Women’s Equality Day: An Exploration in Equity in Today’s Life Sciences Industry
Four women at LifeSci Search unpack gender equity in the life sciences industry in honor of Women's Equality Day. Continue reading to learn more!
Written by: Erin Crider
Women’s Equality Day was established in the United States to commemorate the passage of the right to vote for all citizens regardless of gender. First celebrated in 1971 and designated by Congress in 1973, Women’s Equality Day has primarily become a celebration and acknowledgment of the work done by the Suffragettes to bring greater awareness to women’s rights and the continued need for equality in the United States.
Today, the work is far from over. Many women still battle for even footing with their male counterparts, balancing career, home, and personal lives within a society that continues to reflect strong gender bias and multiple barriers to entry – especially for QTBIPOC women, and even more so as we look to recover from the pandemic. An article from the Harvard Business Review in March of 2022 states, “In the first year of the pandemic alone, 54 million women around the world left the workforce, almost 90 percent of whom exited the labor force completely. The participation rate for women in the global labor force is now under 47%, drastically lower than men at 72%.” Women now face a 135.6-year hurdle to close the global gender gap as reported by the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report of 2021 where we still see 62% of global C-Suite positions occupied by white men. A deeper dive into the Gender Gap in the United States shows that “men with the same level of education are making 40% more than their female equivalent.” While some strides have been made to improve equality for women in the United States over the last 50 years, there is still much to be done.
Shared Experiences, Impacting Improved Outcomes
In light of Women’s Equality Day, join our team as we explore shared experiences as women, working mothers, women in leadership and allies supporting equality. We hope to improve dialog and raise awareness around challenges still faced by women in today’s workforce. I’d like to thank Kara Barr, Managing Director, Search Execution, Leah Behrendsen, Sr. Director, Executive Search and Ayesha Price, Sr. Director, Executive Search for participating in this discussion.
Ayesha, Kara, and I share some of the biggest obstacles we’ve personally faced as working women in the United States while advancing our careers.
After investing in my MS degree, I started working in biotech. Two years later, the company shut down, coinciding with my return from maternity leave. Though I quickly had another job lined up, I passed on it, realizing I did not want to be on the bench any longer and did not want to have my daughter in daycare. Six years and two kids later (plus an attempt to launch a small jewelry business), I wanted to return to a full-time job in biotech again. With the gap I had, the only path I was told was to go into academia which led me to a position at the Neuroscience Institute at Stanford University. That didn’t last long as I realized I wanted a people-facing, creative role. A family friend shared a list of recruitment firms focused on Life Sciences. I called the first one on the list, which little did I know was a prominent life science executive search firm. I ended up working for them, having very little idea of what I was getting into and a steep learning curve with retained search and the life sciences industry. I also had the incredible support and encouragement of my husband, who took over taking the kids to and from school/activities while I immersed myself into a brand new position. Nine years later, I have an amazing career where I still leverage my scientific training and background, continue to learn about new emerging science, and have an opportunity to work with clients who are the foremost leaders in the Life Science industry.
As a working mother – which was hard enough before the pandemic – I always face an internal battle about putting in more time in front of my computer or spending time with my children. I have a work family that depends on me to spearhead initiatives and be super productive. Yet, I have my own family who depends on me for physical and emotional support. People would constantly tell you about setting boundaries between work and home, but that always meant one was being turned off while the other was turned on. I think the pandemic has made it extremely hard for many women and caretakers to keep working. In contrast, others (like myself) have benefited from the ability to work remotely. I am thankful to have fantastic support from my partner and empathy from the people I work with. I no longer have to worry about a work-life balance but can instead strive to maintain an equilibrium!
I was navigating infertility and seeking medical treatment to start a family while trying to advance my career in a male-dominated industry. I experienced “mommy tracking” early in my career when first openly seeking fertility support through my then employer. Overnight I found myself with a reduced workload I did not ask for, limited opportunities to participate in executive functions at the rate I had previously, and ultimately was asked to “take a step back to better support my personal goals at the time.” It taught me to be wary of divulging anything related to my desire to be a mother at work for fear of being perceived as distracted, uncommitted, or unable to prioritize work. It took many years, an amazing mentor, supportive male allyship in leadership and changing my employer to relearn what I had been taught. This allowed me to create a safe place for myself and my employees to show up at work authentically.
Leah, Kara and Ayesha look at opportunities to support women in and out of the life science and recruitment industries.
In every search, LifeSci conducts, our goal is to provide our clients with a slate of the most qualified candidates. I’m always extra mindful to ensure that we’re including and networking with exceptional women in this industry even when, and especially when, they are underrepresented in a given functional area. I prioritize staying in touch with my network of women directly within executive search and those I’ve met in various industries and functional areas over the course of my career in recruitment. I try to draw attention to various options that could be an excellent opportunity to elevate their careers, interests, or life goals, provide formal and informal mentoring, champion them as a reference whenever I can, and always encourage them to know their worth.
It may sound simple but being intentional with having empathy for all the different issues women can face during their career. Whether it be sexism, gender bias, or several requirements on their time like having a family or fighting a disease, it is essential to treat every person’s journey as unique and personal. I strive to give women the support they want and need when they want/need it. Sometimes, just having someone who understands what you are dealing with goes a long way!
I love being a resource or sounding board for friends, colleagues, or people referred to me in the life science industry, especially women. Some are also in academia looking to step into an industry role, while most have hit a ceiling and are looking to step up in their career (for example, seeking how to get on to a board). If I am not the right resource, I will always have someone to refer them to who may be able to help – which further builds out their network. It’s all about building a network to help support and raise each other up.
As we continue to work on improving equality, representation and opportunities for women, Kara, Ayesha, Leah, and I share a few ways to improve equitable outcomes for women in the life sciences.
We need to get more girls interested in the sciences at an early age. We need to continue to support and challenge women early in their careers and show them what they can do. We must take women progressing in their careers and help them understand how they can exceed their goals. We need to ensure we welcome women back to the workforce after leaving for a period of time, regardless of the reason. We need to offer flexibility around hours and location when and where we can. Improving equitable outcomes is done by inspiring, educating, leading, and accepting others with every interaction you have.
From my experience, it would be great to see employers continue to support women who opt to have a family with things like daycare, part-time or flexible working arrangements with benefits, so they don’t have to feel they need to choose one or the other. I think this has improved but still needs to continue where women aren’t the ones who are sacrificing their career progression/impeding career trajectory when having a family. Also, we need more young women to enter the Life Science industry post-college graduation. We can take this further back and try to get girls in high school exposed to the life sciences and the different career paths. There are many varied and essential functions in the Life Science industry to pursue with the added ability to attain leadership roles. With women in the industry, having more support from colleagues who are men would be helpful to achieve a more equitable setting and outcome.
I always love to see the growth of and participation in STEM programs for young girls. Exposure to those options at young ages will go a long way to continue increasing interest and participation rates in life sciences degrees and careers. For example, when my husband started medical school last year, the college of medicine posted some interesting statistics about the entering class. It was fantastic to see that over half of the class is female! Supporting institutions and programs that ensure women are well represented is so important.
There are so many ways to get involved with improving outcomes for women – advocating for improved healthcare access, protected (and paid) maternity and paternity leave, providing childcare support for mothers and caregivers returning to the workforce, active mentorship, allyship and doing the work to combat gender bias in the workforce. We all can get involved and do our part. Women’s equality issues are not just a woman’s issue. Some of the best support I’ve received came from male colleagues and mentors who were not afraid to step in and advocate for my voice in the room. I’d challenge anyone reading this to look for one or two ways you can immediately get involved to help create visibility and access to opportunities for your female colleagues and network. Ask us about our experiences, understand what we need, and don’t be afraid to act.
If you are interested in joining our discussion on Women’s Equality or would like more information about how to get involved, please reach out to Erin Crider, Chief of Staff, or any of our team who participated in this discussion.
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