- Interviews SenerEQUAL
Sofía Ruiz is an Electronic Systems Engineer and Product Manager at Sener Aeroespacial. She studied Industrial Engineering, specializing in Electronics at ICAI. Subsequently, she completed a Master’s in Motorsport Engineering at Oxford Brookes, in the United Kingdom, a country where she worked for several years in the automotive sector before joining Sener Aerospace & Defense in 2018.
We talked to her on the occasion of International Women’s Day.
Sofía, what drew you to the scientific-technological sector?
There are people who have a clear vocation from a very young age, but that was not my case. I loved both science and humanities. I grew up in a home where there was a lot of reading, frequent travel, and where we were encouraged to be curious, to have inquiring minds.
In my case, I think that what tipped the balance towards science was the arrival of the internet at home, in the year 2000. I was a teenager then and I found it fascinating to have all that information, all those resources just a click away. I spent that summer learning how to program websites on my own and since then I have never stopped wanting to grow, learn and contribute in the technological field.
What are the challenges and opportunities that women face when they reach the professional field?
Working in engineering means constantly solving problems, so in that sense, every day is a new challenge. Designs never work first time and you have to think creatively, in an innovative way and without getting discouraged. Women in particular sometimes have the added difficulty of making our way in a world that has traditionally belonged to men.
Specifically in my case, when I worked in the automotive industry in the UK the percentage of women in engineering was around 10% and for a long time I was the only female engineer in the office. Most of my male colleagues welcomed me as one of their own, mentored me and helped me grow professionally.
However, in external meetings (with customers and suppliers) sometimes my presence seemed strange. So I developed the habit of trying to talk for the first ten minutes to prove myself so that no one would have any doubts about my skills or training.
I guess there’s this cliché that men like cars and understand about it, and women don’t have a clue. So I was trying to fight against that stereotype and it was exhausting.
I spent years not painting my nails for work, trying to dress in a similar way to my colleagues, suppressing my “femininity” to blend in and thus not be “the different one”.
Over the years I have gained confidence and met more women in the sector, and I have learned to be myself, without fear of being underestimated due to being a woman and without the pressure of having to prove myself to be better than the men.
As you look to the future, in what areas would you like to keep advancing, what challenges have you set for yourself?
I am currently leading a team in the design of electronics to control mechanisms in commercial space missions.
I think that in the space sector specifically we are going to have many interesting challenges and many opportunities in the coming years and I would like to continue growing in that environment, leading teams and mentoring young engineers.
Education is essential to advance personally, professionally and socially. As a professional, the slogan of this year’s International Women’s Day is “For an inclusive digital world: innovation and technology for gender equality”. How do you think education in the digital age can help achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls?
I think that in Spain, for years and fortunately, women have the same rights as men and we are free to forge our own destiny.
In this regard, my current lifestyle and my career would have been completely unthinkable and inaccessible to a woman fifty years ago. So I think it is important to highlight the effort and work that past generations have done to make this possible today.
In some sectors, old-fashioned mindsets still prevail and I believe that new technologies are an essential platform to showcase the achievements of many women in the sector, and thus educate and inspire a new generation.
We might think that, in countries like ours, both boys and girls have the same opportunities to access the Internet and technological devices and that, therefore, interest in technical careers should be more balanced. Why do you think the presence of men continues to predominate in this sector?
This is a matter that is always controversial. I remember a conversation years ago with a friend (also an engineer) who told me that traditionally men have always preferred to work with machines, and women with people. That made me reflect, and although it is not applicable in my situation (I chose the machines!) I think that there may be some truth in it and that women may feel more attracted to professions where the focus is on people, and not so much on robots, engines or algorithms.
In any case, in recent years the female presence in the sector has increased considerably and we are gradually ending the stigma that it is a “men’s world”.
In the scientific-technical world you need to have an inquiring mind, a good dose of courage and perseverance. And these qualities are neither male nor female. They are human.
What advice would you give to future generations?
With the technological advances of the last decade, we are living in a world that is moving faster and faster and where everything is instantly available. In this context, I think it is important to stay awake and present, and to rely on technology to solve the challenges of the future, instead of becoming slaves to it.