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Female Biotech Leaders Discuss Their Career Journeys, Offer Advice

Last year, the PDA West Coast Chapter hosted a forum featuring female leaders in the biotech field to a packed room. In fact, chapter leaders declared the 4th Annual Women in Life-Science Event on Aug. 22 was the chapter’s largest event to date with 225 registered attendees.

There was a lot of energy and excitement among the attendees, all of whom eagerly wanted to ask questions of the panelists. Women in biotech find themselves uniquely looking for development opportunities in the field, so many of the attendees, which included students, gathered to hear advice to keep in mind as they advance their careers.

The six panelists all stand together holding flowers from the PDA West Coast Chapter at the event
l-r: Leslie Konher, Jodi Andrews, Sangita Ghosh, Susanne Rommel, Ruby Gulati, and Marisa Hewitt

Leslie Konher moderated the panel and had all of the panelists talk about how they began their journeys in the biotech field. Some, like Sangita Ghosh, began by saying that no one ever starts out wanting to go into the biotech field. She herself wanted to dance professionally until realizing that there was little pay in it, so she threw herself into chemistry. Likewise, Jodi Andrews changed her mind about veterinary medicine.

Among the panelists there was a lot of emphasis on teamwork within the field. When asked about how important one’s technical experience is when looking for a job, Ruby Gulati assured students, “It is not just what you bring to the table as a chemist but what you bring of yourself. Empathy, personality.”

For the most part there was great general advice on employment and networking. But, as women in the industry, they did have to admit that there were some unique challenges within it. For instance, Konher emphasized that there is still a divide within the industry.

“There are more men in manufacturing and more women in quality. Is it that just more men are applying to manufacturing? We have to look at those reasons.”

Some attendees questioned if it was the physical demands of the jobs within manufacturing positions. Others pointed out that women are still expected to provide more childcare than their spouses, which affects shift selection and availability, contributing to the traditional view that women may not be reliable.

Ghosh followed this discussion with words of encouragement: “If you do want to do it, then do not let yourself be stopped because you are a woman.”

Konher emphasized that there should be the open dialogue with men within the industry about expectations that they put their bodies on the line.

“We should open them up to talk about it.”

Overall, there was advice to seek harmony and balance within the workplace as a woman, especially concerning the chance of conflict. Suzanne Rommel called for more compassion.

“Everyone makes mistakes, but you must make sure that conflict is resolved quickly. You can’t carry them with you.”

Marisa Hewitt pointedly observed, “There is the saying, ‘pick your battles.’ Well, no, you cannot, but you can pick when you have your battles.”

Panelists and attendees, both seasoned industry veterans and students, expressed the importance of finding yourself within this industry, seeking mentorship and support from those that came before, growing with others and building up teams. Do not be shy. Make sure to network and make yourself seen. Show tenacity in the field. All messages that seemed to resonate with attendees.