Swimming Upstream ...
CERN Alumna: Sudeshna Datta-Cockerill
At CERN from 1976 to 2018
Today: Retired, Member of the CERN Alumni Advisory Board
An exceptional longevity in the Laboratory, 42 years, and a series of battles won, this is what makes Sudeshna’ s career truly impressive and calls for admiration.
Born in Kolkata (then Calcutta), Sudeshna spent her childhood in India in what was then a very cosmopolitan city, where she was exposed to diverse cultures and very much aware of existing inequalities and the necessity to fight them. She first graduated from Smith College in English & French – comparative literature and later obtained a Master’s degree in Human Resources Development in the US. On her way back to India, she made a stop in Europe and has stayed there ever since, at CERN.
Sudeshna has fond memories of the team spirit and user commitment that was shared by the Training and development team of the Personnel Division at the time. This is where she and her colleague, Francoise Fabre, were spotted by their Group Leader, E. Fischer, as the right people to initiate a major cultural change in the Organization, : the launch of a training programme in Management and Communication. This was the first of a series of changes that strongly impacted the life of all at CERN.
She remembers encountering much resistance when setting up the management training programme, in addition to the comprehensive technical training programme that was already there. She knew better than to start a fight and applied the step by step approach which served her so well in her successive battles for bringing cultural changes: the introduction of an induction programme, the setting up of an Equal Opportunities Programme, the identification of the values of CERN which later formed the basis of the Organization’s Code of Conduct, the creation of a Diversity Office and finally in the Ombuds position, which she held until her retirement in March 2018.
“I have always felt like a fish swimming upstream” says Sudeshna with a large mischievous smile.
“I knew how important it was to have a personal network and to find allies,” says Sudeshna “and bringing cultural change can only succeed if the change is supported from the top”.
After Erhard Fischer, she happily gives credit to Bo Angerth, Chris Llewellyn Smith , John Ellis, Rolf Heuer and Anne Sylvie Catherin, amongst the members of management, who supported the cultural changes that the Organization embarked on. “Today’s Director-General, Fabiola Gianotti, embodies diversity in its gender dimension” says Sudeshna and adds, “I am happy that I was there at CERN to see this happen”.
When asked how she managed to balance those tough, and intense years at CERN with family life, Sudeshna advises: “It is important to know what your priorities as well as your boundaries are, and at which point you should say no. One must not have any regrets.”
And, more to the attention of women colleagues, she underlines:”Believe in yourself and follow your ideas! Step by step, with a strong network and allies, and by supporting each other, you will get there”.
For CERN today, Sudeshna still sees uncharted territories and battles that she would have loved to tackle. What first comes to her mind is “The importance of nurturing a constant dialogue upward, downward and sideward, in all directions, as this builds trust and without trust there is no joy at work. It is not only what decisions you take that matters but how you communicate about them”.
Sudeshna admits that retirement is a transition that is not easy. Opportunities to share experience such as at the WIT Diversity Talks are invaluable to face the transition as “they help fulfil the need at the top of the Maslow pyramid: self – actualization”.
To our great delight, Sudeshna underlines “The CERN Alumni Network is extremely important to keep the connection, continue to feel part of the community and to preserve this feeling of belonging that has been so important for me all these years”.
Thank you Sudeshna!
NB: This is a summary of what Sudeshna shared with the participants of the WIT diversity talk in May 2017. The complete recording of the talk is available at https://videos.cern.ch/record/2631646 . Many thanks to our WIT colleagues.