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"If you are passionate about it, it’s your job, whether you are a man or a woman"

Interview with Alba López, Electrical Operator - Asset Maintenance, APM Terminals Barcelona

Hi Alba, you are currently working as a Maintenance Operator at the Barcelona Terminal, a job where there were only men until you arrived. What made you choose a traditionally male career?

I always liked science, but when you are young, you don't really know what your options are or how the professional world works. When we finished school, they took us to a vocational fair at the University of Costa Rica where they explained to me what various engineering courses consisted of, and that's when I decided on Mechanical Engineering. I studied Mechanical Engineering and Industrial Maintenance, there were only two of us girls on the course, all the others were men. I had other female classmates in Industrial and Civil Engineering, but in Mechanics it was just the two of us. It's difficult to see women in these careers, but I think that it's gradually opening up more and more. I don't think it was ever an issue that put me off, it was never a problem for me.

After graduating, I was not yet sure about what specialization I would like to pursue. I had always been attracted to cargo ships and large vessels, but on a trip to Panama, where I visited the Panama Canal, when I saw the locks and those huge ships, I fell completely in love with this world and that was when I decided to return to Spain to study for a master's degree in Naval Engineering, which I still have pending, and I knew that my future was to be close to those ships.

And when I was offered this job here, it was a dream. Being in this environment is a dream come true.

Did you see yourself repairing machines on ships?

Yes, when you're not in the sector you don't really know how it works. But yes, let's say that my idea at first was to be an engineer on board. But then, once I was here, I saw that I was also interested in other sectors like logistics or planning, in fact anything related to ships interested me. I love my job, and the idea of working for this company and having the opportunity to grow is also a motivation. I really enjoy what I do.

Sometimes I even look forward to coming, or I don't want to leave because I like it. For example, when I have a complicated technical issue, I struggle and it' s time to go home without having solved it, I say: “No! I don't want to leave until I solve it.” That part is very nice.

What did Alba dream about when she was little? What did you want to be when you grew up?

A biologist. I wanted to go and look after lions in Africa. I always wanted to do great things, I like challenges, I used to wonder what the hardest thing was to do, and that's what I wanted to do. I have always liked science and understanding how things work. At first, I wanted to study theoretical physics, because my dream was to work at NASA. But of course, a research position was a bit complicated and I didn't want to end up as a teacher. 

That was a distant dream, but ports, I don't know. Since I was a child, I would see a cargo ship and it was as if I was passing by a candy shop. And in my studies, I was fascinated by the big machines. That's why when they called me in for interview and told me it was in the port of Barcelona, I have to confess that I cried, I knew I was going to like it.

What do you like the most about your job as a Maintenance Operator?

I love everything. I don't know, the ports, the vessels, the cargo ships, they have always been my passion, and I find it incredible to be in an environment available to only a very few people, totally different from the real world, surrounded by big machines. It also helps that every day the work is different. Every day you have a different machine or a different malfunction to fix. And we have time to analyse and think, which is also important. I learn a lot and I like that, both from the training and from my colleagues, who are always willing to explain new things to you. 

And which is your least favourite thing?

Getting up at 4 in the morning? Ha, ha... I couldn't say what I don't really like.

It's definitely a dangerous job that involves physical strength. How do you cope with the fact that your job involves strength and working at heights, for example?

Yes, it is a job that involves a certain amount of danger, because it is work at height and we work with heavy machinery, and in an environment of intense machinery traffic, because the terminal is working 24 hours a day. That's why you always have to be calm and think about what you are doing, because, well, the risk exists, there have been accidents and you have to be very careful.

Did you find it easy to get your job?

Yes, more or less. I did the first interview, and then I received a second call, which was more of a staging of what to expect if I accepted the position than an interview, in which I was told: “look at the size of the machinery, you work at heights, there are only men in the department at the moment, you will be the first woman, etc., are you sure you want to join?” And I didn't hesitate. 

I have studied a complicated career track at university, where most of my colleagues are men and I did an internship in a refinery, so it doesn't put me off at all.

Have you ever felt any kind of discrimination?

Not really. At the beginning it can be strange for those who are not used to it, but I think that for most of them it was not a problem, on the contrary. In the end it's a question of being recognised, of making your own place and making them see that you are capable of doing everything they can do. There is no difference. I took it as a challenge, and also with humour, to make them see that I could do exactly the same. Now they see that I am just one more, that they can talk about the same topics, be calm, and little by little we have all adapted. But I have never felt offended, they have always respected me.

I am very happy with my colleagues. There is a very good team in the workshop, very good people, we work very well together and we are all willing to help each other. It 's really like a family; we look after each other and that makes working very comfortable. Not because of men, women or anything else, the APM Terminals Barcelona workshop is a very good place to work, there is a very good atmosphere and a lot of camaraderie.

And I would like to thank Ángel Lorza, Equipment Manager, and David Bermúdez, spokesperson for the union, for encouraging a greater female presence in the workshop and the union in general, who are always there to help us.

Do you feel that in a way you are paving the way for other women in positions like yours?

I hope so, I would love it if we could be in a mixed environment. I think that having worked with a woman and having seen that we work in the same way, that we contribute in the same way, as one more colleague, it also changes the mentality and if another woman enters, it will be easier for her. Prejudices have already been broken, perhaps a door has been opened and hopefully more women will enter. 

You have to like getting dirty, being at height, next to huge machinery... If this is what you like, go ahead. If you're passionate about it, then it's your job, whether you're a man or a woman.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years' time?

I like to excel and, although I 'm doing well at the moment, I 'd like to grow in the future. I want to get a master's degree, continue my training here and if possible, and if I can apply for other positions in this company, I want to continue growing professionally. The truth is that being here and being able to develop myself in this company is a dream.

What kind of job do you see yourself doing in the future?

Well, I don't know, I 'm still discovering the jobs. At the moment I 'm enjoying what I do and learning a lot. I am planning to do the maintenance of equipment and machinery, as well as large-scale projects where you have to do better. I tend to demand a lot from myself and give my best, and I can't see things that need to be improved without being able to be part of the solution.

What would you tell other women about this job?

If you like it and are passionate about it, my advice to both men and women would be "go for it". Don't think that because you are a woman or for any other reason, you can't do something, if you like it you have to go for it, without hesitance and without fear. Simply to break with the schemes and go wherever you like.

And in the end, you adapt, and you move along.