Founded in 2005, the association “Elles Bougent” is committed to the feminization of the technical and scientific teams of industrial companies. Headquartered in Paris, it has also been established throughout France by 23 regional delegations, in mainland France and abroad. Currently, 300 companies are members of the association. 10,000 godmothers and relays people from industrial companies work with young girls. Organized events with colleges, high schools and higher education institutions to talk about and raise awareness among future women about jobs in the industry. Founder and President of “Elles Bougent” Marie-Sophie Paulak has been making a diagnosis of the feminization of these activities since the establishment of her association.
Actu-Juridique: What assessment have you made since the creation of the “Elles Bougent” association in 2005?
Mary Sophie Pollack: The association has experienced continuous and rapid growth. Every day our companies contact us to become a member. Regarding the balance sheet on the grounds, I note an increase. In 2005, there were approximately 5-10% of women on the technical teams of major French industrial companies such as Dassault, EDF, Alstom or PSA. Today we are close to 20%. Then, in engineering schools, women represent 20% to 25% of students, while they were 10% 15 years ago. Things are going well, but not fast enough. We are not in proportions that should be the norm. The Copé-Zimmermann Act on the balanced representation of women and men on boards of directors and supervisory boards and professional equality requires that there be at least 40% of the “under-represented sex” in these sectors. We have not yet reached the level of technical and scientific personnel.
Akto-Juridic: How would you describe this development in the feminization of industrial firms?
Mary Sophie Pollack: In general, when you look at feminization, a lot of companies show a 30 to 35% ratio. These are larger numbers compared to the ones I just mentioned. But there is a bias for professions that are still predominantly female, such as assistance, communication, human resources, and so-called “support” jobs. It’s the same phenomenon when you look at the Occupational Equality Index for women and men, also called the Penicaud Index. Measures pay inequality in a company with at least 50 employees. These indicators and these rates do not enter into the details of the scientific staff. The percentages do not take into account the activities carried out.
Akto-Juridic: What do you think should be done to counter this situation?
Mary Sophie Pollack: Transfer of data related to scientific and technical jobs performed by women should be mandatory. The ideal is that the proportion of women in research and development, methods and technical services … in all activities in which the scientific, technical and technological base must be strong. Therefore, this accuracy is missing in the reading of the indicator and in the method of measuring progress. Within the framework of our association, we try to take these actions with our partners.
Actu-Juridique: You’ve talked with that about the increasing feminization of industrial occupations over the past 15 years. What are the factors that favored this development?
Mary Sophie Pollack: First, the topic of femininity has become an accessible question. In 2005, when the association was created, you could be categorized or ostracized from the activists “who would replace the men”. At the time, I had this feeling in the face of certain reactions. In fact, we were only asking for diversity in the industrial companies. The change came at a time of democratization of the subject. We had a Ministry of Women’s Rights in its own right, with Minister Najat Faloud Belkacem. All ministries dealt with professional equality between women and men, including internally.
Several laws encouraged the emergence of this issue. So there was the Copé-Zimmermann law in 2011. This is the first law that described the topic of professional equality between women and men as a public good. For the civil service, there was a Sovadite Law in 2012, with provisions in Title III relating to anti-discrimination and containing various provisions relating to the civil service. Then in 2021, there was the Rixain Act which aims to accelerate economic and professional equality.
Then we have a President of the Republic who has dared to say that the issue for five years of his first term will be equality between men and women. A renewed desire for his second five-year term. Finally, the #Metoo phenomenon has also led to an increased interest in this issue of equality globally in society.
Actu-Juridique: What obstacles still exist with regard to the feminization of technical and scientific professions in industry?
Mary Sophie Pollack: Ignorance and deep-rooted, induced, unconscious stereotypes exist in the heads of men and women. Industrial trade will be for men because they need physical strength. These will be dirty and polluting activities. These pictures do not correspond to reality. And then there’s this also bogus story about girls who don’t understand math or physics very well. So, they have these probably in the head. These brakes are historic and still stand today. Within the “Elles Bougent” association, we do our best to eradicate these beliefs. The key to this topic is education. In the history of France, education has been more patriarchal. For example, in 1802, secondary schools for boys were established. In 1880, Representative Camille C. passed a law to open up secondary education for girls. But they will not have the same school program as the boys. They will have ethics, philosophy, music, arts and some elements of science. In 1924, the baccalaureate for girls was harmonized with that for boys. So it was necessary to wait 122 years for equality in terms of high school teaching. Today, time is speeding up. I see progress in a more succinct time. I am convinced that we are in the right decade to make very significant progress in terms of feminization in our industrial and technology companies.
Actu-Juridique: With ongoing training and the acceleration of new sectors such as digital, have women in their mid-career become a target for your association?
Mary Sophie Pollack: The topic of digital transformation is an opportunity. The industrial sector is not the only one that has technical and scientific needs of human resources. The entire economy suffers from digitization needs. To touch on this topic or do digital marketing, you must have studied accordingly. There is a fertile land problem. Companies are facing difficulties in hiring them. So they have an interest in hiring new employees, women or men, and handling all the personal files. Recruiters can target young women or a section of people in retraining, with rapid training to move toward digital careers. But within the association, the heart of our activism remains young people because they are more receptive to our feedback, compared to women 40 or 50 in retraining. What is more complicated for us is directing this audience towards scientific and technical professions.
Akto-Juridik: How do you analyze the development of women’s entrepreneurship?
Mary Sophie Pollack: Women’s entrepreneurship is moving in the right direction. First, there are many associations dedicated to women entrepreneurs. However, when we look at the number of startups created, the proportion of women remains very low, at 10% of the creations. But the development is gradual. They also find it more difficult to raise funds to finance their project than men. There is still this phenomenon of self-censorship, where you tell yourself not to aim too high in your project…Movement is in progress. As for the companies that have been developed, at the moment, men make up the majority. Then, as regards the fields of activity, large-scale production will be developed by men, just as artistic activities. For digital creativity, creativity, and communication, companies are mostly set up by women. This is also the case for practical services and applications that can be of interest in everyday life.
Actu-Juridique: Have you noticed an evolution in terms of the type of company you’re joining today?
Mary Sophie Pollack: Initially, we had several large partner groups in our association. Since then, more and more mid-sized companies or SMEs have joined us. We even have companies with less than 10 people. At present, we have approximately 20% of VSE SMEs among our partners. To join Elles Bougent, there is an annual fee at a scale based on the number of employees. In 2005, at the time of creation, we had no less than 500 people. At the time, we didn’t even think about it. Today, we have that metric that rises to TPE. However, there are mostly CAC 40 companies because that is the origin of our association. These large groups believed in my project. I went to these companies because the problem of women’s representation concerned them directly. At the end of the 2000s, beginning of 2010, major groups addressed the issue of social and environmental responsibility (CSR). They have started hiring industry collaborators such as a diversity manager. They had the means to dedicate people to CSR topics.
Actu-Juridique: What about the feminization of industrial professions in Ile-de-France?
Mary Sophie Pollack: Ile-de-France differs from other French regions in that it has many headquarters and R&D centers for large groups and companies. We have 2,500 sponsors relay in Ile-de-France. That’s a quarter of our workforce. There is also a difference between west and east from the Ile-de-France region. There is a seam departing from Orsay, which rises at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines and up to Cergy-Pontoise. There is a large concentration of head offices, which are decentralized with a very important research and development component. In eastern Paris, this is not the case. So there is an imbalance in the West. In this concentration of research and development sites, we find more women. Head offices of large corporations want to be exemplary with their message of social responsibility. Thus, Ile-de-France is one step ahead in terms of the feminization of industrial, scientific and technological professions.