EFDA Newsletter (E.N.): You are working in a men’s world – why did you choose a technical subject to study?

Gabriella Saibene (G.S.): Well, I liked it and I was very lucky in my scientific high school in Italy. I had very good teachers, in particular in maths and physics. It was very exciting. So when I finished high school I thought that physics would be a very interesting thing to study.

E.N.: Did your parents have an influence on your decision?

G.S.: No, my parents are working in commerce, so they didn’t know anything about physics. But they supported me all the time in this choice.

E.N.: Do you have an idea why women are under-represented in nearly all areas of research?

G.S.: The fraction of people who go into research is not very high anyhow – no matter if they are women or men – most of my student colleagues went into industry because of the money. But probably there are just a few women who go into research.

E.N.: So, what could be done in your opinion to get more women into research?

G.S.: First, good teachers have to get the attention of the girls at school, so they think that science is great, cool, something that you want to do. To get them into research is a matter of making the environment there possible for women and their families. After university it’s common that one goes abroad for a period of one or two years. And this is more difficult for women: the husband that follows his wife around is really a very rare figure…

E.N.: What do you feel about quotas like the Commission’s 40% target or other kinds of “positive discrimination”?

G.S.: Sure, there must be some effort in promoting women – role modelling is important. But in science the first criterion has to be competence and professionalism. So instead of quotas I’d prefer to call it gender equality. When people are equivalent and in that case women are preferred, that’s ok to rise their number in research.

E.N.: … and there is also still an academic level above which very few women advance!

G.S.: This is a question of critical mass. If we manage to get more women in higher positions in research, the more there are the more acceptable will be a woman at a high level. Women need some structure when they are, say, between 25 and 35, to solve the problem between family life and a professional career in science. These women will stay in their career and will have the opportunity to progress and then later on when they would be mature for a manager position they will be there to take it – and not have disappeared because of family responsibilities.

E.N.: What about your own situation as one of two women among 33 male researchers at EFDA Garching? Do you have to fight more for getting through your results than a man?

G.S.: Maybe there are some small problems with attitude. A man is defined to be “determined” while a woman is “aggressive” for the same kind of behavior. But by and large it’s ok. I think that a supportive and unprejudiced direct management, as I was lucky to have in my career so far, is essential since it creates a working environment that is not conflictive and boosts self-confidence.

Interview: DL

The lack of women in nearly all areas of science was already a hot topic of discussion in Brussels during the 5th Framework Programme (FP5). But at the third Commission conference on gender and research in Brussels on 8 / 9 November 2001, a poll showed that 57.9 % of the audience of around 600 people (91.9 % of which were female) believed that the situation has improved in terms of policy, but not in practice, since 1998.

Dr. Gabriella Saibene (43), a scientist taking care of physics issues of ITER construction at EFDA Garching, outlines in our interview her experiences as a female researcher. Dr. Saibene is one of the only five people who have the license to lead JET operation at maximum performance level – and two of the other four are also women.

On 5 June 2002 the conference on “Mujeres y Ciencia”, a Spanish edition of the Commission’s conference mentioned above, will take place in Madrid.

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