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10 Keys for Empowering Women for Careers in Life Sciences

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During the Communication and Leadership class, we discussed why fewer women are in leadership roles in the life sciences than their male counterparts (read our earlier blog). We decided to host an event to share our personal experiences as females in the working in life sciences. We were nervous and exhilarated. Creating gender equity is a big issue and we decided to raise the awareness of future women leaders by sharing our experiences and discussing the challenges they would face as professionals in life sciences.

Planning the Douglas Project:  We organized a “Meet & Greet” event to share our career journeys as women in life science. We named the event ‘The Douglas Project’ because we used the lounge of the Woodbury Bunting Cobb dormitory on the Cook/Douglass Campus at Rutgers University. We used a panel discussion format to structure the dialogue and developed a handout with our biographies to share our career progression in the pharmaceutical or biotechnology industries.

Results: The room was filled with Rutgers students who represented different majors and career aspirations. We began by introducing ourselves, our roles, and explaining potential career paths within the pharmaceutical or biotechnology industries.  Then we transitioned into a discussion about the gender gap and how it affected our careers.  We shared insights and recommendations about how to manage obstacles that we have faced in our careers. We selected our topics to help the students advance into executive leadership positions. To keep the conversation going, we followed up with the students by email, providing them with key insights from the event.

10 Key Insights:

  1. No one can control you, but yourself.  Don’t let a negative situation cause you to react irrationally. Be positive and find a productive path forward.
  2. Own your career development.  Initiate a conversation by asking your boss about the next step in your career. And set goals to get there! A good time for this conversation is during your mid-year or annual review.
  3. Take the initiative. Are you interested in a particular career or changing career paths? Try to get an internship or find a mentor further along that career path. Talk to professors, search company websites, attend company events, and join various organizations. You and you alone need to make it happen.
  4. Negotiate your salary. These conversations can be difficult for women, but they are necessary. You can have this conversation before you start or once you demonstrated your strengths and showed your value. Never underestimate your worth.
  5. Take a seat at the table.  And if you’re not at the table, make your voice heard and your presence known. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
  6. Network.  Networking is essential. Even if it is out of your comfort zone, it will make a huge difference in your professional and personal development.
  7. Women need to support other women. There is no right or wrong way to manage work vs. family life (daycare vs. stay at home). Make the right decision for yourself. Never feel obligated to stay late or work harder than women who have families. And, remember that, if you decide to stay at home to raise your children, there will be organizations to help you return to the workforce.
  8. Make your partner a real partner.  Allow others to help you. You do not have to do it all by yourself.
  9. You can’t have it all. You will need to make sacrifices. Be present and focus on the activity you are doing at the time. 
  10. Keep the conversations going! Bring awareness and take small steps to begin to minimize the gender gap.

Preparing for this event we discovered the power of women working together. By sharing our experiences, we empowered future women leaders, and we learned what it takes to be a leader. Leaders don’t see walls; they create opportunities. The Douglass Project was the first step to break the barriers and enable women to be as successful in the workplace as their male counterparts.

Read our next blog to see what we learned about leadership (and about ourselves)

MBS Women's Leadership Initiative (edited by Sue Weston and Karen Bemis)
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