Home / News / What’s Holding Women in Life Science Back? Our Encounters with the Impostor Syndrome, Stereotypes and other Barriers.

What’s Holding Women in Life Science Back? Our Encounters with the Impostor Syndrome, Stereotypes and other Barriers.

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After listening to several TED Talks during the Communications & Leadership course, seven MBS women employed in the healthcare profession were inspired to act. We joined the MBS Women’s Leadership Initiative, a sisterhood which educates and empowers women in science and technology jobs.  Our class assignment for the “demonstrate your personal best leadership” project developed into a program to educate future women leaders.

We are: Catherine Bernhardt, Anadina Garcia, Haewon Park, Laura Pinilla, Joany Guzman, Maria F Garcia, and Ashley Gabe

The Communications & Leadership class challenged us to reflect on our experiences and seek solutions.  Although equal numbers of men and women enter the field in entry-level positions, why are so few women in mid and senior-level positions in life sciences?  Women are less likely to hold positions of authority than men who have the same experience and background. Some of the statistics were astounding:

  • Research conducted by Leanin.org found that although 52 percent of entry-level positions in the pharmaceutical industry belong to women, women occupy only 2 percent of chief executive positions (C-suite).
  • There is an evident pay gap for employees filling similar roles. On average, women in the U.S. are paid about 20 percent less than their male counterparts. The gap gets wider when comparing Latina women or women of color to men.
  • Women comprise approximately 17% of the executive management team in the top 20 pharmaceutical companies (ranked by sales in “The Diversity Dearth in Pharma” written by Ian Wilcox for Pharmaceutical Executive Volume 36, Issue 4 on PharmExec.com).  Furthermore, three of these companies don’t have any women in the C-suite.

We discussed this phenomenon and shared how it directly affected each of us.

  1. Imposter Syndrome: Women are afraid they are not sufficiently qualified. As a result, women are less likely to apply for a higher position or negotiate a raise than their male counterparts. Women feel grateful for opportunities, while men feel entitled. For example, one student expressed being grateful to a male director for a promotion and substantial raise. When he responded, “Why are you thanking me if you did all of the work?” she realized she had underestimated her value.
  2. Stereotypes: Why are women commonly found primarily in laboratory positions in the pharma and biotech industries? Working in a lab requires an individual to multitask while being meticulous. Women are perceived to have these qualities. The problem is that, because these roles are less desirable for men, women are expected to fill them (as opposed to other more desirable roles).
  3. Society: Women are expected to be softer than men. When women ask for the same treatment as their male counterparts they are seen as demanding.
  4. Responsibility as a caregiver: It is typical for women to become the caregiver, which takes them out of the workforce. A re-launcher’s conference held October 2017 in New York was attended by 400 women who took a break from full-time positions to take care of children or sick parents for more than two years.  The attendees ranged in age from 30s - 50s and each woman had a different story, but all were motivated to re-launch their careers.

Call to Action:  Rosio Lorenzo’s TED Talk suggested that employers need to change the criteria for “who to hire” and “who to develop and promote” to increase women leaders.  Women and men are equally capable leaders. “To change the future, we need to take action.”  We agreed to begin by changing our behaviors at work, resulting in internal opportunities for some and a new mindset for all. We embodied the words of Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in this world”. Join the Women in Leadership initiative by acting with confidence, owning your success and supporting other women.

Coming soon… our next blog will present our solution: hosting a career panel to share our experiences.

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