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Giving women equal opportunities for equal skills
Portraits 29/05/2024

Giving women equal opportunities for equal skills

Having joined ENGIE R&I a few months ago as Lead Scientific Advisor, Zlatina Dimitrova has an impressive academic and professional background. She describes herself as enthusiastic, optimistic and happy, and talks about her dream of being able to influence the energy transition.

I believe in the talent of people, of the individual, of employees. We have our intelligence and talent to contribute to the company’s shared success.

We need to give women jobs where they can have an impact on the organisation, the way the company operates and its culture.

Zlatina, where are you from?

I was born in Bulgaria and came to France to study, before continuing my studies in Germany and Switzerland. At the end of the day, a very European background.

How many languages do you speak? 

7 languages! Bulgarian, Russian, German, French, English, Spanish, Portuguese.

What did you study? 

I’ve studied a lot! I have an engineering degree from INSA Lyon in mechanical engineering. I also have an engineering degree from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), specialising in internal combustion engines and turbo machines.

I then obtained a doctorate from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, specialising in energy and life cycle analysis. 

I also have an accreditation to supervise research from the Ecole Doctorale des Sciences et Techniques pour l’Ingénieur (ED SPI) in Energy, Process Engineering and Life Cycle Analysis. I am a University Professor of Energy, Process Engineering and Life Cycle Analysis.

Impressive! What did you do between your studies and joining ENGIE?

I worked in the automotive industry for 18 years in the scientific research and innovation division of the Stellantis group, formerly PSA automobiles.

After that, I went straight to ENGIE and, in parallel with my professional life, I pursued an academic career to obtain the titles of professor and an accreditation to supervise research.

What made you want to join ENGIE?

The opportunity for change, the novelty, the desire to be able to play a part in the energy transition, right from the start, i.e. the production and distribution of low-carbon energies.

In the transport sector, I was working on an admittedly very important use of energy, but I wanted to work at the very heart of the reactor, with a producer, manufacturer and supplier of low-carbon energyI met Elodie Le Cadre who was leaving the job, I applied and that’s how it happened.

Now that you’ve joined Research & Innovation, what’s your mission?

My job title is Lead Scientific Advisor. I would say that my mission is to be open to the outside world, to spot new trends in research, to build partnerships and to implement them in our research programmes or our research laboratories as efficiently as possible.

You said you wanted to work for the energy transition from the inside, but is there anything in particular you’re passionate about in what you will be doing?

Yes, the research itself. There are exciting areas of research, not only in renewable energies, but also in hydrogen and carbon dioxide capture and storage. These are subjects I believe in. To make the transition possible, there are technological barriers - as well as economic and societal ones - that need to be resolved.

I want to be able to influence strategy and provide solutions through research. Many of these questions, many of these areas remain to be explored and matured on scales that can be deployed with viable economic returns. The problem with the energy transition today is that it is struggling to establish itself economically in relation to conventional energy carrier solutions. We need to find appropriate business models and uses.

When you’re not working, do you continue your studies?

When I’m not working, I’m still publishing and filing patents! I left Stellantis with a portfolio of 90 patents, I was twice company champion for the best patent of the year in 2016 and 2017.

Also, I enjoy reading, sport and generally taking it easy!

Is there anything you’ve read recently that you’ve enjoyed?

I really like classic novels, I get lost in them. Or books on how the world works, a bit of geopolitics, that also interests me.

And when it comes to sport, I run, I go to the gym, I go for walks or just take a stroll.

You know there is a lack of women in research. What solutions or ideas do you think could be put in place to get more women involved? 

I’m not in favour of quotas, I’m in favour of competence. Women absolutely have their place in the workplace, they work twice as hard because they are often asked for twice the results just to be considered on the same level as a man. And I can talk about that, I’ve experienced it because I come from the automotive industry, which is excessively male-dominated, with very male-dominated working methods too.

I think we need to empower women, put them in real decision-making positions, not representational or honorary positions. We need to give them jobs where they can have an impact on the organisation, the way the company operates and its culture. 

We should start from the principle of “Equal skills, equal opportunities”. With equal skills, women should have a chance every time. That’s where it starts. I take part in all the initiatives to give women a chance, I mentor young women at Paris-Saclay, at the Doctoral School. I’m active and volunteer my time for these causes. And every time I have a candidate for an internship or a thesis, I give the girls a chance, I return the favour.

Do you think this is something that more female researchers should be doing?

Yes, unfortunately research is a very egocentric sector and there is sometimes a clash of egos. If there were more women in this field, it would help to eliminate this friction and ultimately be more effective by limiting the energy wasted on things that aren’t useful to society. The feminisation of the teams could make the results both more natural and more efficient.

And do you feel you’ve always been given a chance?

So far, yes. I’ve always been given a chance because I’ve made it happen and that’s where it’s often difficult, because as women, we have a lot more work to do to make our chance happen, to be seen, to be spotted. 

This battle is not easy and many girls are discouraged because the battle is not always very fair.

Didn’t you get discouraged?

No, I’m never discouraged. I’m an optimist, I believe in the intelligence of people and that’s what I try to develop in my relationships, with both men and women.

I don’t even think generational divisions should exist. I believe in the talent of people, of the individual, of employees. We have our intelligence and talent to contribute to the company’s shared success.

Do you get the impression that men and women think differently? 

Yes, very clearly, women are going to take a lot more precautions, prepare the work more, but as a result they may appear less confident. It is generally easier for them to see the bigger picture, which does them a disservice, whereas the robustness of their analyses comes from their reflection. Women are rarely in a hurry; they are thoughtful, poised and create a friendly, reassuring but equally effective environment. 

If you had to sum up your personality in 3 words? 

 I’m optimistic, enthusiastic and happy

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