How a Female Executive Became a Leader in the Business of Science
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It’s hard to comprehend that, in 2019, men continue to greatly outnumber women in science and business, especially in leadership positions. However, change is happening and I have a personal mission to support women on their journey.
In college I developed a fascination for electron microscopy, which led me through roles in innovative product development and into my current position leading a large global business at Thermo Fisher Scientific. Here, I’ve had my first experience of a real commitment to diversity and inclusion in a professional setting. Throughout my career I’d often find myself being the only woman in the room, and like many women, I had come to accept the situation because it was all I knew.
I spent a lot of energy trying to be who I thought others would want. “Be tougher” a few people said, as if to imply that, as I woman, I needed to demonstrate some level of extra strength to match up to the men around me. But as I grew confident and saw success with my own approach and unique skills, I started being me. I believe that my own authenticity is what truly enabled me to succeed.
I’m fortunate to now work within a company committed to encouraging authenticity. Thermo Fisher’s chief human resources officer recently commented that “When all of our colleagues have the confidence to be their whole, authentic self every day, we create an environment of competitive advantage that fuels innovation and growth for our company." But I can’t help but feel that I’ve missed the benefits of a career enriched by interacting with other female professionals and scientists.
As a leader, I am encouraged and supported to build an inclusive and welcoming environment for all our employees. But as a woman in a male-dominated field, I also realize it’s my responsibility to empower young women inside and outside of Thermo Fisher to find their own voices, take charge of their own career growth and help find their own best path forward.
How can we ensure the path is fair and equal for men and for women across companies and in science? Reflecting on my career, I offer the below thoughts.
This isn’t novel advice, but I encourage you to have a plan for networking that is purposeful. Early in my career, I sought out scientific or business lessons. Today, I work alongside many other women in roles like mine and can’t help but wonder how helpful, even inspiring, it would have been to interact with female leaders during those early career days. Don’t wonder, do it. It will always be important for women to network with women.
Find a mentor
I was fortunate to have a few special female scientists as mentors in my journey. They were people I could trust as sounding boards and the ones who encouraged me to raise my hand, embrace challenges and have confidence when I wasn’t sure “I was qualified.” Nurture the relationship with your mentor and most importantly, be self-reflective and open to the gift of feedback.
Finally, be your authentic self
As much as I learned from my mentors and my networks, I’ve also gained from getting involved and engaging with peers at all levels. At our company, we continue to probe and question issues of gender together. From watching and dissecting TED talks as a group to creating a safe space where we can exchange our thoughts, opinions and the things we have learned, we grow faster through sharing ourselves and our experiences. What fresh ideas could you bring to your organization?
Your career will be shaped by mentors and your expanding network, but it shouldn’t simply be about the next job or ascending within your current company. Never lose sight of your authentic self. Thankfully, I learned to ignore the “be tougher” advice and focused instead on being successful through my own approaches. I found strong women who weren’t advising that I "blend in" and "play the game", but instead encouraging me to play my game, and to do so confidently.
To all of the aspiring female scientists out there, I say: Good luck in your journey.