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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Cross-disciplinary projects > Women and science: Engendering European research culture > Esther Barrutia
Graphic element Esther Barrutia: Growing up in an industrial setting
Esther Barrutia

Esther Barrutia, a Ph.D in polymer chemistry, was until recently Director of the School of Engineering at the University of Lea-Artibai at Markina, Spain. She has been an external examiner in polymer engineering for the University of North London, England. She acted as an independent evaluator for many projects of the last GROWTH programme. The highly industrialised region in which she grew up greatly influenced her career choice.

"The Basque region where I grew up is very industrialised," says Barrutia. "Girls at my school were encouraged to go into science because local industry was crying out for good scientists and engineers. This industrial culture made the difference for me, and for many of my female friends. It is in a woman's nature to respond to openly expressed needs, and to my great pleasure, I saw that local industry considered women to make excellent engineers. I freely chose to follow a career in science, which I found to be creative and interesting, and which could be lots of fun. However, I am well aware that in a different educational environment I might easily have chosen design or philosophy, as I was also very keen on those subjects at school."

A global mindset

As a measure of the demands of local industry in the region, the University of Lea-Artibai, where Barrutia headed the engineering school, became the first in Spain to offer a course in polymer science and engineering. "There were just as many women students on this course as men," says Barrutia. "There was the added incentive that they could feel sure of getting a job at the end of their studies. In contrast, I saw many students at the university working towards qualifications in the humanities that would make it very difficult for them to find a job afterwards. I believe many were the victims of a negative culture that is without real foundation. Changes have to start among attitudes in the family and at elementary school. There is a need for good science teachers who love their subject and can communicate their enthusiasm to their students. I think a lot of science teaching is made boring, by teachers who do not ensure that students follow each step in the learning process. It is particularly the case with a scientific subject, that once you miss a step you can become lost for good."

"I came across one example of gender discrimination that showed me how far-reaching the problem can be," says Barrutia. "Our students at the engineering school were required to spend the whole of the fourth year of their degree course working in industry. One highly reputable exporting company located nearby told me that they would not accept our female students, only boys, for certain technico-commercial posts within the company. They explained that their gender would count against them when they took part in commercial negotiations with potential trading partners in developing countries - such as China. This case illustrates how long-standing traditions in remote countries can affect career prospects for women here in their own backyard. Attitudes all over the world need to change, but that's going to take years."

Women prove themselves

"On the whole, I have not personally encountered discrimination in my professional life on account of my sex," says Barrutia. "I have not felt blocked in terms of career promotion, although I have heard of instances among my female colleagues. Perhaps I have been fortunate to be working alongside intelligent, enlightened men. I find that if you are competent and give of your best, people respect you regardless of gender. On the other hand, in a new job I think women have to prove themselves more than men in order to be accepted by their colleagues. This is due to a hang-over from a former widespread culture, which acts as a subtle form of discrimination."
"I am sure elements in the new GROWTH programme will help women become more involved in scientific research," says Barrutia. "The benefits of the EC initiative on 'Women and Science' became clear to me when, as Director of the engineering school in Spain, I successfully applied for project funding. I saw how the EC proactively encourages the participation of women in all its research projects. We have to use all our human resources, both women and men, to create an industry that is flourishing and rich for the good of all."

Lindekensweg, 53
B-1652 Alsemberg
Tel. +32 2 380 9681

A global mindset
Women prove themselves

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