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A meeting at the United Nations on gender equality

Engineer Laurette Ponce of the CERN Control Centre spoke of her career in science and technology at a recent UN meeting on gender equality

When I was asked to represent CERN at a United Nations meeting on gender equality, once I’d got over the surprise I immediately accepted. I am particularly happy and proud to work at CERN, and every time I’m asked to represent our Organization or to talk about what we do, I accept, as I consider it not only an honour, but also an integral part of my work.

However, this time it was something quite different: the subject (gender inequality) was particularly symbolic, as was the location. Not the CERN Control Centre, where I spend most of my time and feel completely at home, but the world of diplomacy and policymaking: I was right out of my comfort zone.

I was very torn: on the one hand I wanted to represent CERN and its values, but on the other, I also wanted to talk frankly about my own personal experience. I wanted to tell the story of my career in science and technology, to speak about how it had developed without any gender-related obstacles, but I didn’t want my experience to be “politically hijacked” one way or another.

It seems completely natural at a place like CERN to discuss our ideas, so I talked about the subject with my colleagues and with Geneviève Guinot, who is in charge of CERN’s Diversity Programme.

I was happy to discover from my colleagues’ many and varied comments that the main lessons to be taken from my personal experience related to the conditions that allow women to build a career in science, namely: access to education, support from family and society, and a working environment conducive to the empowerment of women. Combined with my passion and determination, this is what made my career possible. The speeches by the various delegations brought it home to me that such conditions are not even present throughout Europe, let alone in other parts of the world.

During the two days of meetings, I learnt a great deal about the progress being made and the ongoing challenges in certain neighbouring regions within Europe.

I also learnt more about CERN’s Diversity Programme, the policies in place at the Organization and what is great about our working environment, but also about the challenges, old and new, which arise from the notion of diversity being buried deep inside our DNA.

Most of all, it’s great to know – and all my colleagues agree – that if we have problems, suggestions or feedback on the subjects of diversity or equality, we have a place to go and people to turn to: the people who run the Diversity Programme. They monitor the situation, collect feedback and relevant comments, and above all, they propose and implement real solutions to foster diversity.

As I emphasised at the United Nations on behalf of us all, we still have a long way to go and the figures don’t make brilliant reading, but the process is complex: the number of women who apply for jobs at CERN remains low, but we really must encourage young women to get into science and offer the right conditions for them to pursue a scientific career. Some changes need new policies, but it’s also clear to me that each of us has an individual role to play.

I hope that by participating in this event at the United Nations, highlighting my own history as an example of favourable conditions, I have played mine.