Alexia Athanasopoulou

Born and raised in Patras, Greece, I come from a warm family with many women. During my childhood years, I rarely experienced serious issues with diversity or inclusion. And at the University of Patras, in the department of Computer Engineering and Information Technology, there was a 60/40 ratio between men and women. After receiving my bachelor’s diploma, I finished my MSc at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, followed by a traineeship at the European Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy. 

When I started my PhD at Delft University of Technology in 2015, I noticed a big difference. Not so much in the department of Technology, Policy and Management, where I did my PhD, but notably in the Engineering departments such as Information Technology. The ratio of men to women was very high, and this had consequences for the working culture. As I am originally a Computer Engineer, people sometimes asked me, “You’re a girl, why are you doing this?” But personally I am lucky that I didn’t face that question many times.

Directly after my PhD, which was focused on Business Model Innovation based on the Internet of Things and Digital Technologies, I started looking for jobs. During my search, I practically stumbled upon the Information Systems research group at TU/e, which I honestly didn’t know about before. This opening was so appealing to me because it fitted my interests and profile perfectly and because of the good reputation of TU/e. I applied on the same day.

At that time, I already knew about the Irène Curie Fellowship, which was an extra reason for me to apply. It says a lot about the university that diversity and inclusiveness are important. Being a female engineer, I am often the exception, which is okay but it needs to change. But this fellowship shows that TU/e is very much welcoming female scientists; because women are rare in my field, this struck me as a place where I would like to work.

So far, my experience at TU/e has been very positive. Within my group and with other colleagues at the university, I have only had positive reactions. I also found them extremely helpful in the beginning in getting organized with my computer and other facilities. I very quickly felt part of the group and I can tell that the culture is quite open and welcoming.

"My hope is that we won’t need to have this kind of program anymore in a few years"

My opinion on this fellowship oriented towards female scientists is that I think it’s necessary. This is because women have come from a situation in which they were responsible for the family and had to fight for their position in a male world. My hope, of course, is that we won’t even need to have this kind of program anymore in a few years. That we will reach a situation where no extra push is needed and that the next generation will take the more balanced ratio of men to women for granted. Another issue I find is that while we need to give women space to grow, we also need to give men the opportunity to accept new responsibilities and increase their awareness. For instance, I think it’s important to give men more days off when their partner delivers a baby. We will really reach equality when men can contribute more in jobs that were traditionally expected to be done by women. Nowadays, it is still the case that when men want to take extra days off to care for the family, it is unfortunately not always accepted by society and employers.