Maria Teresa Amaral Collaço is a scientist
with over 30 years experience at the National
Institute of Engineering and Industrial Technology (INETI) in Lisbon,
Portugal. She is head of the department of biotechnology, specialising
in industrial microbiology and is currently looking at new ways of increasing
the added value of food crops and agro-industrial residue. Her expertise
was utilised in the evaluation of several projects in the recent GROWTH
"Life is definitely easier for women in industry
nowadays than when I started out on my career," explains Collaço.
"Thirty years ago it was generally accepted that a woman was not
capable of doing the same job as a man. We were not generally regarded
as potential leaders. Two or three years after completing my biology degree
at university, I observed that nearly all the men who had been my colleagues
had found better jobs, while only a few women were properly employed.
Like many other young graduate women, I acquired post-graduate degrees
and experience in an unpaid post at the national institute of industrial
research before getting my first job. Men usually did not need to go through
this step - they were better accepted, even with lower qualifications.
One possible reason for this situation was that men may prefer to work
with other men, and that is something that unfortunately still persists
in the workplace culture in some sectors."
||Selecting on merit
"Here in Portugal,
research positions in general are not very well paid," says
Collaço. "This is one of the reasons why the majority
of people working in industrial research in this country are women.
However, this does not apply within the private sector.
Collaço is currently investigating biotechnology
industrial applications at INETI. One EU-funded project launched
under the Fifth Framework Programme is aimed at optimising an integrated
process for different biomass wastes for the pharmaceutical and
food industries using xylo-oligosaccharides and xylitol. Plant raw
materials, mainly agricultural and industrial wastes, are being
used to produce higher added-value products. The xylo-oligosaccharides
may eventually be developed into pharmaceuticals for combatting
inflammatory conditions or cancer, or they may find a use as food
"While women have moved into more leadership
positions, they are still relatively few. My impression is that
women managers are more likely to promote employees based on merit.
Some men may be reluctant to select women because they think their
having children to look after will detract from their performance
and commitment at work. I believe that this is an old-fashioned
mindset. Nevertheless, the situation has improved quite significantly
in the past decade."
do have more opportunities for career advancement in industrial
research, but they also need to put themselves forward more,"
says Collaço. "The problem is that they often feel that
it is not worthwhile. They think they will be passed over for promotion
- either because they already have children, or may have them in
the future. Whether their fears are real or imaginary, women are
partly responsible for perpetuating this negative culture.
"Although I personally do not feel discriminatedagainst
on account of my gender," says Collaço, "it occurs
to me that I am often the only woman in a European Commission strategic
working group alongside eight or nine men. I have no explanation
for this. Then again, if a man is late for one of our meetings,
nobody thinks for a moment this is due to family constraints. In
fact, the barriers exist across the whole of society and are not
specific to industrial research."
Portugal the presence of women in industrial research is a reality.
Women are more and more interested in the quality of their careers.
In order to encourage more women into leadership roles, a number
of proactive measures can be taken, for instance the offering of
grants for women, tax breaks, and other financial incentives,"
says Collaço. "However, a lot of 'old thinking' would
disappear even more quickly if more women were put into positions
of authority. This requires direct action. For instance, it would
be helpful if under the new Framework Programme there was a quota
relative to the assigning of more women onto decision-making committees
for research policies. There are many capable women researchers
out there just waiting for an opportunity. It is less about introducing
new initiatives than attacking the problem head-on."
MARIA TERESA AMARAL COLLACO
Instituto Nacional de Engenharia e Tecnologia
Departamento de Biotecnologia
Estrada do Paço do Lumiar, 22 - Edif. F r/c