Creating space for women to thrive in their career paths in the STEM industry and beyond is critical to unlocking ground-breaking innovation and delivering the advances society needs.
A few years ago, my son and I were playing lego. I picked up a female character and introduced her as ‘the boss’ in the game. My son looked at me and – in all his innocence at five years of age – said, “no Mum! Girls can’t be the boss.” And upon asking why not, “because the boy is always the boss in the lego movies!” Despite having reached a leadership role myself by this time, he had unconsciously absorbed the pervasive gender bias that surrounds us to this day in popular culture and our social norms.
That’s why days like today, International Women’s Day, are so important. And that small exchange with my son goes to show why this year’s theme of #BreakTheBias is worthy of our attention. For me, it’s about making sure that people recognise those enduring stereotypes and proactively challenge them. It’s fantastic to hear stories from my female colleagues about how they’re making a difference to patients and society in their careers, such as those in this video that help to break the bias.
Hear from women in various roles across AstraZeneca about their experiences at our organisation:
I’ve worked at AstraZeneca for 12 years and I’ve seen huge progress on gender diversity in that time. I joined in our Finance function, working with predominantly male Finance Directors. Now, 48.1% of people in all senior management positions across our organisation are women and we’re on track to achieve our target of an equal gender split by 2025. In our Research and Development function where I work in my current role as Chief Digital Health Officer, R&D, we’re also performing well. Close to 50% of our leaders are female.
Yet worldwide, data tells us that less than 30% of researchers are women.1 That’s not because women are less able – in fact, girls are proven to achieve better grades on average in STEM subjects than boys.2 I believe that what lies behind this disparity is bias and gender stereotypes.
What can we do in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry to #BreakTheBias? At AstraZeneca I believe that the driving force behind the positive change we’ve seen is the emphasis we have placed on fostering an inclusive workplace culture. One where every individual feels safe to bring their authentic self to work, along with all of their unique ideas, skills, perspectives and backgrounds. The resulting diversity of thought is what is behind our groundbreaking innovation and scientific advances.
We must also purposefully create spaces for, and champion, women in STEM. We have developed women’s networks in most of the countries in which we operate and give targeted support to mentoring relationships, for example mentoring by senior women for emerging talent in Operations. We also have dedicated development programmes for women in place to support and accelerate the career and personal goals of the participants. As the leader for a function that includes both science and technology roles, it’s important that women with these critical skills see leadership paths for themselves as we work to transform healthcare through digital health.
Environments like ours empower women to be bold, seize opportunities and challenge the status quo, helping to level the playing field. And so I’m hopeful that, one day, every child will see men and women as having an equal chance of being the ‘boss character’.
1. Women in Science | UNESCO UIS [Internet]. Uis.unesco.org. 2022 [cited 7 March 2022]. Available from: http://uis.unesco.org/en/topic/women-science
2. O’Dea, R.E., Lagisz, M., Jennions, M.D. et al.Gender differences in individual variation in academic grades fail to fit expected patterns for STEM | Nat Commun 9, 3777 (2018). Available from: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-06292-0