Brussels, 24 Jan 2003
EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin called on businesses to take up the issue of promoting women in industrial research with a view to putting it on the agenda of the Italian Presidency of the EU, beginning on 1 July.
Mr Busquin was speaking at the presentation of a report on women in industrial research and responding to a question by rapporteur for the report, Teresa Rees, who asked what will happen now? Who will take the lead?
'It would be useful to have a beacon group in business that we can support,' said Mr Busquin. He proposed to the representatives from industry present at the meeting that they consider forming such a group, for which the Commission would provide logistical support.
The Commissioner proposed that this is done quickly so that it can be put on the agenda of the Italian Presidency when Italy takes over from Greece on 1 July. Mr Busquin believes that the Italian Minister for Education, Universities and Scientific Research, Letizia Moratti, 'would have a particular sensitivity' to the issue, as she herself has a background in industry. 'We should use the timing,' he said.
The proposal was widely supported by those present, including Professor Rees, who labelled it a 'very good idea'. 'The idea has been around for a while and I am extremely pleased that the Commissioner has seen a role for the Commission in assisting things to develop,' Professor Rees told CORDIS News. 'Commission support is vital,' she added.
An observation by Professor Rees regarding the three reports on women in science in which she has been involved also supports the idea of the private sector taking the baton. 'We didn't find universities that stood out and we haven't found individual countries that have sorted out the problem [...]. But in the private sector, we do see some beacons - companies that have recognised the problem and are on the path to addressing this business need.'
Professor Rees was also keen to highlight the role of the media in making such an initiative successful. While some countries already have CEOs who would be interested in participating, others would have their awareness raised by coverage of such a group's activities by the media. 'The CEOs would think 'am I missing something here?',' said Professor Rees.
Helga Rübsamen-Waigmann, chair of the expert group which compiled the report and vice president of Bayer AG and head of anti-infective research was also optimistic, but emphasised the importance of CEOs understanding the business imperative of increasing the presence of women in industrial research.
'If 50 per cent of graduates are women but only 15 per cent of researchers are women then employers are selecting mediocrity, and I am certain that CEOs wouldn't want that, but they don't see it's happening yet,' Professor Rübsamen-Waigmann told CORDIS News. 'If their eyes can be opened, that's a good thing,' she continued.
Pierre Bismuth, vice president of personnel at Schlumberger, presented an example of industry actively seeking to increase its percentage of women researchers. Schlumberger is a company of scientists and engineers which recognises that it 'needs to tap talents wherever they are - and they are all over.'
Mr Bismuth believes that a cultural transformation is first necessary within companies if the percentage of women researchers is to be increased. A transformation that he believes takes at least 20 years. Once the management's commitment has been secured, companies then have to convince women of the career opportunities that are available to them in science and engineering, adapt policies and procedures where necessary and adopt a flexible approach,' said Mr Bismuth.
Since adopting this approach, Schlumberger has seen its number of female recruits rise from 201 in 1994 to 542 in 1998 and then 1193 in 2002.
Speaking to CORDIS News, Gabriel Marquette, also from Schlumberger, welcomed Mr Busquin's proposal, saying that his company had been wondering what they could do next. 'It's good that the Commissioner proposed it - we will bounce off that,' he said.
For further information on women in science, please