Head of the 'Materials' Unit in Directorate G,
Luisa Prista was the first woman appointed as head of a scientific unit
at the RTD Directorate-General. She is a Mechanical Engineer with specialisations
in energy, environment and economy. Before joining the Commission she
worked in a number of locations around Europe, exploring different industrial
sectors. Her five children never constituted an obstacle but were instead
an incentive for her in her professional career.
"When I was appointed to the task of Head of Unit
I had a variety of feelings: reward, enormous enthusiasm, but mainly responsibility
not only as a manager but also as a female European citizen," says Prista.
"I felt immediately fully committed, capable of performing my task and
eager to participate actively in the definition of the role of research
and science in our future society. I was given the opportunity to contribute
from a more institutional position to RTD policy. At the same time the
possibility to look at science, research and their impact on society from
a global perspective and with a woman's eye is a very rewarding challenge!"
"I am aware
that my gender influences my managing and leadership attitude, but
it is difficult to say how much. Experts in management say that
most women's management and leadership behaviour differs from that
of men, often being more participative and tending towards what
some call 'interactive leadership'. Women try hard to encourage
participation, sharing of power and information, to enhance other
colleagues' self-confidence and to 'energise' their teams in a very
enthusiastic way. I consider myself to have this characteristic.
Although I have to admit that it is a difficult way to manage a
team. Sometimes enthusiasm can be misunderstood as 'cheerleading'
risking a loss of credibility. It may take a little longer but then
we gain in credibility when the finished product is delivered. I
firmly believe in and encourage teamwork where every member has
an active, committed role. I also recognise that we as women easily
replace 'I' with 'we' and this is not just a way of speaking. It
reflects our way of thinking and of sharing responsibilities.
"At the Unit level we have been sensitive
to gender issues. We established the flexitime system that is now
applied to both women and men, allowing the possibility to vary
our working schedules, better combining work and family life. We
are also implementing an internal gender-balanced organisation scheme
aimed at task and responsibility sharing. At programme implementation
level we are making every effort to achieve the targeted figures
set by the Commission for women's participation in panels, and we
can already see good progress.
||The future is
"A very challenging
task is that of understanding the role of women in the RTD of the
future and integrating the gender dimension into all RTD activities,
taking into account industrial, technological, economic and societal
evolution. The good news is that we are transitioning to a knowledge-based
society where knowledge and technology are the driving forces for
progress and prosperity. At a time when we need to make full use
of all possible resources, human and other, who would dare to forget
and leave out more than half of our citizens? Women scientists are
a fresh source of knowledge, not only as researchers but also as
end users, educators and investors.
"While dealing with cutting-edge
technologies, researchers are very much aware that the knowledge
they are producing may affect us all and that the responsibility
for its use must be collective. Women as scientists and citizens
will have to be fully involved.
||Women as integrators
"Does it mean
that technology can be engendered? I do not think we can say that
one technology is female and another is male. However, we have noticed
that women feel more attracted to some fields and men to others.
It is also true that, up to now, women have not shown a lot of enthusiasm
for participation in industrial research. This is due to educational,
social and cultural trends and not to their specific skills.
"I would be tempted to say that,
while it is true that technology can not be engendered, its use
and applications could well be. Advanced industrial technologies
such as the nanotechnologies and biotechnology are becoming 'softer',
more and more hybridised and interdisciplinary, and requiring increasing
integration of different skills. As skilled 'integrators' women
have a high capacity to create links, bridges and networks. The
future is indeed favourable to the equal and effective participation
of women in the RTD world! Still, we cannot just sit back and wait.
Mainstreaming has to be encouraged. After all, we know that the
only way to anticipate the future is to start building it from today!"