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Testimony 10/03/2021

"Diversity Is Positive"

With a career that has spanned the breadth of the ENGIE group, from the nuclear to the innovation division, Elke Van den Broucke is currently Business Development & Innovation Manager of Laborelec, one of the group’s research labs. She shares her views on women in research and talks about the energy landscape of tomorrow.   

Sometimes, I get the impression that my male coworkers are taken more seriously simply because they are men.

We need more women at every level to break the last remaining glass ceilings.

Elke Van Den Broucke

A few words about your career path?

Elke I’m an engineer in applied physics. I started at Electrabel in nuclear safety. I was more of an auditor than a technical engineer and after a few years I began to miss the technical side of things. I then moved to Laborelec and became Head of their ‘non-destructive testing’ team.
For the past two years, I’ve been Laborelec’s innovation manager. It’s a new, interdisciplinary position where I have complete freedom to create a team and an activity that didn’t exist before. It’s very interesting! 

Why did you choose the energy sector? 

Elke:  I’ve always been intrigued by knowing how energy is created. As an engineer, it’s a sector where you can really make a difference. What’s more, my training in applied physics is closely related to the fundamentals of energy creation, be it nuclear, gas or solar. 

In your opinion, is being a woman in this industry more of an advantage or a handicap? 

Elke:  I think it’s a bit of both. On a nuclear site, there are very few women. In the nuclear power plant in Doel, for example, everyone knows all of the women employees. Even now, at Laborelec, we’re only 20% of the workforce. That’s not a lot.
It’s an advantage when everyone recognizes your work. In very industrial environments, men are very proud to explain how things work. I could play naive and say, “I don’t understand,” and I know that they’ll take the time to explain everything. 
On the other hand, I still face certain prejudices: I’m young, I’m a woman. I’m still considered “junior.” Sometimes, I get the impression that my male coworkers are taken more seriously simply because they are men.   
However, I am convinced that women provide a fresh point of view, be it for meetings, organization or management — and that this diversity is positive. 

How do you see the future of energy and the world of tomorrow?

Elke:  We’re heading towards a world where we’ll be much more conscious about everything we do, whether it’s energy production, what we eat, what we use or what we buy. Being able to choose the least polluting option is bound to impact our decisions and our behavior.  
The world of energy is going to change very quickly: fewer monopolies, lots of small businesses, disruptive enterprises, and many different ways of doing things. Staying competitive will mean being imaginative, innovative and taking into account other things than just business. 
In an increasingly fluid and diverse world, every employee will be able to choose the company they like the most, and companies will have to take this into account to retain the best talent.    

For you, do women have a specific role to play in carbon neutrality?  

Elke:  I think that women are more open, less traditional and more willing to try new solutions. So I can understand why a woman may be better adapted to a more fluid, diverse and dynamic world. 
Women do things in a more pragmatic way. I don’t know if it’s tied to the parental responsibilities that, unfortunately, are usually delegated to them: needing to be at home at a certain time or picking their kids up from school means you have no choice but to be more efficient and finish all your work by 5pm. To sum it up, they need to do the same job in less time.    

Is there a project you’re particularly proud of?

Elke:  Yes, Columbus, an initiative carried out by the Generation and Storengy BU. It was a carbon capture project that allowed the “fatal” CO2 captured during the production of lime to be combined with green hydrogen to produce a carbon-neutral synthetic methane (e-methane). It was a real technical feat!     
My role was to create a new business model for our technical skills at Laborelec. We have experts in different technologies and lots of experience in submitting grant applications on both a national and European level. I developed a new model that allows us to help big projects and aid other companies in the group to submit their projects for different types of funding. Columbus was this business model’s first success story! Others are currently in progress. 
I’m very proud to have been one of the pieces of the puzzle that helped get things started. And it’s really motivating to know that ENGIE participates in very green projects. 

Do you have a message you’d like to impart to other women?

Elke:  I love technical work and engineering. I find it strange that, in the past, these sectors were mostly reserved for men. There’s certainly no reason women are any less capable! 
We need more women at every level to break the last remaining glass ceilings. Personally, I believe that women will have a determining role in tomorrow’s business models, which will require us to be more flexible, reactive and considerate of employees as human beings.

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