Time for change in the Ombud’s office


Established in January 2011, CERN’s Ombud’s office is rapidly approaching its seventh birthday, and with Ombud Sudeshna Datta Cockerill about to take a well-earned retirement, Pierre Gildemyn is preparing to assume the role. The change of Ombud provides a good opportunity to look back at the reasons why CERN established the Ombud’s office back in 2011, and how it has fared since then.

The office was created to accompany the launch of the CERN Code of Conduct. It is there to provide help to anyone at CERN experiencing conflict of any form. It is an informal, neutral and confidential place to turn, and it aims, wherever possible, to catch issues before they develop too far, while resolving any rare cases that can’t be avoided, with the minimum of fuss. Like the Code of Conduct, the Ombud’s office is all about promoting respect in the workplace.

I am a firm believer that the role of Ombud in any organisation helps to ensure a healthy working environment for all. At CERN, the role was very quick to become established: the Ombud’s Corner in the Bulletin has been well read from the beginning, and around 100 people make use of the services of the Ombud every year. That’s a small number compared to the overall CERN population, and it includes representatives of all categories of personnel. Similar numbers of men and women turn to the Ombud for advice, although that translates to a considerably higher fraction of the female population than that of the male population. The issues raised are, however, similar for both. Relationships between supervisors and supervisees, and relationships between peers, constitute the lion’s share of issues that people bring to the Ombud. About half of the cases are addressed confidentially through advice or discussion, with only a small number of cases leading to action or mediation. To me, this is a strong sign that the office of the Ombud is working as it should, and that we have created an environment that allows conflicts to surface and be managed constructively.

Every two weeks, the Ombud’s Corner in the Bulletin provides thought-provoking reading as it unpicks the kind of issues that are the bread and butter of an Ombud’s work. There are articles that address general aspects, like the important role of empathy in management roles, stepping out of our comfort zones, or the role of respect in the workplace. Other articles cover specific issues, such as unearned advantage, which many of us may enjoy while being quite unaware that we have it, or the potential perils of a hastily written e-mail. I strongly encourage you to read these articles: I always do so!

Sudeshna Datta Cockerill will be handing over the keys to the Ombud’s office to Pierre Gildemyn at the end of this month, after a career spanning 41 years at CERN and covering a range of roles in HR. I’d like to thank Sudeshna very warmly for the great work she has done with the office of Ombud, and wish Pierre every success in his new role. 

Read the latest Ombud’s Corner article here. The collection of Ombud’s Corner​ articles can be found on the Ombud's website.