Maria Founti is Associate Professor in the Department
of Mechanical Engineering at the National
Technical University of Athens, and scientific and technical coordinator
of the EU-funded ZEOGYP-BOARD project. Her scientific expertise has brought
her much international recognition and she is currently a member of the
External Advisory Group for Key Action 1 of the Fifth Framework Programme
(Innovative Products, Processes and Organisation).
"Strong academic credentials were an essential
foundation for me as a young woman embarking on a career in science,"
remarks Founti." I chose to study nuclear and mechanical engineering
at university in England and upon completion of my PhD I took up employment
in Germany. When I decided to return to Greece to continue my career,
I found that it was the strength of my academic background that at brought
me recognition in a male dominated environment. I think most women embarking
on scientific careers face much greater resistance in the workplace than
their male counterparts. At the beginning my competence and qualifications
were continually being questioned and I had to prove my knowledge and
skills on a daily basis. The reality of the workplace for female scientists
can come as quite a shock after the sheltered environment of research
laboratories within universities. During the early years of my scientific
career it was a constant uphill struggle. However, as I progress and become
more established in my field I find that other factors for career advancement
take on greater importance, such as the perceived degree of devotion and
social or networking skills."
"It is clear
that there is still a certain reticence to entrust women with positions
which involve a great deal of responsibility and commitment,"
says Founti. I must admit that I made a conscious decision to have
only one child, as otherwise I do not think that I could have advanced
to the same extent in my chosen field."
In her role as scientific and technical coordinator
of the ZEOGYP-BOARD project, Founti is the link between ten partners
from European universities and industrial research institutions.
Together they are developing and implementing a new process for
cost-effective production of high performance gypsum fibreboard
featuring improved core strength and porosity, higher surface hardness
and lower production time and cost. Existing plants will be retrofitted
to make better use of conventional production lines - a winning
approach combining low capital investment with sustainable growth
of the sector.
Over the years Founti
has actively participated in various EU-funded projects, as project
leader or scientific manager. "In my experience I have found
that there is not a great deal of communication between women who
are members of European committees or working groups," says
Founti, "and they are often less open than their male counterparts
within the same group. Cultural differences come into play and the
issue of the north/south divide is often prevalent. Personally I
can discuss more easily with other women from southern Europe than
with my northern counterparts. I think more could be done to support
communication between women from different regions and to encourage
networking and pooling of interests, outside the boundaries of the
"More efforts must also be made in science
education - from secondary school age onwards. Student exchanges
between academic institutions in different countries or placement
opportunities in industry can be very valuable experiences. It is
important for young girls to see for themselves that women are rising
to positions of responsibility within the research and technology
sectors and to have real 'role models'. A multi-cultural outlook
is also an increasingly vital quality for scientists today."
National Technical University of Athens
Dept. of Mechanical Engineering
Thermal Engineering Section
Heroon Polytechniou 9
Tel.: +30-1-772 36 05