To celebrate International Women’s Day 2020, Bioanalysis Zone brought together a panel of experts to discuss issues surrounding gender parity in bioanalysis. The expert panel was chaired by Michele Gunsior (Viela Bio, MD, USA) and featured Anahita Keyhani (Altasciences, QC, Canada), Stephanie Cape (Covance, WI, USA), Amy Mize (KCAS, KS, USA) and Robin Woods (Alturas Analytics, ID, USA). Bringing together perspectives from technical, management and senior leadership roles, the panel explored some of the key challenges facing women in the field. Each panelist also suggested advice and answered questions from the audience.
We hope that through having open discussions and promoting initiatives such as International Women’s Day we can inspire positive changes in the bioanalytical and STEM fields towards the future goal of gender parity. Make sure you don’t miss the full panel discussion, which is available to view on demand now.
In this article, we summarize the discussion, with our selection of key take home messages.
Recognizing a unique skillset
All of our panelists reported extensive experience working with talented women in a wide variety of roles, ranging from chemists and technicians to project managers and senior leaders.
A recurring theme visited in this segment was the ability of women to flexibly meet the demands of the team and drive the success of collaborative projects. The panelists largely agreed that women have the versatility to step in and fill a role to ensure group success. It was also suggested that sometimes this willingness to fulfil such a wide variety of roles can be to the detriment of professional and career development.
It was also noted that women tend to be very humble and can place a large emphasis on delivery, a topic which was revisited later on in the gender parity discussion.
In the discussion, the panelists referred to a news story reporting a push to get more women on corporate boards. Indeed, in 2018, California became the first state to require publicly traded companies to have at least one woman on their board of directors. Research published in the Journal of Business Ethics reports that having a ‘critical mass’ of women present – a consistent minority rather than 1 or 2 ‘tokens’ – creates an environment where women are no longer viewed as outsiders and can enhance company innovation.
Ensuring a positive mentoring experience
After the panel discussed the broad skillset that women bring to businesses, discussion moved onto mentors for women’s career development. All of the panelists voiced positive opinions regarding the value and importance of mentors to further professional development. It was also suggested that mentors can be valuable to support personal development, helping women to find an optimum work–life balance.
One of the key points discussed for a successful mentoring relationship was communication. Understanding where you are as a mentor, as well as the professional and cultural context of your mentee can help both parties to build each other up in a mutually beneficial relationship.
Several other topics were put forward, including the importance of utilizing constructive criticism and using feedback to improve on weaknesses, as well as recognizing and building a career around your strengths.
Advice for career development
The panel began discussing the topic of advice by making suggestions for young women hoping to pursue a career in the field of bioanalysis. The take home message from this segment was the importance of engaging with not only the job at hand, but also with other individuals in different roles within the company. It was suggested that engaging with the whole company and the wider community, as well as utilizing resources, such as Bioanalysis Zone, can provide an understanding of the global vision of bioanalysis. The panelists proposed that an understanding of the bigger picture can help to transform a job in bioanalysis into a meaningful career.
When asked what advice the panelists would give to women hoping to pursue senior level roles, a common point again, was a keen focus on the job in hand. The panelists suggested that through excellence in your role, it can be possible to organically identify a need within a company. Providing solutions to address these needs can be a route to career progression.
Another one of the most discussed points with regards to pursuing senior positions was emphasizing your ambitions and communicating your successes. The panelists agreed that women need to own their ambitions and be more comfortable speaking up about their own successes. The topic of over-delivery was also revisited, with several of the panelists agreeing that women can sometimes become preoccupied with over-delivery, believing that it is necessary to know a topic 100% before being able to take the next step.
The panel agreed that it is important to recognize that you do not need to know everything and that women should not be held back by this. Rather, the focus should be shifted on to vocalizing achievements, skillsets and successes.
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Encouraging female participation in STEM
As the discussion moved onto encouraging more women into the STEM field, a transparent support system and training plan was suggested. It was also proposed that, where possible, women mentors should be matched to women mentees with similar career aspirations.
It was suggested that the next generation of women could be encouraged by a wholly transparent technical development plan. This plan should detail each level within a given organization and outline the achievements, cross training and experience necessary to get there. The panel suggested such a development plan could take the guess work out of who gets a promotion and why – which could encourage female participation.
The discussion also acknowledged one of the key factors to encourage female participation in STEM and achieve gender parity is inspiring the next generation of female scientists. All of the panelist stressed the importance of engaging the wider community, capturing the hearts and minds of young women and positively enhancing their perception of female scientists.
The importance of being ambassadors of the bioanalysis discipline was also discussed. Since knowledge and awareness are the building blocks of inspiration, the panel discussed the potential power of internship programs and the idea of developing better narratives to explain the role that bioanalysts play in improving peoples’ lives and health.