Marta Gastón is Minister of Economy, Planning and Employment of the Government of Aragon. Since her arrival at the Aragonese Executive in 2015, she has been working to make women visible and to achieve effective equality in the socioeconomic field. She is an honorary member of the association Directivas de Aragón.
How is Marta Gastón evolving to become a reference in female leadership?
With equality and normality in terms of male and female referents, one is born and grows. When someone works in active politics, you are driven by the desire to improve society, and equal opportunities drive my approach to active politics. Within equal opportunities, beyond economic and territorial opportunities, there is of course gender. When you get to active politics, in my case in 2015, and from the vantage point that allows you to see the socioeconomic reality of Aragon, you realize that not only there is much to do in the field of equality and female representation, there was something that seemed to me more urgent and was that having business leaders, knowledge, research… women leaders in all fields we could imagine, there was a problem of visibility. This is what we intended from the beginning, not from one day to the next and not as a one-time program or as something circumstantial, but to establish a long-lasting vocation. We established collaborative work with organizations already working in this field, such as Directivas de Aragón or ARAME.
“having business leaders, knowledge, research… women leaders in all fields we could imagine, there was a problem of visibility”
Were you not working in this sense before?
What was intended was to do so by contributing, so we launched at the end of 2018 the Chair of Women’s Management Development, in collaboration with the University of Zaragoza and the Asociación Directivas de Aragón. The inauguration was exciting for those of us who had been working in this field for some time. It allowed the dissemination, training, research or the implementation of scholarships for studies on the evolution of what has to do in the management development of Aragon. In order to be a better economy, of the 21st century, I think that everything that is being done in schools is very important, I think that this is something educational. You cannot go overnight from not giving importance to believing that a defense of equal opportunities for all is one of your priorities.
Is something wrong with education?
No, what Directivas de Aragón does is to make itself visible as partners, telling girls and boys that they can go as far as they want, like other national or international movements such as Inspiring Girls. This is not only a matter of school, it is cultural and family formation, this is dragged and it is not changed from one day to another. Fortunately, a lot of progress has been made. When it is said that girls have to see, for example, that there are women in the stem field, it is fine, but they have to see that there are female bosses, that there are female engineers piloting top-level research projects, they do not have to think something that is utopian. Top-level management positions are important, but so is equality in the workplace, which is also an area that concerns us in the Department.
How are you working on it?
The implementation of equality plans in companies was a great leap forward. The implementation of these plans was promoted for the entire business fabric, although we saw that it was the large companies that, due to their possibilities, were implementing them. It is important because they are a mirror for the rest to follow, but the SMEs, which is the organizational reality of Aragon, have more difficulties to do so. The Department has launched calls for aid, in collaboration with the social agents. We also carry out the dissemination of success stories and good practices to encourage and infect the rest of the companies on a voluntary basis. Our belief is that equality in the labor and socioeconomic sphere cannot be imposed, it must be encouraged.
“Our belief is that equality in the labor and socioeconomic sphere cannot be imposed, it must be encouraged”.
How do the social agents help? What diagnosis is being made?
Work is being carried out by the Chair itself and by the University to see how it is evolving. Within all the matters that we deal with within the framework of the social dialogue, this is one of the issues defended by all the social agents, and we are working with them. As all public policies must be evaluated, we are looking for an efficient use of public resources. The call for aid is not so much for its economic value but to help them in the implementation of the plans, it is a tool of support, of proximity and support for all the companies that start in the process and do not know where to go. We believe that having this network with the Government and the social agents has contributed to a good number of companies joining.
How has the position of women in Aragon improved through your work in the Government?
I have been in the Government of Aragon for six years now and with my own experience, I do see that, fortunately, the mentality and social culture is evolving. The other day the first public prosecutor of Aragon took office. There must come a time when this will no longer be news. They asked her if she thought she had a greater responsibility and she answered that she had the same responsibility as if she were a man. I agree, the same as a male prosecutor in her position. We are reaching heights that years ago would have seemed unthinkable and everything that improves and leaves a mark will be the best satisfaction of my time in the Government of Aragon.
What are the next steps?
The alliance we like to have with the University as a bastion of knowledge requires a formative measure. In this respect, and I would have arrived earlier if it had not been for the pandemic, we are going to start up specialized training for these women managers, not only current but also potential ones, in the next academic year. It is a training that allows them to make a leap, starting first of all from believing it themselves; and secondly, specialized through experiences and hand in hand with the companies. From the Department we have made an alliance with the School of Industrial Organization, which depends on the Ministry of Industry. This course offers the possibility that it is not only for students or unemployed women, but also for workers, because it is a training course that allows to have a classroom part and an online part. It will be the first of the collaborations and we hope that it will continue for many years, we will evaluate the results and it consists of adding up to have a normality accompanied by a visibility of referential and pioneering women.
“we are going to start up specialized training for these women managers, not only current but also potential ones, in the next academic year”.
You were the first Minister of Economy and Industry of the Government of Aragon.
Yes, someone had to be the first. Does the job change? Well, no, but it always has to be someone the first one so that it is normalized. In recent cases I was struck by the fact that Sara Martín joined the works council of Stellantis (formerly PSA) and it seemed to be an area totally closed to men and she is doing a good job.
How did it affect you personally to be the only woman in certain environments?
Even in that we have improved. I remember that on a Monday, July 6, 2015, I took office as a councilor and that same Thursday I had my first public act with President Lambán and with the Business Council of Zaragoza. From there I took a picture that many people in Aragón tell me they keep as if they were saying “this is what needs to be improved”. I was the only woman, but fortunately it is changing. Even the social dialogue is taking into account these possibilities and there are positions in the business organizations that aim for a woman to be the representative. We have to go on conquering, not in the war sense, but in the sense that it becomes normal, that it is seen as normal. Maybe the photo was surprising, but when it comes to work, gender is exactly the same. Whether you are a man or a woman, you have to work as a team, otherwise things don’t work out.
There is a problem of visibility but also of conciliation: what can be done so that women do not have to choose between work and family?
That’s why we don’t just talk about referents and we start by talking about jobs and finding them. When we look at the unemployment data, in absolute data the number of unemployed women is higher than the number of unemployed men, normally month by month it is around 60% of unemployed women. We have to break mental barriers in this aspect. It is a problem beyond the conciliation, it is of the employer and for questions that have to stop being a hindrance. Unfortunately, it is still thought that the friendliest place to work for women is the Administration. We have to make it a mirror for many companies, but female talent should not be wasted in any job or field of work just because she is a woman. Zero reticence. In other countries, the insertion of women in private companies is facilitated by greater and better reconciliation policies. On the other hand, in the mentality of many employers it is still present the fact that they directly translate young women in unemployment and low productivity. Far from reality. I would like it to be possible, through the Chairs and the university, to deepen the study of this productivity and make clear what many of us believe: that it is not so. In 2021 I have had to listen to company bosses questioning the breastfeeding hours of female employees. This is not absenteeism, it is normality.
What is your female role model?
I have always said the same: my mother. You don’t have to look for great role models because at home you see how a woman spends her day training, working, teaching at the university, taking care of her mother who was once ill, raising two daughters… What do I have to see outside if she is close to me? Day by day you see that he has aspirations that he is fulfilling. As a woman, my reference is my mother, but it would be the same mother as father, because I have grown up in an environment, in a house, where co-responsibility has been natural. You have to make visible what is close to you. With so many women working today, it is the best education that can be given to many girls and boys.