Women at CERN: Once upon a time…

In 1995, a working group was set up to address the gender imbalance at CERN. Twenty years later, the people involved in the endeavour celebrated the long series of achievements recorded by today’s Diversity Office.



Situation in 1995:

14% women/total employees.

Categories requiring university-level education = 5%


Top: The working group that submitted a report to the Management with recommendations to increase the number of women working at CERN (1995). From left to right: Maria Fidecaro, Sudeshna Datta-Cockerill, Irene Seis, Eva-Maria Gröniger-Voss, Linda Griffiths.

Bottom: In 2015, the working group celebrates the achievements of the Diversity policy together with the various people who have been involved in its implementation. From left to right: Maria Fidecaro, Geneviève Guinot, Eva-Maria Gröniger-Voss, Sudeshna Datta-Cockerill, Irene Seis, Josi Schinzel, Doris Chromek-Burckhart.

Situation in 2014:

20% women/total employees.

Categories requiring university-level education = 18% women/total.

Back in the early ‘90s, ahead of a review of the CERN Staff Rules and Regulations, Wim Middelkoop, then Head of the Personnel Division, organised a preparatory meeting to decide which issues should be examined. Eva-Maria Gröniger-Voss, now CERN’s Legal Counsel, was the only woman participating in the exercise. She suggested reflecting on the situation of women within the Organization and proposing possible measures to enhance the gender balance at CERN. It was then decided to set up a working group with representatives from the Physics and Personnel Divisions and the Staff Association. “We worked for over a year to draft the report, which highlighted the situation of women and included four types of recommendations to improve it,” recalls Eva-Maria.

The report (in French) featured statistics, references to policies in the Member States in this matter, and explicit examples of areas in which women were under-represented at that time. The four conclusive recommendations (see box below) were all adopted by the Management over the years and this allowed the Organization to evolve rapidly towards modern standards.

In 1996, Sudeshna Datta-Cockerill was chosen to be CERN's first Equal Opportunities (EO) officer. “At that time,” she recalls, “the EO officer was assigned only 20% working time and the focus was very much on the gender question, although from the beginning the programme was designed to be broader.” Indeed, 15 years later, in 2011, the Equal Opportunities policy evolved into the “Diversity Programme”, which aimed to actively promote a diversity-friendly environment at CERN. The Diversity Office was created to face the new challenges and the programme was embedded in the HR Strategy. “We are committed to keeping the momentum high and trying hard to fill the gap that still exists,” says Geneviève Guinot, CERN’s current Diversity Officer. She concludes: “Creating an enabling environment for women is key to the success of the whole initiative. We will continue to be very active in carefully monitoring the situation and continuing to make any effort to improve it.”

The four recommendations

Recommendation No. 1: CERN should formally recognise the principle of equality [of rights and treatment] as part of its personnel policy, which should include an obligation to recruit women, where ability and qualifications are equal, in order to remedy their current under-representation.

Recommendation No. 2: the principle of equality should be incorporated into the Staff Rules and Regulations, supported by concrete measures to put the principle into practice.

Recommendation No. 3: measures designed to allow a better balance between work and personal life should be implemented: adoption leave, paternity leave, breastfeeding leave, parental leave, leave to care for an unwell child, part-time work and flexible working-time arrangements (the maternity leave is satisfactory).

Recommendation No. 4:

  • the Director-General should appoint an officer responsible for equal rights and treatment,
  • a report should be published every two years on the proportion of women working at CERN, broken down by professional category, grade and function,
  • women should be appointed to serve on the various committees, commissions and working groups,
  • the functions traditionally performed by women should be evaluated,
  • new childcare provisions should be created.


by Antonella Del Rosso