Partnerships for change: EMT Madrid & Comillas University discuss their Women in STEM Chair

The STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) world is, sadly, still pretty much a men's world, but women are here to change this.

In honour of Women's Month 2023, POLIS sat down in conversation with EMT Madrid and Comillas University to find out more about their very much-needed ''Chair for the Promotion of Women in STEM in Vocational Training for Sustainable Mobility''. Curious? Keep on reading!

Madrid's iconic city centre views

Madrid is the gift that keeps on giving: Our Global Ambassador and winner of the POLIS 2022 Award, Madrid, is committed to making the Spanish Capital a better place for all. How? Through bold initiatives carried on by equally bold partners! This is the case of the Chair for the Promotion of Women in STEM in Vocational Training for Sustainable Mobility: a public-private partnership seeking to understand why women and girls are not entering STEM fields or continuing to higher education. 

Indeed, the gender balance in STEM remains heavily...imbalanced, to say the least. In the academic year 2019-2020 (Spain), women made up just 29.8% of students, with this figure dropping substantially at intermediate and higher VET. Female talent, crucial in the ongoing and upcoming mobility transformations, still needs much more support to balance the scale and reach its full capacity; and partnerships like this one are vital to achieving this change.

To learn more about it, we sat down with Julieta de Micheo (Director of Institutional Affairs and CSR at EMT Madrid) and Yolanda González-Arechavala (Director of the Chair for the Promotion of Women in STEM in Vocational Training for Sustainable Mobility). The result? The compelling interview you can find just below!

How and when was this Chair created?

Julieta de Micheo: The Chair is an initiative of ours (EMT Madrid) together with the Iberdrola Foundation. It was created during the summer of 2020 to improve the access of women to training and employment opportunities in STEM, focusing on the sustainable mobility and public transport sectors. Moreover, our goal was also to analyse the degree to which the academic content of STEM degrees is in line with the skills needed in organisations like ours; academic training does not always match the training needs at a business level.

Yolanda González-Arechavala: When it comes to the Comillas Pontifical University, we had already been working for many years to promote STEM vocations. Therefore, when EMT and Iberdrola approached us to propose the creation of this Chair, we quickly accepted the challenge! We are very pleased to work together with both for something we are so passionate about.

The Chair consortium gathered together for discussion in Madrid

What have, so far, been your main findings? Is there anything surprising that you would like to bring to the spotlight?

Yolanda: The most surprising part has been realising the full complexity of the issue, which involves diverse interrelated factors in various areas (educational, personal, socio-cultural, and family-related). We must work on all of them to solve the different causes that affect not only the students, but also their families, teachers, counsellors, and more. The whole society needs to get involved both in the public and private spheres.

Julieta: While we have noticed a change at the business level as well as in our society, there is still much to do. There is still, for example, a significant gender imbalance between speakers at specialised technical conferences. Public-private collaboration is essential here – we need to work together! It is a short, medium, and long-term job.

Julieta de Micheo

Julieta de Micheo holds a Bachelor of Communication, Advertising and Public Relations from ESERP Business School, a Bachelor of Arts (Business Management) by Staffordshire University and a Master in Strategic Business Planning from Rey Juan Carlos University. She joined EMT Madrid in early 2020 as Director of Institutional Affairs and CSR.

How do you view the evolution of the presence of women in STEM vocations since the creation of the Chair, and how do you see it evolving in the short-, medium-, and long-term future?

Julieta: The results are not yet here, but they will come. The Chair is making a substantial effort, going from the early stages of education to University and Vocational Training. We do not only focus on students but also work with the educative sector, companies, and other social organisations. We believe that we are on the right track - step by step, everything will come.

Yolanda: While this is a complex problem and, therefore, we cannot say for sure that a large number of women in STEM vocations has changed significantly since the creation of the Chair, there has been a positive evolution in the number of students who decide to study Vocational Training and our society is increasingly aware and involved in tackling the issue. Indeed there has been a significant increase in initiatives and interest on the part of companies.

What has the Chair achieved so far, and what are the next steps?

Yolanda: Our main achievement has been to gain a foothold in Spanish society. Our activities focus on three main features; research, action, and dissemination. Through the creation of dissemination activities, workshops in educational centres, presentation of reports, and organisation of round tables, we have managed to showcase the power of public-private collaboration to tackle crucial societal challenges – and we will continue to do so!

Julieta: We are firmly committed to increasing the opportunities available for women and their presence in the sector, as well as deeply aware of their crucial role in the transformation that the mobility sector is currently undergoing. At EMT Madrid, we will continue to advance gender parity in our company and offer stability and opportunities to women with STEM vocations.

One of the Chair events promoting STEM careers to students in middle school in Spain

Do you have best practices to share with those wanting to promote the presence of women in STEM vocations, especially in sustainable mobility?

Yolanda: We must showcase the value of STEM careers, improve the experiences of students and teachers so that they see the usefulness and creativity of the sector, and adequately train school counsellors. Last but not least, gender stereotypes continue to be deeply rooted in our society; it is, therefore, essential to visibilise STEM women by, for example having both STEM students and professionals talk publicly about their careers and experiences.

Julieta: Linked to this, I would also highlight an action promoted by our company, the organisation of the Conference "Commitment to the Employability of Women". This conference counts with presentations by high-level representatives of educational institutions, interest groups, and companies linked to the transport and mobility sector. The greater presence of women in public transport must be achieved through the joint alliance of companies, public authorities, academia, and society as a whole; we must always keep this in mind.

Women in STEM face challenges both entering and, once in, being part of the workforce. Does the Chair have any measures to tackle these possible challenges?

Yolanda: The dissemination work carried out by the Chair, presenting successful experiences of women in the STEM world, allows girls and women to have new female role models. In addition, companies are increasingly aware of the need to attract female talent at all levels, both to have a more sustainable society and for the value that diversity brings to them. For this reason, companies are increasingly seeking women with STEM training.

This is not just an issue in Spain, it is a Europe-wide issue. If we also add the lack of female talent in these careers, it will not be possible to reduce the labour-gender gap and achieve a sustainable future.

Yolanda González-Arechavala

Yolanda González-Arechavala holds Ph.D. at Comillas Pontifical University and an MSc in Computer Engineering at the University of the Basque Country. She is the director of the Chair for the Promotion of Women in STEM in Vocational Training for Sustainable Mobility, a teacher of the Computer Science & Telematics Department and a researcher of the Institute for Research in Technology in the ICAI School of Engineering at Comillas Pontifical University.

What would you tell those girls and women interested in mobility and starting a career in STEM?

A young student enjoying one of the many workshops organised by the Chair

Julieta: STEM education and training have become a priority to ensure that young people, and especially women, have the skills to compete in a globalised economy based on knowledge and technology. I would like to encourage them to consider sustainable mobility and transport for their career development as it is one of the most reliable, stable, secure, and highly innovative sectors.

Yolanda: To not doubt it and go for it! You can significantly help improve people's living conditions and create a more sustainable society through STEM. A truly sustainable society cannot be achieved without female talent. It is necessary to find the solution to the current social issues of our time by avoiding all biases, including gender. It is our responsibility to achieve this.