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IWD: Gari Villa Landa Soklova

With International Women's Day on 8 March, we spoke to Gari Villa Landa Soklova about her experiences in the Spanish and European water sector. 

Gari is the Head of International Affairs in AEAS, a member of the OECD Water Governance Initiative Steering Committee, Vice‐President of the Spanish Committee in the IWA General Assembly and member of the ISO/TC 224 WG14 on Corporate Governance of Water Utilities. Over her 15 years in the water sector, Gari has covered different spheres such as water resources planning, water policy in Spain, Europe and Latin America and, for the last six years, the urban water sector.

A Molecular Biologist by education, Gari also holds several Masters degrees and is working on her PhD based on the regulation of the water services.

Gari co-Chairs the EurEau Committee on Economic and Legal Affairs.


  • How did you end up working in the water sector?

I basically ended up working in the water sector by chance. I always joke saying that I’m a molecular biologist reconverted into a water policy analyst. My dream was to become a medical researcher to investigate cancer, but that type of career in Spain is very difficult. When I finished university, I decided to do a Masters Degree in environmental management, which included water. Bur after finishing it, I started working on waste management for a couple of years, and then an opportunity linked to water came some 15 years ago, related to the Iberoamerican Water Programme.

  • How have things changed since you began your career?

Fortunately, quite a lot has been changing in the last 15 years regarding the water sector, but more needs to be done.

The water sector has been mainly led by engineers, and engineering was basically a male-dominated profession. Years back, you would see women in positions linked to careers like biology or chemistry, but not so much with engineering.

The change in these last years is due to two aspects:

  1. On the one hand, more women are becoming engineers.
  2. On the other hand, water policy and the water sector are much more transversal and multidisciplinary than before, which has allowed non-engineering profiles working in the sector, and here you can find many more women.

What should be much further promoted is women accessing decision-making positions. It’s still quite amazing how very few women are part of the water sector associations’ General Assemblies. If we want to attract girls and young women to our sector, we also need to show there are no limitations for their career.

Another aspect that is changing is parental leave. If men would have not just the right but the obligation of taking paternal leave, having kids wouldn’t be seen any more as a women’s issue.

  • How can companies/utilities encourage and retain women in to this sector? What are the challenges companies face with respect to gender equality? How can they have a concrete impact?

The salary gap has to disappear and, as mentioned above, women have to be promoted to high managerial and decision making positions.

Of course, gender balance is a matter to be addressed at an overall societal level, and the proper policies to break the gender gap have to be developed. But the water sector could take the lead in promoting real gender balance and become a champion on this ground, showing that gender balance is not just an issue that concerns women, but the society in general.

  • What are the main obstacles that women face in their equal participation in our sector? What are the gender stereotypes etc. that can and should be challenged? How can companies/utilities do this?

The paternalistic approach towards women should disappear. In this regard, traditionally manly job positions (such as plant operators and chief operators) should be occupied by women too.

Awareness and education campaigns on gender balance and what would be the most appropriate behaviour towards female colleagues should be promoted. In addition, zero tolerance harassment policies should be developed and implemented.

Gari Villa‐Landa Sokolova, IWD, women's day

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