Celebrating diversity at CERN

With international women’s day coming up, it's time to take a look at how far we’ve come over recent years in promoting gender equality at CERN


With international women’s day coming up on 8 March, along with the recent appointment of a new Diversity Programme Leader, it seems timely to take a look at how far we’ve come over recent years in promoting gender equality at CERN. In short, the news is good, but we still have some way to travel.

CERN does not have a policy of positive discrimination, but rather one of presenting a level playing field. We work to ensure, for example, that the diversity of candidates presented for interview reflects the diversity of applicants. It’s an approach that is having the desired effect. Overall, the percentage of female staff members has risen from 17% to 20% over the last decade, with parity being achieved among professional administrators and significant advances being made among research and applied physicists, engineers and technicians.

At recruitment, our approach is working: we’re managing to attract growing numbers of women. This brings us to the phenomenon known as the leaky pipeline. At CERN, as in other scientific organisations, the average representation of women drops as they progress in their career. Here too, however, we’re on the right track. Monitoring of advancement and promotion over the last seven years shows no evidence of gender bias. And while this has not yet manifested itself significantly in the form of female role models in hierarchical positions, progress to date shows that we’re getting there: we’re starting to breach the infamous glass ceiling.

Inclusiveness goes beyond gender equality, and CERN has also taken important steps over recent years to provide a diversity-friendly environment. We have created an employment opportunity specifically tailored to the needs of people returning to the work place after a career break. The Staff Association has established an on-site crèche. Our HR Department has introduced training for people serving on selection boards to help ensure fairness. A framework for informal networks has been established. HR has also introduced a series of events to celebrate diversity: the next in this series will take place on 7 March (see here), with a focus on women in science, engineering and technology. All of these initiatives contribute to making a CERN work environment that is based on principles of mutual respect and inclusiveness.

My own experience in physics leaves me convinced that the best teams to work in are those with the greatest diversity. That’s where creativity lies, and that’s why I hope you’ll join me in celebrating international women’s day on 8 March, along with the advances that CERN has made over recent years.