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Do men still predominate in HVAC/R? Andreina Figuera’s experience in this field

What is the situation like for women in HVAC/R? What professional positions do they hold? After having found out more about the experience of Andrea Voigt and heard some advice from Ilana Koegelenberg, this time we go to the field and talk to Andreina Figuera, Business Development Manager for CAREL Ibérica.

When Paola asked me to tell her about my experience working in the HVAC/R sector, I said, whoa! Where should I begin?; and since I like to talk a lot, I thought I’d better take a few minutes to think about it, so as to be a bit more succinct; those who know me also know that brevity it is not one of my strongest points.

In these brief notes, I will try tell you my story!

I am a mechanical engineer, I graduated more than 17 years ago; since then, I’ve been working in the HVAC/R sector.

When I was at the high school, I realised that I was passionate about technical subjects, more than humanities; maybe this was because the results are so precise, or because all of the theories can be demonstrated in our day-to-day lives; I don’t know the exact reason why, but the truth is that I liked these things, and so I decided to pursue my studies and begin a technical career.

Back then, in Venezuela, the country where I was born, there were many political problems; this situation made everyday life so hard, due to all the collateral problems. University students often went on strike, so studies lasted much longer than normal; to start a career could take more than six, seven years; all this was so far detached from what I wanted, which was to simply get my degree, without wasting time, and start working.

My best option at the time was to apply to a university where there were no strikes; this was a university managed by the government together with the military, and so student protests were not tolerated. My challenge at the time was enormous: to start a highly technical career, in an environment led by the military, in a very macho country. I already knew that my future in that world was not going to be easy.

My time at that university gave me many positive experiences, there were very few girls who finished a degree, but all of them had good results and were very passionate about their careers; nowadays, all them are successful professionals.

Shortly after university, I started working in the refrigeration business, for a very well-known company in the sector. At the time, innovations were being introduced to commercial refrigeration, with the use of electronic controllers. Mechanical thermostats were still used for most of these applications, remote management systems slowly began appearing, and electronic expansion valves were only used in sophisticated applications.

I must confess that at the beginning I felt like a rarity, out of place, because it was a sector where men predominated, and at one stage I even wondered if I had made the right decision regarding my studies; fortunately, over time I changed my mind.
Yes, it has been very hard to work in such a macho sector, but it has been worth it, because this has pushed me to grow professionally and personally.

When I first started working, it was very rare to see a woman visiting factories or industrial facilities, and even rarer still, negotiating with men in charge of large accounts; nowadays, however, this is becoming more common, and in time and with everyone’s contribution, this is going to be a thing of the past.

Today, after all these years, I have to say that I still put passion into what I do, I always strive for excellence and I assume responsibilities as much as or more than men. Throughout my career, I have dealt with all kinds of people, from very different cultures, which has enriched me, I have seen how industry has evolved enormously in our sector, and I am enthusiastic to know that we are part of this change, which I hope will bring very positive things.

Certain types of behaviour have always been associated with gender; if you are strong, you are a man, if you are weak, you are a woman... and so you stop counting how many other labels we have been given throughout our lives.

Unfortunately, we have lived for many years in a society anchored in old principles, where masculinity and femininity have been determined by more rigid cultural patterns, by stereotypes that punished tough action, feeling or thinking as if these traits belonged to the opposite sex, considering them to be abnormal. However, now we are “permitted” to be different and I would say that it is increasingly necessary to move fluidly between two energies, the masculine and feminine, so that they are in balance.

Women in this sector, and in many others, traditionally dominated by men only, need to be strong, rational, courageous, perseverant and set limits (all characteristics traditionally associated with masculinity); without however losing our sensitivity, emotion, intuition and empathy (characteristics typically associated with femininity). We are constantly balancing these two masculine and feminine energies, conditions or characteristics, according to circumstances, tasks or situations that we choose to live.
There are many things that still need to change:

  • Wage disparity
  • Promotion difficulties
  • Lack of balance between personal and professional life
  • Fairness in recruitment processes, among others ...

The first things we have to eliminate from our lives are stereotypes, change our own attitude, teaching these things at home and in schools; support by the institutions is vital to achieve a radical change in our society.
Until all of this happens, I will continue be passionate about what I do, being consistent and working hard to keep my energies balanced in a sector that is evolving, demanding, constantly changing and that nowadays needs more of this feminine touch that makes it shine.

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