Genevieve Guinot, head of the diversity office,  answers some questions about what it is really like to work in a diverse organization like CERN.

A video of some of the many women at CERN who have broken down barriers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics  (Video: CERN)

Why might someone be interested in working in a diverse organization?

If you’re looking to learn from different perspectives and approaches, you could be interested in working in a diverse environment. But. if you are truly convinced the cross-fertilisation of ideas boosts creativity and innovation, you should be interested in working for a diverse organization like CERN.

Working in a diverse environment is enriching and rewarding, and requires an openness to other cultures, a welcome approach to hearing viewpoints different to one’s own.

What is CERN trying to do to address the gender imbalance in particle physics?

One of our key priorities is to achieve an optimal gender balance in our workforce. Particle physics and accelerator-related technologies remain male-dominated fields and CERN’s ambition is to attract more women.  Having said that, CERN can claim a number of female role models, in all professional families and at all stages of their career, who show that it’s possible to make a scientific or technical career at CERN, starting with our new Director-General, Fabiola Gianotti.

We may lack as yet the critical mass to have a visible effect, in particular in senior staff positions, but things are changing. We are seeing more and more women holding key leadership positions for example, Edda Gschwendtner, leader of the AWAKE project, or Maite Barroso Lopez who has recently taken up the position of Deputy Head of the IT Department.

Why did CERN set up the Diversity office?

Diversity -- bringing together people from different countries and cultures to work on a common goal -- has been an integral part of CERN’s mission since its foundation. CERN is becoming an increasingly global laboratory. We know that greater awareness and understanding of difference is needed, and that requires constant vigilance and commitment. That is one reason, amongst others, why the Organization set up an office specialising in Diversity issues back in 2012.

We often hear that International Organizations are diverse. But how is this reflected at CERN?

As a culturally diverse organization, the first evidence you would see of diversity at CERN is the mix of nationalities - on a normal day there are more than 10,000 people on-site from over one hundred different countries. But this isn’t the only facet of diversity that you would see first off:  you might also notice that CERN has a multi-generational working environment. Indeed, in addition to its staff members spanning all ages, CERN welcomes on-site students at every stage of their studies (undergrads, graduates and postgrads) and some retirees are still coming to CERN to share their passion after ending their career.

How does CERN make sure that the wide range of people in its community are supported and feel equal?

CERN’s first equal opportunity statement was published in 1996 and, as an employer, tolerates no form of discrimination between members of its personnel, in particular with regard to nationality, gender, age, profession and individual differences such as belief, opinion, sexual orientation or disability. In recent years, CERN has implemented a diversity policy, which extends beyond legal compliance and is intended to enable each of us, irrespective of our individual differences, to contribute to our full potential.  When we talk about diversity, we mean the wide range of differences, visible and invisible, which exist amongst all peoples. And by working on diversity we mean all sorts of actions from monitoring our organisational practices and processes, and organising activities designed to raise awareness, through to constantly updating our support structures.

A very good example to illustrate the latter is CERN’s recent upgrade of its family and work-life balance policies. If you want to learn more, consult the following webpage:

You can read the full interview here.


Upcoming events 

CERN is also hosting three events in the coming months to celebrate what it means to be a woman in particle physics. These are:

  • Support to early careers in science at CERN. Understanding expectations” – a talk presenting the results of a research study carried out at CERN by three social scientists and takes a gender perspective.

  • “Curie_Meitner_Lamarr_indivisible” a play celebrating the achievements of three exceptional women in the field of science and technology. Registration for this opens soon.

  • A singularly unfeminine profession” – a book presentation by Mary K Gaillard followed by a discussion with Valerie Gibson (LHCb, Head of the HEP Group in Cambridge, UK).

Follow the links for more details.