When we become leaders, how do we lead science towards gender equity?

The following article is an opinion piece written by Lorna Ewart. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Technology Networks.

A little over a week before the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, I took on a new role as Scientific Director at Emulate. More than 20 years of therapeutic development research prepared me well for the job, but the public response to my promotion caught me off guard. After my promotion was announced, I was inundated with personal messages – many of them from young women – telling me that I had inspired them and that they wanted to be like me. I did not expect that.

I hadn’t realized it yet, but with my promotion, I had become a visible example of success in a field where women often face systemic bias. Science has a persistent gender gap that results in fewer women in the science workforce, lower salaries compared to their male counterparts, and shorter careers. This fact is not lost on me as I have rarely seen other women in decision-making positions. Throughout my career, I’ve been inspired by women like Dr. Jennifer Doudna and Dr. Margaret Hamburg, whose success highlights what’s possible if you’re resilient enough.

To now be an inspiration to others was a surprise, but also an honor that I enthusiastically accepted. Now, in my new capacity as a scientific leader, I, like many other women in the industry, must figure out how to be the icon that young women need. There are still very few female role models in the industry and when I think of my team and the people I work with, I want them to have someone to turn to for advice, encouragement or support. inspiration.

Knowing how to do this when you have so few models to draw from can be difficult. Fortunately, my long career has given me some leadership experience and exposed me to many different leadership styles. Based on my experience, I think there are three focus areas we can all work on to help close the gender gap.

Invest time in mentoring

According to a report According to the United States Census Bureau in 2019, women make up approximately 48% of the nation’s workforce. In STEM occupations, however, that number drops to just 27%. This means that even now women in STEM are likely to outnumber men in the workplace (the same goes for gender non-conforming people).

It is true that for most of my career, the top leaders have almost all been men. I remember at my first job interview after graduating, I walked in to present to the interviewers and saw that it was 100% male. This feeling can be very isolating, but I was undeterred by the science I came to share.

To overcome this isolation, I found strength in mentors. I was fortunate to have many good mentors, men and women, who were very generous with their time and really guided me a lot. These relationships had a big impact on me and I draw inspiration from them when the going gets tough.

Knowing the power of visible models, I frequently give presentations to high school and college students about the life sciences industry. In conversations with students, I speak as a mentor, providing career advice to help and inspire young minds.

In my experience, mentors can make a big difference by simply investing time in their mentees and recognizing that not every individual’s success means staying in their current position or organization.

I try to be generous with my time, spending as much as possible to connect with my team. I hold senior-level meetings, for example, where I speak directly with people who are earlier in their careers. I try to find out how they feel and their personal goals because we are all different. And, sometimes, someone’s personal goal is to quit their current job. In the long run, I think it’s best for them and for the organization to know where they fit best in order to be successful.

I will also point out that a good mentor does not have to be a woman. Many of my mentors were men, including Emulate CEO Jim Corbett, who invested in breaking the industry norm of a male-dominated management team. In addition to my promotion, Corbett recently added Veronica Mankinen to Emulate’s leadership team as Vice President of Sales and Customer Success – a role with very few female counterparts in the field of biotechnology. With the addition of me and my colleague Veronica, women make up nearly two-thirds of Emulate’s leadership team.

Be responsive and adaptable

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that the traditional work environment, where people are supposed to be everywhere in an office, isn’t always necessary. For women, these requirements have often been an additional obstacle to a successful career.

Society tends to view women as natural caregivers for disabled partners, elderly parents or young children. They are often the ones who have to give up their career to support their partner’s career. If the pandemic has shown us anything about workplace dynamics, it’s that remote work is possible. Granted, working remotely in a lab is difficult, but for many other roles, I think women can still do the work they really want to do. But if we as managers don’t embrace the possibility of remote or flexible work habits, it will be difficult for many women to navigate.

Facilitating kindness and celebrating each other’s success

Doing the work of changing a system is both chronically taxing and extremely exhausting. In these times, small moments of camaraderie can go a long way in energizing each other and fostering resilience. In my opinion, the more we can build an environment that encourages moments of kindness while celebrating each other’s victories, the more collective successes we can have.

My father trained me and my sister as young children to always be nice to people. I see some people are quick enough to knock someone down. And for women, because we often have to really prove ourselves, I think there’s an added pressure to be the best among our peers. And so, I always encourage my team to really invest in each other’s kindness and success, because at the end of the day, we’re all trying to do our best. Kindness is the basis of who we all are as human beings.

Seeing other women succeed was a major motivation for me too. Seeing them succeed was inspiring and I know they will have sacrificed things to achieve that success. And, honestly, I think that’s true whether it’s a woman or a man.

These are the three priority areas for me as I take on a bigger and more visible role at Emulate. To be clear, closing the gender gap is a complex task that requires addressing many systemic and intersectional challenges. But small steps can make a big difference. For me, reaching CSO level at Emulate was just another step forward, a chance to exert greater influence in preclinical drug discovery and ultimately improve successful translation. therapy in the clinical setting. But for those around me, my success means much, much more and that makes me feel good.

Dr. Lorna Ewart is scientific director of Emulate.

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