does work-life balance play in managing diverse and innovative teams?

I think it is important to point out that work-life balance is not only required by parents with dependent children; there are also other situations of dependency, interest in sports, cultural or social activities, or other circumstances.

Work-life balance measures allow more people to be more involved in projects, and the organisation of working time leads to a higher quality of work.Juan Ruiz de Gopegui

For a long time, too much emphasis has been placed in companies on the ability to sacrifice personal life in favour of work. This model encourages people who take on responsibilities to have similar patterns of priorities and tends to be reinforced. Fortunately, we are breaking out of this vicious circle, as people are increasingly demanding a better balance. However, I believe that companies have also realised that this balance is beneficial for the work we do and that it favours flexibility in both directions.

Work-life balance measures allow more people to be more involved in projects, and the organisation of working time leads to a higher quality of work. The diversity of characters and skills we look for in innovative teams would be much less if we could not count on people with different priorities and time needs, or if their involvement was limited by their personal circumstances.

In addition, the greater organisation of time brought about by work-life balance measures also helps teams to organise their work better, and to balance collaborative and personal work. This is where new technologies help, as they have demonstrated during the pandemic, as well as collaboration between people who are distant from each other. This balance between personal and collaborative work, which facilitates creativity and the remote collaboration of complementary people, means that innovation can be strengthened by these measures.

 

'Cultural diversity enriches our professional experience.' Susana Domingo

For Susana Domingo, an architect specialising in transport architecture and urban planning, travelling, getting to know other cultures, working in multicultural environments, are experiences that provide us with new perspectives and ways of understanding or approaching a project, enabling us to respond with the most appropriate and best adapted solution to the social and cultural context of the environment where we are developing it. We talked to her about cultural diversity and working in multicultural teams.

Susana Domingo

In your opinion and experience, what are the benefits and challenges of working in a multicultural environment?

In my case, it has been very enriching to work in countries with different languages, gastronomy, climate, religion and ways of managing projects. I think that nothing should be taken for granted, what may be commonplace for us may not be so for others.

Sometimes it is difficult to understand some customs and the biggest challenge is to come to understand their way of living and doing things, different from ours, but not for that reason incorrect. From my point of view, it is important to have clear solutions, but it is essential to know how to listen to what our clients demand and "understand why they ask for it". I believe that this is the key to being able to contribute new ideas based on our experience, which help to improve the way of life of the people for whom the projects in which we participate are intended, without trying to drastically change their way of life.

Knowing the customs and the way of thinking of the country in which we have to do a project is fundamental to make it work and to ensure that it is well accepted by our clients and future users.Susana Domingo

What is your approach to understanding the perspectives of colleagues from different backgrounds?

When approaching a new project, you instinctively start without thinking about cultural differences and go with what you know. In the early stages of design, when you put ideas together, you realise that the way of doing things can be very different. It is very interesting to put together the different ways of working in order to choose the best from each of them. Knowing the customs and the way of thinking of the country in which we have to do a project is fundamental to make it work and to ensure that it is well accepted by our clients and future users. In short, the important thing is to respect their way of seeing things and, from there, define how we can improve them, without ever imposing our way of doing things.

How can we transform multiculturalism into a competitive advantage for the organisation?

Nowadays, borders between countries seem to disappear; we move around much more than before, both for work and for leisure, which means that we are incorporating customs from other cultures into our daily lives and making them our own. This means that, when working in other cultures, local customs no longer seem so different to us, or at least they don't seem so strange to us.

At SENER we are used to working with colleagues from other countries and therefore with other cultures. The local knowledge they bring allows us to solve problems more quickly. By having different points of view and working as a team, all the alternatives are put on the table and in most cases the final result is a mix of ideas. It occurs to me that this cultural diversity could allow the same project to be implemented in different countries by incorporating small modifications, since it already has this multiculturalism in its origin, in order to adapt it even more to each place.

 

By having different points of view and working as a team, all the alternatives are put on the table and in most cases the final result is a mix of ideas.Susana Domingo

What advice would you give to people who work or will work in multicultural and remote teams?

As I said before, soaking up the local customs, culture, gastronomy... is a way to better understand the way of thinking and, therefore, of living in each country.

One of the things that I think has helped me the most in achieving success in a project is to think that I am going to live in that city and I am going to use that building, park, transport system, etc. Not thinking that I'm just passing through, but that I'm going to be a user, that is, designing for others what I would like for my city.

It is true that language is a major barrier, not being able to express ourselves in our mother tongue can lead to misunderstandings, but people often say much more with their gestures than with words; knowing how to observe them gives you many clues when designing. I have worked on projects where urban insertion is fundamental and walking the streets has allowed me to observe the way people move around the city (for work, leisure, studies, shopping, playing in the park, etc.), the way they relate to each other and to their surroundings is key.

 

‘Multiculturalism is a competitive advantage for the organisation’. Interview with Wael Abdul Samad

Globalisation and technology are favouring the development of multicultural work teams, which brings new dimensions in terms of team management as well as providing positive values for the organisation and team members: increased talent flow, empathy and respect for opinions and beliefs, cultural exchange, fostering creativity, experience and leadership skills, among others.

We discuss the benefits and challenges of multicultural teams with Wael Abdul Samad, project manager for the independent design and construction verification of the light rail network in the Greater Montreal area (Canada), Réseau Express Métropolitain.

Wael Abdul SamadWael, your entire career has been developed in multicultural and multidisciplinary teams, what made you decide to work abroad? How has that experience been?

I always wanted to work in an international company and mega projects. I am originally from Lebanon and, after I graduated in mechanical engineering in2004, I decided to move to another country. I worked in Saudi Arabia for 2 years, Qatar for 8 years, and in 2015, I moved to Canada.

Throughout my career, I have been working in health care, railroad, and infrastructural projects, where the team has always consisted of multinational colleagues. My native language is Arabic; I have a working proficiency in English, French and currently learning Spanish.

As a project director for the independent checking of the design and construction of the REM (Réseau Express Métropolitain), I am leading a multicultural team from eight different backgrounds.

 

What are the benefits and challenges of working in a multicultural environment?

Working in a multicultural team offer the chance for personal and professional growth, and will enrich our knowledge. I have always enjoyed working in this environment, since I feel that I am learning all the time from the different backgrounds, skills, and the way to face challenges and solve problems.

Furthermore, the diversity in a team promote personal development, and increase the creativity, and productivity among the teams. With all these benefits, some challenges exist, mostly due to the communication barriers between colleagues.

Sometime the language difference can be challenging, since employees find difficulty to express themselves in the project language, which could lead to misunderstandings. In addition, while working remotely all the time due the current Covid19 situation, the online communication and coordination between a multicultural team can be more challenging, since each employee has his/her traditional or preferred method of communication. Example: some are visual, and other prefer oral communications.

I respect and appreciate other cultures, and I try to learn more about them, to better understand their different background. Besides, I try to use a clear and open communication, with active listening, especially when dealing with colleagues for the first time, as it is easy for misunderstandings to occur simply due to cultural differences. Wael Abdul Samad

What is your approach to understanding the perspectives of colleagues from different backgrounds?

As I find the multicultural environment to be an advantage for the work environment, which can permanently benefit the whole team, I always get along with the different perspective of colleagues and their attitude towards others.

Indeed, I recognize and am aware of the difference that exist between different multicultural people. In addition, I respect and appreciate other cultures, and I try to learn more about them, to better understand their different background. Besides, I try to use a clear and open communication, with active listening, especially when dealing with colleagues for the first time, as it is easy for misunderstandings to occur simply due to cultural differences. For example, some cultures have a more direct and straightforward style of addressing problems, while others prefer to focus on the relationship and take a more reserved approach.

However, after a while the team will be more synchronised, and used to each other.

How can we turn multiculturalism into a competitive advantage for the organisation?

Multiculturalism can be an immense competitive advantage for an organisation, when employees feel valued, supported and had the opportunity to work in the right place. They will form an effective team, which will be able to produce better quality work. Additionally, a multicultural team will lead to a better connection with the client, as the team will be able to better understand their client’s backgrounds, attitudes and expectations.

In my opinion, effective and frequent communication, whether inside the work like a multicultural training or through activities outside the workplace, will bring colleagues together and help to form a harmonious team.

Multiculturalism can be an immense competitive advantage for an organisation, when employees feel valued, supported and had the opportunity to work in the right place.Wael Abdul Samad

What advice would you give to those who work or will work in multicultural and remote teams?

Today, many employees have to work in a multicultural team, and this is a great opportunity to learn more about different cultural traditions. Working closely with colleagues who speak different languages, and from different backgrounds, will expose us to different culture practises, new experiences and knowledge. They always have unique stories to tell, which enrich our collective knowledge. Sometimes it is also an opportunity to learn a new language.

Obviously, we all need to be open-minded, accept each other, and listen to each other carefully.

Finally working in a multicultural environment, will promote professional development and open the mind to new ideas, and new ways of solving problems.

According to Henry Ford, American founder of the Ford Motor Company, "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got".

Diversity in teams, the key to innovation. Interview with Ernö Péter

A multidisciplinary team, bringing different points of view and analysis, experiences and skills, is a key driver to foster creativity and drive innovation. "The more diversity in your team, the greater the guarantee of success", states Ernö Péter, a member of the SENER's Motor de Innovación (Innovation Engine) team, when we talk to him about the influence that diversity has on teams and their capacity for innovation, as well as on one's own professional development.

Ernö Peter

Ernö, your career has always been closely linked to innovation. You have a PhD in Naval Engineering, you are part of the FORAN development team and you are one of the core members of the SENER's Motor de Innovación team; tell us about your career.

In my professional career I have worked in various areas, from software development in the Naval field for several companies, to being Project Manager in an R+D+i project inspired by my Doctoral Thesis, to working at the University; a stage in which I highlight my role as a mentor of several student associations linked to the participation in international engineering and design competitions. In addition, I have developed other projects as diverse as the conceptual design of drones or the composition of soundtracks for short animated films. In short, I have always tried to be wherever I could exploit creativity and my desire to innovate.

Eight years ago, I joined SENER (quite an opportunity for a Naval Engineer!) as a member of the FORAN development team, a CAD/CAM/CAE system developed and patented by SENER that is a worldwide benchmark in the field of Shipbuilding.

My interest in innovation led me in 2019 to participate in corporate initiatives linked to Industry 4.0 and at the beginning of 2020 I joined the Motor de Innovación team (Innovation Engine), which was created with the aim of driving innovation at SENER. Together with my colleagues Meritxell Cusido Roura and Arturo Basurto Arana, we work towards this goal, combining it with the rest of our activities in the company.

Diversity makes the team more efficient and any interaction extremely enriching. We all learn from each other and that attitude is what can make us better.Ernö Peter

In your opinion, what effect does heterogeneity have on a team?

From my point of view, it is absolutely fundamental.

Both in my work in the FORAN group and in the Innovation Engine team and other teams to which I have been linked at some point in SENER, there is a great diversity among the people who make up the team. This makes the team as a whole much more powerful.

As far as FORAN is concerned, we are talking about software development and we have Naval Engineers, Industrial Engineers, Civil Engineers... mathematicians, computer scientists; all of them are top level, with different backgrounds and degrees of experience, from juniors to people with extensive professional experience.

This diversity makes the teams, both development and support, more efficient and any interaction extremely enriching. We all learn from each other and that attitude is what can make us better.

The same is true at the core of the Motor de Innovación. The three people who form part of the core are different in terms of professional and life experience as well as generational level, but that is precisely the virtue of a team that has its great meeting point in the passion for innovation, engineering and technology. If we talk about the whole Motor de Innovación team, diversity remains one of the key factors.

I didn't look for people who were the same as me, I looked for diversity of knowledge, of personality, of experience; but the key was always to ensure that we were all focused on the same goal and that we all contributed to it.Ernö Peter

How do you think this diversity affects our professional development: in terms of talent development or innovation capacity?

It is a key part of our professional growth to surround ourselves with people who are different from ourselves. Another person with the same personal and professional experience, the same way of seeing things and dealing with them, is unlikely to be able to contribute something new, to be a point of reference, an example to follow. There would probably be too many coincidences and, therefore, fewer opportunities to discover new ways of approaching problems and solutions.

My life has been linked to innovation and everything related to creativity since I was a kid. Whenever I have had innovative ideas, I have always created teams based on that diversity as a fundamental point. I didn't look for people who were the same as me, I looked for diversity of knowledge, of personality, of experience; but the key was always to ensure that we were all focused on the same goal and that we all contributed to it.

The digital transformation is impacting the corporate culture of companies. What impact do you think it will have on equality, diversity and inclusion processes? How does work-life balance fit into this transformation?

The digital transformation is more of a universalisation of being digital. Many of us have been living in the digital sphere for a long time, but now digital is and will be the thread that runs through most of our activity. The impact of this universalisation of digital can be very positive if it is adopted gradually and with a clear understanding of the needs in each case, never taking things to the extreme and never rushing things.

A key aspect of digitalisation is remote working, which has arrived like a tsunami in our lives. This can greatly favour work-life balance, it offers us tools that allow us to work ubiquitously, but I am one of those who believe that proximity to your team is also necessary.

A good idea can come from an individual person, (...) but to evolve that idea it is essential to surround yourself with a team that believes in your idea and is committed to it. If you achieve that, it is the first sign that the idea is worth working on and to evolve.Ernö Peter

What advice would you give us to expand our capacity to innovate in alignment with diversity?

I believe that a good idea can come from an individual person, derived from the detection of a problem, a real demand or even from nothing, and that the idea creates a new need among people; but to evolve that idea it is essential to surround yourself with a team, a team that believes in your idea and is committed to it. If you achieve that, it is the first sign that the idea is worth working on and to evolve, but it is not enough; the team has to be diverse, made up of people who do not think like you.

If you are part of a group made up of people with different experience and knowledge; people with very critical and sceptical profiles, who have the ability to justifiably and constructively question everything; people who put your feet on the ground, to whom you have to justify your proposals; people who are dreamers and idealists but who, at the same time, have a market vision; then you can start to think that your idea has possibilities.

The more diversity in your team, the greater the guarantee of success.

 

"We need to talk about diversity and inclusion based on the individuality of each person", an interview with Ana Úsar

Ana Úsar is responsible for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the SENER Group. We spoke to her on the occasion of European Diversity Month, which is celebrated in May, and with 20 years of experience in people management, Ana is specialised in people support processes, as well as equal opportunities and diversity.

 

Ana úsar

Ana, what do we understand by diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

In the business field, the concept of diversity allows us to refer to the way in which we manage the recruitment and development of people and multidisciplinary work teams, considering their multiple dimensions; from demographic, social and personal characteristics (gender, age, culture, etc.), to cognitive and experiential ones, related to values, beliefs, experiences or ways of thinking, among others.

On the other hand, to be talk about inclusion is to talk about the practices implemented by organisations to attract and treat each person from a perspective of equal opportunities, creating an environment in which each person can develop their full potential.

That is why, at SENER, we like to talk about diversity and inclusion from the individuality of each person.

In your opinion, why is diversity so important in the business environment? 

Because diversity is richness, it is impulse, it is learning. In a business environment, managing diversity means giving opportunities to everyone, managing talent on the basis of individuality. I like the sentence "none of us know more than what we know together", and this includes understanding different points of view and knowledge. In the business world, in addition to demographic diversity, it is essential to integrate cognitive and experiential diversity. 

 

Diversity is richness, it is impulse, it is learning. In a business environment, managing diversity means giving opportunities to everyone, managing talent on the basis of individuality.Ana Úsar

Do you consider diverse and inclusive teams and workspaces to be strategic assets for a company? How can they help us as an organisation? 

Absolutely. I believe it is the best way to enable people to develop their talents. It helps us in many ways; from building strong teams, where respect, openness to different perspectives and professional development are real, to driving innovation. 

How can we promote diversity so that it becomes a strategic lever for the company? 

In my opinion, we have to start by being humble and open to new ways of doing and thinking; breaking down limiting barriers and implementing actions. Continue training, raising awareness and communicating. To become aware of our cognitive biases and limiting beliefs, which prevent us from moving forward. This is an area in which we all need to learn and drive change. It is important to create organisational cultures and learning spaces that allow people to develop professionally and personally based on their individuality. Strengthen leadership, so that our leaders are experts in understanding, integrating and developing teams from that individuality.   

In addition, I believe it is very important to continue working on the management of work-life balance, remote work and hybrid work environments.  This will allow us to reach a greater number of professionals, while at the same time facilitating the professional development and job placement of people who have more difficulties in accessing the labour market and professional development.

We all need to learn and drive change. It is important to create organisational cultures and learning spaces that allow people to develop professionally and personally based on their individuality. Ana Úsar

What role do you think the combination of diversity and innovation plays in business?

Diversity and innovation go together. Creating teams with diverse profiles increases our ability to see a multitude of perspectives and, consequently, increases our ability to innovate.  In my opinion, in addition to continuing with actions on gender, generation, culture, etc., we must focus on cognitive diversity and experience. 

Talented young people: Pablo Tardío, considered one of Spain's most influential engineers under 35

We spoke with our colleague, Pablo Tardío, who was recently selected one of the 35 most influential engineers under the age of 35 in Spain, according to the "35 Under 35" list drawn up by Madrid World Capital of Engineering, Construction, and Architecture (MWCC) and Global Shapers España.

He received his degree in Civil Engineering from the Polytechnic University of Madrid and then joined SENER's Youth Talent Program in 2020. Since then, he has been collaborating with the Innovation team in the Marine Infrastructure Department, while pursuing a Master's in Port Management and Planning and Intermodality.

 Pablo TardíoPablo, you are ranked 28th on the "35 under 35" list. What does this recognition of your work mean to you? What do you think the key to this achievement is?

It's very significant, since it recognizes years of effort and dedication. I had to dot all the i's and cross the t's on my application, since there is a lot of competition in these disciplines in our country, something that we really should be grateful for, because of the prestige it brings us.

I would say that the key is constancy, strength and, above all, a desire to do things as well as possible.

You are currently part of SENER's Youth Talent Program. What does being part of this program mean to you?

I think SENER offers us a great opportunity to grow every day and improve our skills. The company's policy also seeks to strike a balance between the work and personal life of each of its professionals. In this regard, I think that these types of principles are fundamental to how employees perform and to having them feel comfortable. Since the company is, in a way, our second home and we spend a lot of time there, what could be better than having a good working environment with your colleagues and feeling at home?

What challenges do you have in mind? What area or discipline would you like to focus on?

I'm passionate about marine engineering and everything having to do with ports, both in terms of infrastructure and of management, planning, logistics and freight transport, which is why I chose the master's degree that I am doing. And all marine work relies on the disciplines of geotechnics and structures, which I have always liked. I think I'll continue learning and training in marine engineering, although I'm not ruling out going into the world of port logistics. Truth be told, I'm open to anything in this field.

The digital transformation is one of the key points, although we mustn't forget that in order to achieve this goal, there must first be a cultural change that requires investment and commitment by our politicians in this field.Pablo Tardío

One the points evaluated by the "35 under 35" program was having "a strong vocation for improving the quality of life through infrastructure design" and realizing that "innovation is the key to the present and future of society." Let's talk about your vision of innovation and the future of cities:

I think the digital transformation is one of the key points, although we mustn't forget that in order to achieve this goal, there must first be a cultural change that requires investment and commitment by our politicians in this field. In addition to this cultural change, the necessary technology must be available and, by using it correctly, we must transform processes (which are the key to the digital transformation). This will make it possible to establish new business models that are more efficient, automated and, above all, environmentally friendly.

We also mustn't forget one very important aspect: it's people who make and create "things." Therefore, we must bear in mind our capabilities, the human value of creating with our hands.

It's important to note that Spain can lead the energy transition. We have sufficient capabilities and the people and materials needed to carry out this process. In my opinion, Spain, a country with so much sunshine, could consider leading the photovoltaic sector and, in general, in the production of renewable energy. Climate change is a fact and we can't wait for the situation to become irreversible, we can't wait to reach the point of no return. We have to take the initiative and we can set an example for Europe as a "green" country that is energy self-sufficient thanks to renewable energies. Our country is rich in many aspects, and we must learn to take advantage of the resources it offers. The sun, our climate in general, is one of them.

Spain can lead the energy transition. We have sufficient capabilities and the people and materials needed to carry out this process. (...) Climate change is a fact and we can't wait for the situation to become irreversible Pablo Tardío

As for the future of cities, it's obvious that we can't continue with the "cities designed around private vehicles" model. In my humble opinion, one of the keys is the bicycle. Our European neighbors have more or less accepted this. There are countries in Europe that give their workers a bonus for commuting to work on a bicycle. This implies that, as a starting point, there must be a cycling network that enables this. The solution is not a "cycling lane," which is what Madrid, for example, has been doing, but rather a coherent cycling network separate from motorized traffic, a model that has already been implemented in cities like Valencia, Barcelona and Seville. In the case of Spain, we still have work to do in this area. There is no other way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than by shifting away from private vehicles (for the good of everyone), controlling industrial emissions and applying the concept of "the polluter pays and repairs" (as required by the Environmental Responsibility Law of 2007), as well as by providing cities with a good public transportation network and a safe and accessible cycling network for everyone. I think that behind all these arguments there are three very important points: social awareness, caring for public spaces and respect. Let's cultivate each of them and we'll see an improvement in no time.

It's a very interesting issue.  I recommend this video by Fernando Valladares, a research professor at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).

A country's growth is based on some fundamental pillars: culture, health, education and public infrastructure. If these pillars fail, we can't advance as a society.Pablo Tardío

What challenges do you think cities face to ensure the quality of life of all their residents?

The challenges of the energy transition, digital transformation and cultural change. It's obvious that we are in the middle of a large-scale globalization, and we have to realize that this situation has consequences, good and bad, for everyone. From my point of view, a country's growth is based on three fundamental pillars, with a closely related fourth: culture, health, education and public infrastructure. If these pillars fail, we can't advance as a society.

Are the challenges in cities in developed countries similar to those in cities in developing countries?

The reality is that we are at different stages. While developed countries are starting to consider how to mitigate climate change and pave the way for an energy transition, developing countries are struggling to get ahead as best they can through the widespread notion of "the higher the production, the greater the benefits or economic development." These countries are implementing the production models that have so far been used to a large extent by developed countries, which act as their growth benchmarks, without taking into account the consequences resulting from these dynamics. Because of this, "we have to lead by example." It's hard to say that so assertively, but when you lack the basics, your hierarchy of needs changes and, as a result, climate change doesn't have the same priority.

However, in this same dynamic, if ecological or sustainable production is implemented and it creates benefits, the developing countries will most likely take that as an example; it's important to realize that the cultural factor is one of the most important, as is the image we convey as a country, and as Europeans as well.

How would you define sustainable infrastructure?

As infrastructure that has been developed and built using only the strictly necessary human and material resources, maximizing safety, with reusable or recycled materials, which is energy self-sufficient and which has the lowest impact possible on the environment and landscape during its construction and throughout its useful life.

What are the keys to shifting towards a sustainable urban model?

Basically, those laid out in the 2030 Agenda on sustainable development. It contains 17 Sustainable Development Goals that range from access to public resources and services for all the planet's inhabitants, to peace, social justice and climate action.

 

What's important is that there be a mix of personalities in teams, since this is what really makes us strong as a group.Pablo Tardío

In engineering, one of the key issues is precisely that ability to "look beyond," to have critical, transformative thinking. Do you think that skill, that ability to be creative, to innovate, can be developed?

Absolutely. Critical thinking is important, since it's what makes you rack your brain and try to do things in the best way possible. Based on personal experience, the key lies in balance: excessive self-criticism leads to an undesirable state of anxiety, so it's best not to be too hard on yourself. My senior-year project contains a quote I came up with that answers the question well: "Because there is no better ally to intelligence than sensitivity." As for transformative thinking, in a way it goes hand in hand with nonconformity, meaning we don't have to settle for just anything; everything can be improved and we can all do our part. As for creativity, this involves a personality trait that, in my opinion, is more developed in some people than others. But, as the wise adage goes, I will say that comparisons are odious. What's important is that there be a mix of personalities in teams, since this is what really makes us strong as a group. In my opinion, the key is respect. Everybody is different, and each individual has personality traits that make them unique.

 

A civil engineering degree is not easy, but it grows on you.Pablo Tardío

What advice would you give to students who are finishing their bachelor's or master's studies in engineering or architecture and who want to stand out from the crowd and get a foothold in this sector?

I would tell them that a civil engineering degree is not easy, but it grows on you. That life takes many twists and turns and that we all experience tough times and hardships that shape our life and that make us grow as people, but that despite this, there are incredible, extremely happy moments, and this is what we need to focus on and pay more attention to. To rely on trustworthy people, on family, and not be afraid to express their emotions. Combining rationality and emotions is essential. I would tell them to set their objectives with peace of mind and respect for themselves and those around them, and to pursue them with constancy, desire and all the enthusiasm they can muster. To try to learn everything they can and remember that society is each and every one of us. A phrase that my family has reminded me of in many conversations.

 

Priscila Teles, project manager in SENER Brazil

Perseverance, effort, a desire to keep learning and improving every day are fundamental values for growing both personally and professionally and achieving the objectives set; however, it's the passion you put into what you do that will make a difference.

We talk with our colleague Priscila Teles, an example of perseverance, a vocation for engineering and the motivation to keep developing beyond the personal desire to grow professionally, with the aim of helping to improve society through her work and by using the skills she has acquired. Priscilla talks about her early career and provides her vision on issues such as work-life balance, diversity in teams and the situation of women in STEM careers. 

She received a degree in electrical engineering from the University of São Paulo in 2015, and a Master's in Energy, Oil and Gas management in 2017. Priscila has over 20 years of experience in the engineering sector, having participated in the development of Technical Proposals, Conceptual, Basic and Detailed Designs of Electrical Installations in the Oil and Gas, Energy, Infrastructure and Transportation sectors. She is currently a Infrastructure Project Manager in SENER in Brazil division.

 

Priscila TelesPriscila, what drew you to engineering? Did anyone inspire you?

My uncle, Marco Augusto Ferreira, was the one who aroused that interest in me.

When I was about 13, I used to help my aunt take care of my cousin. At the time, my uncle, who designs electrical installations, left the company where he worked and started freelancing. I would watch him work. I loved the black screen with one of the first versions of CAD 12, full of colorful lines and strokes. One day, when my uncle realized that I was always watching him, he asked me if I was interested in learning what he was doing. The next day, he gave me a pen and paper and told me to write down some CAD commands. "E deletes, C copies, M moves... Now it's up to you, start messing around with the program and make this drawing." My heart raced, I bought a second-hand computer, installed the program and started working with it. I started working as an apprentice for my uncle and, some years later, when I was 16, I went to work as a draftsman in a small company in São Paulo. Little by little, I sought out qualifications to improve my knowledge and, over time, I had some great opportunities.

As you look to the future, in what areas would you like to keep advancing, what challenges have you set for yourself?

I dream of taking part in building a better country through my involvement in infrastructure and transportation projects. Traveling around Europe, I was able to see that Brazil still has much to improve in this regard. Mobility, accessibility and infrastructure are still far from what is needed to meet the needs of the people of São Paulo, and especially of the Brazilian population. We need to change our reality and I want to be part of that milestone by learning more and becoming more specialized in this field of activity.

It's been shown that diverse and inclusive work teams get the most out of each individual's personal skills, foster innovation and are beneficial to project development. From your point of view, what role do women play in the field of science/technology?

We can say that women today play a fundamental role in the areas of science and technology. Their restless spirit, their search for continuous improvement and their sensitivity have contributed greatly to science and technology and made them more relevant to our everyday needs, while intensifying the search for the "ideal world," thinking about important issues about how the sector can contribute to the environment and minimize social inequality. Just as great men changed the world's history, so women are also taking part in what will be the next revolutionary discoveries.

Do you think we need structural changes in how work is organized to make sure we can all, regardless of age or gender, contribute and work as a team?

We live in a world where you constantly have to stay up to date and change in order to improve, and that's independent of gender.

Unfortunately, there are still some "taboos" to break and obstacles to overcome, because while men can simply say what they can do, we women have to show what we can do, and the wage gap still has to be fixed.

Education is essential to advance personally, professionally and socially. As a professional, what message would you give to an 18-year-old woman who is about to start her higher education and doesn't know what area to major in?

I would tell her to do something that makes her want to get up in the morning with the aim of being better than the day before, something she can be proud of and something with which she can contribute to improving the lives of others. I would tell her to look for something that turns her into a source of inspiration and that motivates her to be willing to change the world.

We can say that women today play a fundamental role in the areas of science and technology. Their restless spirit, their search for continuous improvement and their sensitivity have contributed greatly to science and technology and made them more relevant to our everyday needs, while intensifying the search for the "ideal world," thinking about important issues about how the sector can contribute to the environment and minimize social inequality.Priscila Teles

What would you tell other women to help them further their career and balance it with their personal life?

Never place limits on your knowledge! You have to be improving all the time, exploring what's new and looking for that thing that makes your eyes light up. A woman with a gleam in her eyes can move mountains.

But I would also tell them not to kid themselves. Balancing one's professional and personal life is not an easy task. There are many "taboos" in our society, and while it's true that we're slowly overcoming them, they are ghosts that still chase us, like the weight of the responsibility of managing the home or educating children and other personal tasks that have more of an impact on a woman's career. At work, we're also under more pressure to prove our ability, which often requires greater dedication to work, making it even more challenging to strike that much-needed balance between personal life and work. We have to find a way to make it clear, both at home and at work, that we are competent and that we know what we're doing and that everything has a limit.

Therefore, make it clear that you have goals, dreams, duties and rights and that, like everyone else, you need help, companionship and team spirit. You're not Wonder Woman, don't try to do too much!

To what extent do you think the digital transformation can help us improve work-life balance?

I think that the digital transformation has come to help us make the best use of our time while we work. We have to use it as a powerful tool in the difficult task of balancing work and family life. We can, for example, get qualifications through online courses where, in a way, we can acquire knowledge while at the same time being close to our family; teleworking too has given us a chance to continue doing what we like professionally while being close to our loved ones, who also need us to be there every day.

 

 

Mercedes Sierra, SENER Country Manager in the United States

We interviewed Mercedes Sierra, SENER Country Manager in the United States; an example of growth, professional development and leadership ability, but also of SENER's multidisciplinary nature. Since joining the company in 1985, Mercedes has taken part in and led numerous projects. She has also held various management positions, first in the aerospace sector and then in energy and infrastructure and transport. She is currently responsible for expanding SENER's activity in the United States, primarily in the area of large, technology-heavy urban and rail transport projects.

In fact, in recognition of her achievements, in 2005 the Spanish Ministry of Economy appointed Mercedes to be the Director of Aeronautics and Space at the Center for Technological and Industrial Development (CDTI), where she served as a representative of the Spanish Government in different international organizations and meetings until 2009.

Mercedes SierraMercedes, your career at SENER demonstrates a great commitment to innovation and to providing highly technological engineering solutions in any field of activity. You have a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Cantabria (Spain) and an Executive MBA from the IESE Business School.  Did you always want to work in engineering?

I liked mathematics and it was actually what I was thinking of studying, but at the time I was advised to do something more practical like engineering, and that's how I became a civil engineer.

Did anyone inspire you?

My mother's brother was an industrial engineer and I got along great with him, but when she asked him about my plans to study engineering, he answered that it would better to forget about that and consider becoming an executive secretary. I have a lot of respect for that profession because I have been lucky enough to work with very professional secretaries who have helped me a lot in my work, but it wasn't a profession for me. I'm not sure I would have been a good one.

As you look to the future, in what areas would you like to keep advancing, what challenges have you set for yourself?

It might seem that at this stage in the game, I have little to learn or grow career-wise, but I still consider myself a jack of all trades and master of none. Recently, I've been interested in topics that could be considered "softer": how to better understand people and ourselves. I realize that we often over-react or have bad times because of issues that, at their core, have to do with our fears, with wounded pride, with thoughts of "they're going to think I'm not cut out for this," with being too hung up on the approval of others, which is so volatile. Also, not knowing how to put yourself in the shoes of the person in front of you, believing that only those who think and act like us are worthy... I have seen too many initiatives fail due to clashing egos or arguments that have a lot to do with all this, and I think we need to evolve in that regard.

We have made a lot of progress in technological aspects, but we continue to have the same personal problems we've had since the dawn of time, and I think engineers are generally not particularly good in these aspects. We think people should work like machines. In the end, the key is always people, it doesn't matter how smart we all are. As Theodore Roosevelt said, "People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care."

It's been shown that diverse and inclusive work teams get the most out of each individual's personal skills, foster innovation and are beneficial to project development. From your point of view, what role do women play in the field of Science and Technology/Engineering?

I recently read the rather discouraging news that enrollment in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers is decreasing in terms of women's interest in them. I think a lot of things still need changing. The general perception is that the work involved in these careers is extremely competitive with highly aggressive environments, and many women have decided that the battle isn't worth it. I think there has to be a more balanced way of doing things. Fortunately, many people, both men and women, understand this. I have a lot of faith in the new generations.

Do we need structural changes in how work is organized to make sure we can all, regardless of age or gender, contribute and work as a team?

We need to be more open-minded; think about what this person who thinks differently can offer me, rather than listening while at the same time calculating how I can counter their arguments. I think that diverse groups yield their best results when they are in a setting of mutual trust and respect. Greater diversity at the top of the organization certainly helps; I believe a lot in leading by example and in the influence of role models.

It happens to me: in SENER's office in the United States, we have a very diverse staff, with people of different ethnic backgrounds. Of course, it's easier and more comfortable for me to relate to Spanish people because we have a common cultural base that keeps you from having to explain many things, but I think that the effort to understand and integrate "others" ends up enriching you and it's beneficial to the team dynamic, which ultimately yields better results.

It's about normal women having access to the same jobs as normal men. I think one thing that holds us back is thinking that we're never sufficiently prepared when opportunity knocksMercedes Sierra

Education is essential to advance personally, professionally and socially. As a professional, what message would you give to an 18-year-old woman who is about to start her higher education and doesn't know what area to major in?

I would tell her that STEM degrees will allow her to have a very interesting career, and that the trend that will undoubtedly take hold in coming years will mean that her professional life won't have to advance to the detriment of her personal life. Work is going to change a lot, in ways we can't even imagine.

I believe that work-life balance remains the great challenge for everyone. We must find a way for normal people to succeed at work while letting them have a life outside of work.Mercedes Sierra

What would you tell other women to help them further their career and balance it with their personal life?

I would tell them that they don't need to be perfect to "have a seat at the table" (to use the term by Sheryl Sandberg). It's about normal women having access to the same jobs as normal men. I think one thing that holds us back is thinking that we're never sufficiently prepared when opportunity knocks

To what extent do you think the digital transformation can help us improve work-life balance?

I think flexibility is wonderful and the digital transformation is contributing a great deal to this. Something I've always liked about SENER is that management relied on trusting people and giving them freedom to act, and not so much on controlling them. I don't know what we would have done this year with COVID-19 without the right tools. Having said that, I believe that work-life balance remains the great challenge for everyone. We must find a way for normal people to succeed at work while letting them have a life outside of work. I think we're relying too much on "heroes," and that's not a sustainable growth model.

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