Disrupting the Gender Status Quo

WE Communications Blog: Health

— Elicia Flemming, WE 

To keep up with the rapidly adapting science and technology landscape, we need to challenge the status quo and consider ways to promote leadership that is truly representative of our nation. For this reason, it is crucial that women embrace the pursuit of positions of power, and close the leadership gender gap that’s endemic to the fields of science and technology.

Solutions to achieving gender balance across these key fields were discussed and analyzed during the Pathways to Leadership Success: Working Towards Gender Balance panel held Nov. 14 in Boston. As a part of an agency founded by women, and which still today includes many women in leadership positions, this panel resonated with me. The five industry experts offered a range of key insights and possible solutions to address today’s gender challenge.

Individuals at the Top and Bottom – Become and Seek Mentors

Sangeeta Bhatia, an accomplished biotechnology entrepreneur, cancer researcher and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, stressed that mentorship transitions leadership skills among generations. Bhatia acknowledged that so many young women fail to aspire to be leaders because female leaders are simply not visible. For young women, seeking a mentor initiates the recognition of female leaders and affirms successful models of accomplished leadership and career development. As the relationship between the mentor and the mentee develops, mentors are no longer just real-world models of success. Instead mentors become living, breathing resources that teach and transfer leadership skills. Bhatia encouraged all women, at all age levels, to seek and become mentors to strengthen transitions of leadership skills at all stages.

Get Comfortable With the Uncomfortable – Push and Demand More

Bhatia also affirmed the significance of persistently challenging yourself to push and demand for more. She noted that some women often experience discomfort when requesting necessary resources and support, even though the support is critical to the goals of their employers. Bhatia noted that to become more effective leaders, women must overcome this discomfort and demand the support they are entitled too. Bhatia then went on to remind the audience that on average, their male peers receive more funding and support, simply because they are not afraid to ask for it.

Commit to Connecting and Collaborating With Your Community – Network, Network, Network!

Bruce Booth, partner at Atlas Venture, acknowledged the importance of networking, specifically within high-risk startups — a field traditionally dominated by men. He added that too often, in a new startup, career opportunities are not publicized online, which can negatively impact the inclusiveness of a candidate pool. To overcome this, Booth encouraged women in the audience to make meaningful connections with employees in these fields, and constantly highlight the unique assets and skillsets that can be brought to the table in those conversations.

Be Systematic at the Macro and Micro Level – Create a Corporate Environment of Inclusion

Dr. Sophie V. Vandebroek, chief technology officer of Xerox and the president of the Xerox Innovation Group, shared Xerox’s best practices to solidify an environment of inclusion in the workplace. According to Dr. Vandebroek, an inclusive environment is fueled by the active process of digging deep beneath the surface to question the “hard facts” that are presented. When promotions, raises or considerations for special projects are in discussion, she challenges her staff to compile a list of employees that includes 50 percent of males and 50 percent of females. When assembling teams, Vandebroek seeks to understand the strengths of each employee so that team-member skillsets not only complement one another, but also allow for each member’s expertise to be celebrated and appreciated. During the hiring process, Dr. Vanderbroek went on to share how she rejects candidate pools that are too homogenous, and pushes recruitment firms to uncover a wide array of candidates including women, members of the LGBTQ population, ethnic minorities, members of transgender community, and individuals with disabilities. In this way, Sophie highlighted real-world examples of how to incorporate inclusive practices in the day-to-day work of an office, as well as the top-level policies that lay the foundation for a successful workplace.

After attending this panel, the need to actively challenge the status quo and reject the norm becomes clear. For me, attending the Pathways to Leadership Success: Working Towards Gender Balance panel affirmed the need to actively network and seek mentors that I admire. It also affirmed the need to continually challenge myself to vocalize my opinions and seek opportunities to lead fearlessly. Embodying the recommendations set forth by these panelists is crucial to not only working toward achieving gender balance, but ultimately advancing innovation in science, healthcare and technology as a whole. As communications counselors for all of these industries, we must work in parallel to transform our workforces, empowering women to play a leading role. To continue to progress, women need to manifest these recommendations, continue to disrupt gender norms and compel the world to acknowledge that we have so much to offer. Let’s get to work.

 To learn more about the author, Elicia Flemming, click here.