Equal opportunities in diversity

Promoting equal opportunities at CERN and advising the Director-General on all related matters is the task of the Equal Opportunities Officer, Doris Chromek-Burckhart, and Tim Smith, chair of the Equal Opportunities Advisory Panel. Changes are being introduced: in future, the focus of their work will be broadened to cover all aspects of diversity promotion.


The term "equal opportunities" has always been broader in scope than the equal treatment of men and women but this is what it has traditionally been confined to in practice. "We wanted to change how people see our mission", explains Doris Chromek-Burckhart. The word "diversity" has much wider connotations than "equal opportunities" and makes it clearer that we are also dealing with differences in nationality, religion, age, culture and physical ability”.

Getting away from the old clichés is vital to ensuring equal treatment for everyone. The diversity of CERN, an international organisation where people of over 100 different nationalities co-habit and work together, is one of the things that helps to make it unique. "Our role includes making sure that differences and diversity are respected. Some people excel in one area, while others are better in another. CERN has to make the most of everyone's potential", says Doris.

One diversity-related issue that the Panel will be addressing in the future is the problem of ageism, particularly in the technical sectors. "At CERN we often find that highly competent technicians who are doing their jobs extremely well are not promoted to managerial roles because their technical skills are vital to the project on which they are working", explains Doris. Once they reach the age of 50 their skills may become less crucial to the success of the project or else the project itself may change. The way the system works, young people tend to get promoted to help them to become more visible and increase the opportunities open to them. This is frustrating for older people who still have a lot of potential at the age of 50."

A sound working environment means better productivity. This is particularly apparent when a communication problem arises with a colleague or supervisor, causing people to feel that they are victims of harrassment or "mobbing". Doris and the Advisory Panel, assisted by the Medical Service, the Human Resources Department and the Staff Association, are also there to promote dignity in the work place.  "All harrassment complaints we receive are dealt with in the strictest confidence", Doris underlines.  "Anyone who feels that he or she has been the victim of harassment should come and talk to us at an early stage, before things get out of hand."

To draw attention to all these issues, an awareness-raising campaign will be launched at CERN in the near future, including a photo competition on the theme of human diversity at CERN. The Bulletin will be following this initiative and keeping you informed.

For further information about Equal Opportunities at CERN, please visit the dedicated website.


by Laëtitia Pedroso