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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Cross-disciplinary projects > Women and science: Engendering European research culture > Huguette Laval
Graphic element Huguette Laval: Early scientific start in the European Commission
Huguette Laval

Huguette Laval is Programme Officer for the Competitive and Sustainable Growth Programme. Holder of a PhD in applied mathematics, she was an assistant at the University of Liège before joining the Ispra Joint Research Centre (JRC) . She worked for the original BRITE Programme and is today Assistant for "Management systems and human resources" to the Director of Research Actions for Industrial Production at the European Commission's Research Directorate-General.

"Realising that I was the first woman to be recruited as a scientific officer within the RTD Directorate-General came as quite a shock to me!" says Laval. "I never saw myself as someone in a special or peculiar position and I certainly didn't consider myself to be exceptional. Twenty years ago, when I started out as a Temporary Agent at the JRC in Ispra, women were indeed much less numerous than they are today, but nobody considered it to be a special situation. At that time we benefited both from excellent recognition of our scientific competence and from our male colleagues' good manners, back when a sense of gallantry was still largely in fashion. Today, with the growing number of women employed, and with our policies on equal opportunities, the danger is in seeing the first attitude fade into the background, while the second one slowly disappears altogether."

"I have never, over the course of my career, encountered major obstacles related to my gender. The difficulties have always been related to the societal constraints which are placed, for the most part, on women's shoulders - family responsibilities, time scheduling and organisation, which don't always match up with the male-driven working schedule. I consider myself quite lucky for having had opportunities to develop professionally without suffering discrimination, while still managing to meet the demands of family. Without a doubt, measures introduced within our working structure, flexible working hours for example, are increasingly helping all those who wish to harmonise their private and professional lives. But only a more fundamental change in the culture of human relations will, in the end, allow the achievement of total compatibility between private and professional duties for both men and women.

"When I started as a student of mathematics, I didn't know that I was taking a direction that would have such far-reaching effects on my path in life. In fact, my scientific background influenced the decisions I made in my first jobs, the moves I made to different working places, and consequently the personal relationships I developed. All these events occurred somehow automatically as results of my educational choices and I was never faced with the dilemma of choosing between career and family. I didn't see another way to live my life. This of course has had a great impact on my private life, much more so than if I had been a man, I think. Also, I must say that the main difficulties came from outside the working environment. A woman scientist is perceived as a challenge, both by men and women, and this can strongly affect your personal relationships.

'Ultimately, I see the problem more in terms of trying to fit into society as a woman scientist than trying to fit into the scientific environment as a woman. Efforts to improve conditions for women in science should address these larger societal issues."


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