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Helmholtz Munich | ©Petra Nehmeyer

Gülcin Abbaszade

Helmholtz Munich's Equal Opportunities Officer

"I can empathize well with people who come from other cultural contexts."

"I can empathize well with people who come from other cultural contexts."

Gülcin Abbaszade is Helmholtz Munich's equal opportunities officer. A conversation about being very open to diversity, about the lack of kindergarten places - and about the role her own biography plays in her work.

Dr. Abbaszade, you worked as a scientist for a long time before becoming equal opportunities officer. What surprised you about the new task?

I didn't think my task would be so diverse. When people hear the term "equality," they always think of equality between men and women - this topic is also really an important part of my work - but there are just so many more aspects. The Diversity Charter defines seven pillars...

...namely age, ethnic origin, gender identity, physical and mental abilities, religion and belief, sexual orientation, and social origin....

...and I have noticed that we at Helmholtz Munich are at different stages of implementation. For example, we have great offers for older employees, 60 percent of our employees are women, and we are very well positioned in terms of internationalization.

Let's stay with this topic for a moment: How can Helmholtz Munich's internationality be measured - and what impact does it have?

The figures speak for themselves: We have employees from 82 countries - and the proportion of foreigners in scientific positions is 36 percent. Of course, this changes everyday life: Since 2021, we have been offering our regular Town Hall meetings for the entire staff with simultaneous translation into English so that everyone can take part. Current scientific projects and results are presented at these meetings. In our internal communication, we publish the news in two languages as well. And our International Staff Service looks after international employees, guests and their families, for example when it comes to visa questions, finding an apartment or a suitable school. Of course, this is also a recruiting tool to attract and retain top scientists.

How does the international atmosphere affect science?

The more international the working groups are, the more successful and innovative they are.

Is he also a scientist?

No, I’m not from a family where everyone is an academic. I have three siblings, and my father said to me from the beginning: 'I want you to study – you may study whatever, but do study!' I have always been interested in chemistry, so I enrolled in university in Azerbaijan and later earned a PhD.

Who were your supporters later on?

There were always professors and supervisors who supported me. In 2005, I came to Germany and first worked as a visiting scholar in Paderborn. Later, at the University of Augsburg, I specialized in the topic I still work on today: it's aerosol research - the formation and dispersion of health-relevant particles in the air and their effects on human health. So I'm an environmental researcher, and that's also how I came to Helmholtz Munich.

Let's take a look at the statistics: Where does Helmholtz Munich stand in terms of equality? You have already mentioned the 60 percent quota of women...

...although there are differences depending on the classification: The women's quota is highest in the lower pay scale groups of the public sector. The higher the positions, the fewer women are represented. In the top group, for example, the proportion is only 38 percent. That's where I'd like to take action - active sourcing is what it's called, i.e. increasing the proportion of women in higher classifications. The gender pay gap is also an important issue for me, in other words, equal pay for equal work. By the way, we are really good in the area of different working time models. We offer home office, flexible working hours, partial retirement models.

That’s probably why Helmholtz Munich has won the Equality Award six times.

Exactly. And I notice in my conversations that, for example, the compatibility of family and career plays a huge role. We have our own kindergarten, but the 21 places are not enough for the high demand. I am in discussion with the management about this. By the way, most people think of young mothers first when they think of work-life balance, but more and more fathers are coming forward as well. Recently, for example, one of the institute's directors took six months' parental leave. I think that makes him a great example.

How are your concerns received by the management?

In principle, I'm knocking on open doors. Just recently, for example, the management signed the Diversity Charter, a voluntary commitment. Everyone knows that diversity is an important issue - and one that makes us stronger.

In which way does it make you stronger?

Medical research in particular is a good example of this: men and women require different treatment for some diseases. So far, these aspects have often been neglected.

What key areas would you like to focus on in the near future?

It's important to me that we resume some initiatives that were cancelled because of Corona, such as the summer camp for schoolchildren and Girls' Day. With both, we can succeed in attracting girls and young women to the natural sciences - and at the same time support interested parties from socially disadvantaged families, for example. And I have meetings in the next few weeks with our Inclusion Officer and our Family Office. We want to consider how we can take a step forward with joint initiatives.