A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

Woman power at the LHC

May 15, 2008

CERN's Paola Catapano interviewed 10 women who are working on the Large Hadron Collider, which is scheduled to start up later this year. They include a surveyor, and several physicists and engineers working on computing, radiation protection, electronics, and environmental impacts of the giant collider. Catapano asked each of them a version of this question: Has being a woman been an obstacle in your career?

Here's the response from Eva Sanchez Corral, 43, a Spanish computer engineer and mother of 8-year-old twin boys, from an article in the CERN Courier:

Today we are three women in my team, and I find that extraordinary. When I arrived at CERN in 1994 I was the first "staff" woman engineer in the whole group. In the beginning, my colleagues, all men and older in general, looked at me with curiosity and even with a defiant attitude. They treated me in the way men usually treat women, rather than as a colleague. Then, little by little, the old staff were replaced by young engineers, and a few were also women. So the group started treating us as a new resource. Today, our managers especially realize that women can really make a valuable contribution to team work. We are more flexible, have more energy, we are less individualistic and are good at conflict solving and negotiating. These qualities are particularly appreciated now during LHC commissioning. The real challenge for us is when children come. It's really two jobs, and it demands a super level of organization between home and the office. Luckily they are not kids forever--they grow up and when they are older, our partners can help more.

From Isabel Brunner, 33, a radiation protection engineer with two small children:

My answer is a clear "no." Even during my two pregnancies--where I was not able, or allowed, to perform my work in radiation controlled areas--I can't say that I had any disadvantages. I like my job and I have a great supervisor who treats everyone as an equal. However, working in a "man's world" is not always easy and it needs plenty of self-esteem and force to stand up and get your point through. I've only had one conflict regarding gender differences, and I put an end to it when I confronted the person. This was not easy, but eventually it was the best solution to the problem.

Go here to see photos of these women and read the original article in Newton, the Italian science magazine, that was based on the interviews (it's in Italian.)

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