Inspiring Change for Women in Industrial R&D

About 10 years ago, I took part in a mission team on behalf of the European Commission, Research & Innovation, studying the rate of participation by women in industrial R&D. The findings were wretched – the rate was very low. Things have improved since then, but very little.

It’s said that gender segregation starts in academia, but we would do well not to simply accept that this is so. It is our culture that causes women to assume from early childhood that certain technological professions are “male”.

After university, women face the same process of finding work as men, including negotiating pay. Women consistently have difficulty getting the same terms as men with the same qualifications.

Many have tried to explain the gender wage gap. The argument that women work less hours has long since been refuted. Just as frustrating is that many women accept the social precept that they aren’t worth the same pay as men. These women bring that attitude into pay negotiations and employers exploit it.

Increasing the involvement of women in high-tech R&D positions is critical to success. Gender inequality inevitably causes talented researchers to be lost. Diversity is crucial to achieving excellence and is known to be a key to success among multinational organizations.

However, increasing the participation of women in R&D isn’t enough. Equality in employment conditions must be encouraged too.

I am proud to say that the percentage of women in technology and engineering jobs at the EMC Center of Excellence (CoE) in Israel is relatively high, and our employment terms are the same regardless of gender. Also, women constitute more than 50% of Israel CoE management. The more women there are in top management, the more comfortable other women feel expressing themselves. As things are, there is no need for reverse discrimination since gender equality develops in any environment that does not depress it.

I call on both women and their employers to aspire to gender equality in all aspects of the labor market until we can assure that the future of our sons and daughters will be rooted in an equal society that evaluates all workers based on their skills, capabilities and performance, not their sex.

About the Author: Orna Berry