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Promoting gender equality in theoretical physics

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Fabiola Gianotti is the Director-General of CERN.

The workshop on High Energy Theory and Gender promoted gender diversity in theoretical physics

Last week the CERN Theory Department hosted its first workshop on High Energy Theory and Gender. The workshop was held as part of a broader initiative, known as GEN-HET, which aims to improve the visibility of women in high-energy theory, increase awareness of gender issues in the scientific community, and provide networking, support, and mentoring for women, particularly in the early stages of their careers.

This first workshop was a kick-off event to bring the activities of GEN-HET to the attention of the international physics community. It was organised in the same spirit as any physics conference, but it allowed for a large female participation. Review talks covered all areas of theoretical physics of interest to CERN. Young female theorists were given the opportunity to present their results in two sessions dedicated to short communications. 

Eight of the thirty-eight items in the agenda were specifically reserved for presentations on gender-related issues. Speakers, who included social scientists, covered topics such as the aspirations of young women, the process of academic recruitment and selection, unconscious bias. One talk presented the initiatives taken by CERN to promote gender equality. These issues were then analysed in special discussion sessions that engaged the entire audience.

The Workshop was an opportunity for young women scientists - some of them Master or PhD students - to discuss openly with successful senior women theorists. Such encounters early in a researcher’s career are potentially life-changing, shaping their future choices and motivations. In the words of one of the organisers, Professor Marika Taylor of the University of Southampton, the workshop celebrated “great physics, networking, mentoring and momentum for change.”

This was an excellent event, reaffirming CERN’s commitment to promoting inclusiveness, in this case gender diversity in physics, and delivering constructive outcomes for the evolution of women in our field. It is disappointing that the success of the workshop has been overshadowed by one speaker who made statements contrary to the ideals on which CERN is based. Furthermore, the same speaker used his presentation to make unacceptable personal allegations against individuals attending the workshop, which is why we have been obliged to take action.

We strongly reaffirm the principles of respect, tolerance and equality in which we firmly believe and which define CERN's spirit. We do not tolerate any violation of those principles in our working environment. CERN remains committed to diversity in all its forms. It is a fundamental strength of our Organization and an integral part of the scientific endeavour.

CERN’s statement on the incident can be found here.

For an overview of CERN’s activities to monitor and promote diversity at the Laboratory, see: cern.ch/diversity/news