A Day of Inspiration and Motivation for Women in STEM

On December 4, 2015 BioNJ held its inaugural Inspiring Women in STEM conference at Sanofi US in Bridgewater, NJ. It was a high-energy day featuring panel discussions with industry leaders and talks from executive coaches tailored to women in the STEM community. With over 200 women across all STEM fields representing a variety of companies, women heard panelists speak about the importance of networking, how to engage in conflict resolution, how to hone emotional intelligence, and how to create work-life balance in an innovative economy. Starting early, the day also incorporated networking sessions and a number of vendor tables focused on women’s leadership and STEM focused associations.  

Key Lessons from an MBS Student Perspective

Introductions to the conference began with remarks from Debbie Hart, President and CEO of BioNJ and Paul Chew, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer and Head of North American R&D at Sanofi. Excitement began to brew as Paul Chew championed that, “we need to get the maximum potential from women’s leadership.” While attendance for the day was primarily women, the remarks from Chew emphasized ensuring that women continue to remain in STEM fields and gain access to the executive suite.

The first panel discussion of the day, “Strategic Networking: Make It Work for You,” was moderated by Lynne Anderson, Partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath, LLP. Key quotes from speakers that seemed especially useful to students included:



Vicki Carey, VP Commercial Lead & Head of Global Marketing- Sanofi “You need to make time for your network and be able to think broadly about your network, an alumni network can be a great networking resource…make connections with your firm, your peers, clients, networking is about building sincere relationships…don’t be afraid to be exceptional.”

Peggy McHale Principal- Consultants 2 Go, LLC “Women don’t have access to the C-suite, we [as women] need to look at that long-term and be conscience of making good, valuable connections ...you have to think about your long-term goals and be open to the advice of others…you have to find things you feel strongly about and tell everyone…use social media to ensure you stay connected with your network.”

Barbara Ryan Investor Relations- Radius Health “Women need to realize that we can’t do it all alone…everyone is benefiting from networking.”

Judith Sheft- Associate Vice President, Technology & Enterprise Development- New Jersey Innovation Institute at NJIT “You never know where you are going to find connections…and I can’t think of anything that hasn’t happened [in my life] because of meaningful networking experiences…have a pitch to help get a conversation started and make sure to follow-up with new connections within 48 hours…get invested- you should be invested in the success of your colleague”

Top tips from Strategic Networking panel:

  1. Think broadly about your networking web- tap into your professional, school, and personal networks
  2. Be prepared! First impressions are everything.
  3. Seek out people you admire and get to know them and don’t be afraid to ask questions
  4. Keep stepping up! Be prepared for the unexpected and continue to refresh your skills
  5. Women are strong and confident- we need to ensure that we work together to achieve all that we want to achiev

Following the first panel, Dr. Robyn Odegaard, “Doc Robyn”, gave a talk titled, “Productive Conflict: Why is it critical to your success and How to use it” focused on the idea that “All success is founded on the ability to engage in conflict resolution…because 80% of adults will not engage in conflict resolution without outside help.” Doc Robyn gave insight on how to effectively engage in conflict resolution with your team. Teachings included using productive conflict resolution by holding conversations with the intention of addressing the issue by hearing, listening, understanding, and taking action while also having “an empowered team that knows how to solve problems on their own.”  She then went on to describe ten takeaways on how to engage in positive conflict resolution to ensure that disagreements are handled productively for all parties.



Finally, Doc Robyn emphasized one of the best takeaways of the day for women is to “be able to own your value….don’t let yourself succumb to imposter syndrome.”  Each attendee was also gifted a copy of Doc Robyn’s second book “The Ultimate Guide to Handling Every Disagreement Every Time,” a unique guide that details ten tips for productive conflict resolution she discussed in her talk.

The after lunch session began with the second panel of the conference “A Conversation With STEM Leaders,” moderated by Hilary Malone, Head, Global Regulatory Affairs- Sanofi US. Important lessons from this panel of speakers included:

Donna Tempel, President and CEO- Drais Pharmaceuticals “We need to go out and take the success for ourselves…there is a lot of ego which can be difficult to deal with and people don’t always play well on teams…you need to trust the people you have put in place around you as a CEO because CEO’s are chief relationship gatherers- the CEO has the vision and has to engage in conversation and dialogue to maintain the group around them.”

Avis Yates Rivers, President and CEO- Technology Concepts Group International “There is a difference in managing men and women…flexibility and coachability are key for both…we need to be flexible about our goals and women especially need to have a thick skin...we need help and a strong support system, women need to stop putting so much pressure on themselves to find work-life balance….we need to stop waiting for permission-just go out and do it!”

Top Tips from STEM panel:

  1. Declare what you want to people, make sure to expand your horizons, and focus on what matters
  2. Don’t be the smartest person in the room- surround yourself with those that are smarter than you and that you aspire to be
  3. Identify people you aspire to be and admire to gain mentors and make sure that your bring value to those relationships

Following the panel was executive coach and talent management coach, Michele Brown, President and Founder of IntuAction Coaching, LLC. Her talk, “Emotional Intelligence: Tough-Minded Leadership With Tender-Hearted Skills. “Leadership is a behavior, leaders are in the people business…leaders need to hone in on emotional intelligence to learn how to enroll and motivate key members of their team…as leaders you need to know your personal strengths and limits and have a sense of your self-worth….ultimately people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”

The day of inspiration ended with a presentation by moderator Terri Boyer, Executive Director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University and a panel discussion with speakers Dawn Bell Vice President, Global Program Head-Novartis and Traci L. Fiatte, Group President- Randstad US on “Work and Life In an Innovative Economy.”  The panel made many important points including that STEM is driven by innovation and women in STEM are leading the way to changes in culture and policy-which was originally created by men. Ultimately, you need to understand what you seek and what the employer needs, by doing this you can bring your whole self to everything you do.



The BioNJ Inspiring Women in STEM conference was an excellent experience for students and others to learn about how to deal with some of the obstacles constantly faced by women in STEM and to help ignite excitement for the changes that are currently happening in the industry.  I sincerely enjoyed my time learning from the panels and meeting the other women . I definitely plan to be at future conferences hosted by BioNJ and encourage other MBS students to attend their informative events, as well!