Brigitte Streller: Our Goal is to Achieve Gender Balance in Science and Provide Women in Science the Recognition They Deserve
Short CV of Brigitte Streller, General Manager of L'Oréal Adria-Balkan:
The Austrian Brigitte Streller is General Manager of the cosmetic company L'Oréal for the Adria-Balkan region. Throughout her career, she has remained loyal to the company, where she has progressively risen to the top. She started working in L'Oréal in Austria in the marketing department immediately after completing her education more than 25 years ago. Her career goes through different positions in Austria and France before becoming General Manager for Serbia and Bulgaria more than a decade ago. Today, her responsibilities include also the management of the markets of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as some export markets (Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro).
Tell us more about the mission of L'Oreal Foundation and the programme For Women in Science? How and when the idea for this programme emerged?
L'Oréal was founded back in 1909 by a French chemist. From the very beginnings, research is at the core of our business of developing cosmetic innovations and making beauty accessible for all. To put it short – science is encoded in our DNA.
The L’Oréal Foundation was created in 2007. It supports and empowers women worldwide. It helps them to pursue careers in the fields of beauty and science, through two specific programmes: “For Women in Science” and “Beauty for a Better Life”.
For Women in Science, is certainly one of our most iconic initiatives, which began in 1998. It is a unique program, created to fight gender imbalance in science by recognizing and encouraging talented women scientists around the world who, through their work, contribute to the development and progress of science. For 2 decades now, the L’Oréal Foundation and UNESCO have strived to support accomplished women researchers, as well as to encourage more young women to enter the profession by assisting them with their research projects, and by recognizing their excellence in a field where women are extremely underrepresented.
Since its start, For Women in Science has distinguished over 3100 women scientists in 117 countries.
What is the role of your global partnership with UNESCO and your local partnership with Sofia University ''St.Kliment Ohridski'' in this respect?
In each country where the For Women in Science program is present, we partner with a renowned local scientific institution, which is usually responsible for selecting Jury members and for the assessment of applications. In this relation, we are extremely grateful to our Bulgarian partner Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, as they accepted the challenging role of becoming a partner of the initiative in 2010. And believe me, this is not an easy task as they are responsible for choosing the most talented, creatively charged and practically comprehensive projects among all received applications. This is a task that is actually getting harder each year as Bulgarian women present more and more brilliant ideas.
When it comes to global partnership with UNESCO – when we established For Women in Science in 1998 to empower women in science, recognize scientific excellence, and help talented women scientists gain the recognition they deserve, to fulfil this ambition, we required a partner who shared our vision of promoting inclusion in both science and society. Forging a partnership with UNESCO was a clear step forward. We share the same values and drive to succeed in our pioneering endeavor.
The current statistics show that only 28% of researchers globally are female. Do you think that someday, in the near future, we will be talking about feminization of science instead?
Our end goal with the For Women in Science initiative is to achieve gender balance in science and provide women in science the recognition they deserve. Despite the progress achieved since the initiative was started in 1998, we recognize that there is still much more to be done to achieve gender equality. By harnessing the diverse perspectives and intellectual capabilities of both women and men in advancing scientific understanding and discovery, we all stand to gain. In particular, we must consider how women and men can collaborate to accelerate this journey. Our programme has made great strides in helping women to gain recognition within the scientific community, but empowering women scientists is not uniquely a challenge for like-minded women and progressive organizations. It is in the interest of everyone to change mindsets and transform systems if we are to create an inclusive and sustainable world for all of us. Women and men have a role to play, together.
What is the best way to achieve this and support women in science?
The best way to change the world is to be the change itself. L’Oréal is a transparent, innovative, sustainable, diverse, multinational company. We believe it is our responsibility to set an example by being ethical, socially responsible and supporting important causes.
Initiatives like L’Oréal-UNESCO’s For Women in Science are important in order to spread the word of glass ceiling still present in science. This is the first step towards fighting the problem – to talk about it. Next and crucial step is to support women in science in any way possible in order to stimulate them not to give up no matter the difficulties. And it is important to gain support from male colleagues, to encourage girls to explore scientific career paths and break down the barriers that prevent women scientists from choosing scientific careers. Their voice is important to break down the barriers that prevent women from pursuing research and to facilitate women scientists taking leadership roles.
What are the results in Bulgaria so far? How many female scientists and projects have been supported, from what science fields?
For Women in Science program has just initiated its 9th edition in Bulgaria, looking for the most talented female scientists in the country with bright ideas and high goals. For the last eight editions, the program has already supported 21 women in various fields of natural sciences, such as chemistry, biology, physics, medicine, biotechnology, mathematics etc., whose scientific ideas and project goals expand outside the country’s borders and whose great and ambitious scientific dreams are yet to be fulfilled.
We firmly believe women in science can change the world and we will continue supporting them in this mission.
How many women get support under the FWIS programme and what is happening with their projects globally?
Globally, since 1998, 102 established women scientists have gained recognition for their pioneering work through the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science award, whilst more than 3000 of the most promising women scientists have earned scholarships for doctoral and post-doctoral researches in 117 countries.
In Bulgaria, every year, three local women scientists receive a FWIS fellowship of EUR 5.000 as a recognition for their scientific achievements. Furthermore, the fellowship aims to support them realize their brave scientific ideas and stimulate them to continue developing in the career field of science.
Besides that, every year one fellow from Bulgaria is nominated for the international edition of the program (International Rising Talents), where she has the chance to present her ideas on the international scientific stage and win a prize of EUR 15.000. No matter if a fellow is among the 15 winners at IRT, the nomination itself is a huge recognition as the Jury consists of renowned international scientists.
Have you ever been in a situation where your professional qualities were underestimated because of your gender?
Fortunately, I never had any problems through my entire career. Also, our company has a long-standing commitment to gender equality in the 140 countries where it is present, and at every level of the company. We are very proud, as in 2018, L’Oréal has been ranked the Top gender-balanced company in Europe by @Equileap, making us one of the leading companies globally making progress towards gender equality in the workplace.
What would be your advice for young women considering a career in the science field?
I would simply say: go for it! We really encourage young women to go for their scientific dream as we are firm believers that the world needs science and science needs women!
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