When Shuhong Zhang, Ph.D., recently watched a video that highlighted contributions of female scientists to the NASA Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter, she was struck by the faces in the crowd. An audience of captivated girls and young women filled the room, which not long ago might have been exclusively male.
Zhang, vice president of developmental sciences at AbbVie, believes that we’re at a pivotal moment in the push for equality in STEM. Opportunities for women are finally catching up to their capabilities.
“I’m encouraged and excited in seeing the next generation of female ingenuity in science and the opportunities being afforded to them,” Zhang says. “Yet there is much more to be done.”
Female scientists lead ground-breaking research across the world but represent just 30% of researchers globally. Lack of representation by women in the scientific workforce can create blind spots in research, hindering innovation. Despite women pursuing education in STEM fields in high numbers, too few are in leadership roles today.
For ideas on how to support women in scientific careers, female leaders at AbbVie shared aspects of their own journeys in science. Here are 5 ways to help women achieve their potential in scientific careers:
1. Normalize women in science.
“It’s critical that we don’t classify female scientists as anything other than the norm,” says Linda Scarazzini, M.D., AbbVie’s vice president of pharmacovigilance and patient safety. “We must remain committed to creating opportunities for women and setting them up to thrive. When people close their eyes and imagine a scientist, I want that mental image to be female.”
2. Make space for others to step forward.
I’ve always loved the song lyric ‘You’re a driver, not a passenger in your life,’ which in my mind means stepping up, even when it’s difficult,” says Nicole Selenko-Gebauer, M.D., AbbVie’s head of global medical affairs. “I don’t want to ever be afraid, because when you don’t feel comfortable, you don’t step up. It’s my job as a leader to model that behavior and create an environment where people can feel comfortable taking risks.”
3. Help others create new paths for themselves.
“I had to explore a ton and create my own path,” says Kim Ribeiro, AbbVie’s director of clinical trials diversity & inclusion. “My role today in clinical trial diversity is something that I ultimately created for myself. AbbVie has allowed me to carve out roles throughout my journey where I saw gaps in the business. So my advice would be to step out of looking for the right existing role and start thinking about your skill set and what could be possible.”
4. Mentor others – it matters.
“My first manager in the industry told me to not allow myself to be limited by where I am today,” says Zhang. “He told me to ‘make a plan and go for it.’ So I did. And I’d urge others to do the same. That means getting to know the business, but it also means seeking advice from a mentor, whether formally or informally.”
5. Smooth the road for those who follow.
“My leadership journey throughout my career has shown me that we must hold up and respect those at all levels around us,” says Scarazzini. “Even though the road may not have been perfectly paved for me or my senior colleagues in leadership, we owe it to those who follow to help clear that road and help fix a few potholes for our rising leaders.”