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María Muñoz Production operator at Hydro's recycling plant in Azuqueca , Spain

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Breaking Barriers: How Hydro’s Azuqueca recycler is improving gender balance

In just one and a half years, Hydro’s recycling plant in Azuqueca, Spain transformed its workforce from zero to 20 percent female operators. The shift, driven by proactive efforts to improve gender balance by the management team, not only fosters diversity and inclusion, but also enhances the organization’s talent pool, contributing to broader societal goals of gender equality. In view of the commissioning of a new recycling plant in 2026, where an equally inclusive team will be established, these advancements come at an excellent time.

“We strongly believe that a diversity of backgrounds, personalities, opinions, and perspectives is beneficial for us as a business. In the search for employees, we need to select the best candidates irrespective of their background. Differences in perspective also help us make better choices in operations every day, and it enriches our work environment. Recruiting women is an important first step towards a more diversified organization. Something we certainly encourage when we start the recruitment process for our new recycling plant,” says Leiv Erik Ødegaard, Director of Recycling in Spain. 

Women’s Committee addresses challenges and the need to include more women 

Last year, a Women’s Committee was established to address the challenges experienced by women working at Azuqueca and how to meet their needs. 

The committee, led by the plant’s Process Engineer, Diana Calvo, aims to identify which working areas require improvements to fit the needs of men and women alike. This has been very important to ensure smooth integration and address any structural or organizational challenges for the eight female operators that have been hired since September 2022. One and a half years ago, the plant with a workforce of 68 had zero woman in operations. 

María Muñoz, the first female operator hired, underscores the importance of the willingness to learn in succeeding at a company like Hydro. Thirty years old, and born in Alcalá de Henares, María now works as a production operator and welcomes the increase in female colleagues at the plant.

“I knew about Hydro from afar, but not that much in detail. However, when I saw the job post I sent my application and was very happy to get the job. The work environment is good, and I appreciate both my colleagues and supervisors,” says María.  

Hydro Azuqueca began operation in 2001, producing low-carbon, recycled aluminium for the Spanish automotive, and building and construction industries. 

Room for more women

“I work in the charging area, my job is to push scrap to the melting furnace with the charging machine, take out and change the dross pans, turn them over, transfer aluminum from one furnace to another, take samples, prepare the dams, and clean the launders and the work area. I like working at Hydro because I have started from zero since I joined, and I have been able to train and learn on the job in every position I have worked in so far. I like the way we work and how we develop the product from start to finish. If you can show commitment to safety and improvement, have a desire to learn and work, there is room for you within our company,” says María.  

“I think the increasing number of female colleagues is very positive. I was the first woman in operations and I think there is room for a lot more,” concludes María. 

Collaborative efforts for gender equality

In their efforts to further improve gender balance, employees at Azuqueca reached out to representatives of the town hall's women's center to attend shift meetings and educate the organization on women's issues and the historical fight for equality.

“For the Women's Center of Azuqueca, it is a pleasure to collaborate with Hydro, a company committed to gender equality. We value the firm commitment to the incorporation of women as production workers in its plant in a sector in which, until now, women were underrepresented,” explains Paloma Sanz Palacios, representative of the Employment and Business department of Azuqueca de Henares Town Council. “The fight for equality is not only a matter of social justice, but also a commitment to progress by incorporating the talent of half of the population. Even more so in a field in which women have until now been underrepresented.”

The journey towards gender equality continues as on March 18, the signing of the agreement between Hydro Aluminium Iberia S.A.U. and the Women’s Institute of Castilla La Mancha took place. This agreement entails that Hydro Azuqueca belongs and commits to "Companies and entities of Castilla La Mancha for a society without violence towards women."

In the municipality of Guadalajara, fifteen companies have already endorsed this agreement, demonstrating a shared commitment alongside Hydro to raise awareness about equality and fundamental rights.

"We are proud to have companies like Hydro in Azuqueca that, in addition to generating employment and wealth in our city and, by extension, throughout the province and the region with the recycling of aluminium scrap, share with this City Council a strong commitment to equality and the fight against gender violence," says mayor Miguel Óscar Aparicio in an interview with Nueva Alcarria.

Laying the foundation for future collaboration

With the recent development towards gender balance at the Azuqueca plant and the signing of the agreement with Women’s Institute of Castilla La Mancha, tangible progress has been made on the path towards gender equality. 

Promising steps, especially with the prospect of commissioning the state-of-the-art recycling plant Torija in 2026, just 35 km from Azuqueca. This new recycling plant will help further decarbonize industries by producing 120,000 metric tonnes of low-carbon recycled aluminium per year and create approximately 70 new jobs.

“The recent advancements made in respect of gender balance will contribute when we start compiling an equally diverse and collaborative team at our new recycling plant. We will consider the entire workforce population irrespective of their backgrounds, with an eagerness to learn and develop at Hydro, as is now the case in Azuqueca,” says Leiv Erik Ødegaard.

a couple of flags on polesInternational Women’s Day in Azuqueca  

The official International Women’s Day flag will be flying at Hydro’s Azuqueca plant on Friday.

“Our purpose with celebrating the diversity days and in this case the Women’s Day, is to ensure that we are having a work environment where everyone, irrespective of gender, sex, skin color or opinion, feels safe, and comfortable, and free to express themselves as they want,” says Leiv Erik.

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