Women in applied research: from diversity flourishes innovation



In Portugal, more women are pursuing careers in STEM fields than ever before. A trend that has reflected itself in Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS’ workforce, in which female representation has reached an all-time high.


FhP-AICOS’ commitment to a policy of equal opportunities and diversity has led to a continuous increase in female representation in the organization. As of March, this year, FhP-AICOS has 35 women on its team, of which 3 occupy management positions, which accounts for about 37% of its total workforce of 96 people.

Ever since 2008, FhP-AICOS has embraced diversity as a source of innovation, creativity and competitive advantage. Scientific research is conducted by a diverse team – with a variety of different age groups, cultural backgrounds and scientific disciplines – which undoubtedly results in inquiries guided by a broader array of perspectives and experiences and give way to technology solutions that are better designed to meet the needs of all end-users.

More recently, in 2017, Fraunhofer Portugal took an important step towards encouraging diversity: appointing Liliana Ferreira as President of the Executive Board of Fraunhofer Portugal, and Director of FhP-AICOS. Liliana Ferreira became, at 37 years old, one of the youngest directors of a Fraunhofer’s research centre. Part of the difficulty in encouraging women to enter technical fields is that young girls are not presented with many examples of women in the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), which is why having a woman representing Fraunhofer Portugal is significant.

In fact, more and more young professionals are looking towards the organization as an ideal place to start their careers. This is due to FhP-AICOS being perceived as an attractive employer, as well as due to the fact that higher education institutions have seen an increase in women enrolled in STEM courses.

In this area, Portugal has set itself apart in a positive way. 62% of PhD holders are women (EU’s average is 45%), and in STEM fields women represent 45% of all researchers, a number well above the world average of 28%, according to UNESCO's Institute for Statistics data.