Celebrating International Women and Girls in Science Day, February 11 (Part 2 of 2)

Part II

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science was adopted by the United Nations to empower women and increase access to and full participation in science for women and girls around the globe. In celebration of this day, Generate:Biomedicines interviewed four women leaders to ask for their perspectives based on their own experiences: Daria Hazuda, Head of Infectious Diseases and Vaccine Research; Kristen Hopson, Vice President of Preclinical Discovery and Development; Alex Snyder, Chief Medical Officer; and Lisa Wyman, Senior Vice President, Technical Operations and Quality. Here we address their responses to questions about opportunities for girls and women in science, engineering, and medicine, as well as structural barriers that keep girls and women from pursuing such careers, along with solutions to break down these barriers and improve access for all. Their observations are both clear and compelling.

Part I of the report on our interviews with Daria, Kristen, Alex, and Lisa deals with the questions: What drew them to careers in science, engineering, and medicine? Who were their role models and mentors? What advice they would have for other girls and women thinking of pursuing similar careers? You can find it here: Read Part 1.


We asked our quartet of Generators do you see barriers for girls and women in science and technology? And if so, what should be done to break them down and improve access? Our questions elicited sober analyses of the challenges, coupled with pragmatic suggestions for solutions. Daria Hazuda pointed to a fundamental issue: One of the biggest barriers is a lack of knowledge: people gravitate to role models and to what they know and are exposed to. If you don’t know anything about what opportunities exist or don’t know anyone like you who has been successful in a career in science and technology, I think it is hard to imagine yourself in such a role. As role models we all need to do a better job of reaching out, particularly at the high school and college levels. Also, from my own career, promoting internships that enable young women to explore options in science and technology can have a great impact. Finally, as hiring managers and leaders, don’t be afraid to take a chance on talent. I find this is often most at issue for women and under-represented minorities, as organizations often value skills, experience, and pedigree – but nurturing talent will bring far more value to an organization in the long run.”

Lisa Wyman and Alex Snyder pointed out that there are still often fixed (and biased) ideas about gender roles in science and technology. As Lisa pointed out, examples of professionals such as engineers and scientists are often portrayed as male. People’s aspirations are framed from an early age, so it is important to have a variety in representation and in role models. Girls and boys alike should be supported to develop their talents to the fullest and without the constraints often imposed by gender stereotypes.” Along similar lines, Alex observed: There is still a strong legacy network of male leaders in some areas of science and technology that (I think many times unintentionally) perpetuates itself.” She had several suggested solutions: To meet this, women should create networks among themselves and ally with other under-represented groups. Women in positions of power (whether official or unofficial) should take the time to mentor and introduce mentees into their networks. Male leaders should try their best to be aware of these dynamics and pay extra attention to subgroups that are at risk of not being included or promoted, including women. Women should take advantage of training opportunities – for example, some small actions learned at such training (such as repeating what a female colleague said and attributing the idea to her) are very powerful.”

Lisa also had some suggestions for women about mentorship: In the workplace, women often receive less of the high-quality mentorship that accelerates careers and they are less likely to have a sponsor who advocates and opens doors for them.” She shared ways to help balance opportunities for girls and women:

  • Open the pathways – dismantle biases that prevent girls from dreaming of a career in science. Strengthen STEM curricula and link education to real-world situations/project-based learning that tends to appeal more to girls, rather than using more traditional methods.
  • Provide mentorship, skill development, and networking opportunities early to girls and women.
  • Ensure that women in STEM organizations have equal access to networking opportunities, stretch assignments, and networking events.

Kristen Hopson addressed another workplace issue that many face: I think it is so hard that right when your career is hitting its stride and/​or you are working so hard to advance your career – for many women – this is also the time you are starting a family. I still do not think our culture adequately supports families with two working parents. Things like equal parental leave for both parents regardless of gender is a great example of what we can do to drive to equal parental participation in raising children – while helping women and men alike to balance home and work.”

Finally, we asked what are the biggest opportunities you see for girls and women in science, engineering, and medicine? The responses were uniformly optimistic. Kristen sees tremendous opportunity for girls and women to pair scientific excellence with compassion and passion.” Alex agrees: Although we still have work to do, this space has changed dramatically for the better, even over the last 20 years. I think girls should consider any opportunity that interests them — as open to them.” Lisa points to the benefits of more girls and women pursuing STEM careers: Full and equal participation in science for women and girls plays a vital role in ensuring diversity in research, expanding the pool of talented researchers, and bringing in fresh perspectives.” Daria adds: The biggest opportunity is that there are more opportunities now than ever before, and yet we don’t have enough talent pursuing STEM disciplines. I routinely hear from my colleagues in academia as well as industry that they don’t have sufficient qualified applicants to fuel the pipeline of talent needed at a time when there should be more excitement given all of the advances we’re seeing now in science and technology.”