© Shutterstock
© Shutterstock

The WIST analyses

As part of her activities with the European working group Women in Science and Technology and its study entitled WIST: a business case, Laure Turner, professor at the ENSAE (National School for Statistics and Economic Administration – Paris), carried out a study on individual and group performances achieved by teams that were ‘diversified differently’. The diversity was expressed in terms of the degree of gender mix. The study was carried out between 2004 and 2006 at the research departments of four major companies: Air Liquide, EDF, Shell and Schlumberger. The results are significant in terms of individual performances. These are higher for members of the teams with the greatest degree of gender mix. The findings also stress a positive impact of diversity on project performance.

Laure Turner notes that, on the basis of the data used, most women are found on projects concerned with marketing and sales rather than those with a direct link to R&D (the ‘challenging projects’). “Women are overrepresented in those fields and projects that are not considered to be major contributors to performance, which were the subject of this study. This means that the positive impact of diversity on performance is underestimated globally.” The WIST group continued its work in 2008 by studying policies for reconciling work and private life introduced by around 15 multinational companies, and their R&D departments in particular. The final report of this analysis is due to be published in the first half of 2009. It will be available on the Science and Society European website.

Why not more women engineers?

Two European projects, Womeng and Prometea, have been trying to identify the reasons why so few girls choose engineering professions and what could be done about it. The seven academic partners of Womeng (2000-2005) centred their work on three themes: the choice (or rejection) of these studies; successes and failures in the course of women’s careers; and the influence of the prevailing cultural and social organisation in these specialities. In all three areas, comparable obstacles were found to be present. To overcome them, the researchers propose a number of courses of action: increasing self-confidence among girls at school and university; changing the communication around these professions by placing greater emphasis on the services they render to society as opposed to the ruthlessly competitive aspect; giving greater visibility to women researchers at laboratory open days; introducing multidisciplinarity to the studies (languages, ethics, etc.) to complement the purely technical courses; and updating the corporate and research culture so that women can pursue a career and have a family life without being penalised. The Prometea project was subsequently set up to pursue a similar aim, namely to obtain greater insight into the situation of women engineers and propose recommendations for the academic and industrial world as well as for national and European research policies. In particular, Prometea is organising a series of events in the interests of the exchange of ideas and experiences. The first European conference, entitled Gender and Diversity in Engineering and Science, will be held in Dusseldorf (DE) in September 2009.

Asian women and the information technologies

At the Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technologies in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), the Dean is a woman, as are the Heads of Department. At Penang University 65 % of the information technology students are girls. This is a very different situation to that which prevails in Europe and the United States. Isabelle Collet, a computer scientist and researcher in educational sciences, says that women who have chosen this speciality speak positively of the diversity of their work, the range of professional sectors open to them, the ability to be engaged in a continuous learning process and of teamwork. So why not spread this positive view of computing rather than reinforcing the masculine, buccaneering spirit? It is this that inspired Isabelle Collet to write L’informatique a-t-elle un sexe? Hackers, mythes et réalités (Does IT have a sex? Hackers, myths and realities, L’Harmattan, Paris, 2006).