Some have a passion for helping patients get critical life-saving medicine. Others enjoy developing products that improve the environment and protect people from diseases across the globe.
Others want to help people overcome personal financial hurdles, create protective gear for people in high-risk occupations or play a role in constructing buildings that contribute to meaningful economic growth in communities.
What they have in common is that they are women who have found their career calling in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
“A STEM education can take you in many different directions,” said Nancy McLane, senior vice president of operations for OraSure Technologies of Bethlehem.
Although the number of women employed in these fields continues to grow, men still outnumber women, especially at the upper levels of these professions.
That’s according to the Da Vinci Science Center and its Women in Science and Engineering Advisory Council, which last week hosted its major mentoring event, the 2018 WISE Forum at Lehigh University in Bethlehem.
Part of the forum included a panel on women in STEM leadership. Before a large audience comprised mainly of young women, five female leaders, including McLane, shared their experiences, offered advice and encouragement and described how their STEM education allowed them to find a career they love.
One of the main goals of the Women in Science and Engineering initiative, established in 2015, is to connect professional women employed in STEM fields and create a community of support through networking, social events and mentoring.
By directly mentoring young girls interested in pursuing STEM careers, Da Vinci hopes to find ways to spark their interest and achievement in these fields.
“I hope that we all will leave pursuing our passion,” said Lin Erickson, CEO of Da Vinci Science Center of Allentown. “You can and will make a difference, and you will improve lives if you pursue STEM.”
MANY PATHS TO TAKE
Moderated by Susan Yee, founder and CEO of Active Data Inc. of Hanover Township, Northampton County, the panel delved into a number of discussions from the five panelists, including topics such as achieving work-life balance, making sure your voice is heard, finding your true passion and handling the challenges in a male-dominated industry.
The good part about a STEM career is that there are many avenues to explore and many ways to make an impact on the world. Sometimes, it takes time to find your way.
As the panelists recounted their career paths, many echoed this sentiment.
Being a woman also can be an asset to pursuing careers in STEM fields.
“You are a minority but you are a sought-after minority,” McLane said. “You get opportunities for experiences.
“Companies with women are more successful.”
Speaking generally, women are more nurturing and have more of a nurturing instinct, she said.
“Unfortunately, there are still some people who believe women shouldn’t be in certain roles,” said Lisa Strohm, founder and CEO, The Athena Network of Upper Saucon Township.
She recounted a story where a former male boss early in her career in the financial field tried to make her cry every day. However, she overcame the obstacle and eventually earned his grudging respect by working hard.
“If you get through an experience like that, it will be a positive impact in your career and your life,” Strohm said.
Because there are so few women in these fields, a woman’s talent and accomplishments stand out more, she said.
Passion for their chosen fields plays a significant role in their success, as some of the panelists described why they love their careers.
“The neat thing about my job is we are building new buildings,” said Wendy Body, senior project manager at Alvin H. Butz Inc. in Allentown. “I’m constantly learning. It’s always changing.”
She described how her company built Baker Hall in the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University, where the forum took place.
She learned a lot about acoustics from the Zoellner project, noting how a person on stage can speak in a natural tone and still be heard in the back row. Likewise, Body learns a great deal about different industries from working as a project manager, she said.
“If anyone wants excitement, I would encourage going into engineering and construction,” Body said.
The ability to help people get innovative medicine is largely what drew one leader to become a doctor and enter the pharmaceutical industry.
“That sold me on the value of this job; there’s not one boring day in my life.” said Marielle Cohard-Radice M.D., executive vice president, global head of development for Daiichi Sankyo Inc. of Basking Ridge, N.J. “It’s important to follow your dream. You will see tangible results of your research.”
She described how people who work in STEM careers can be part of something that will change the world during their lifetime.
Though there are many men in STEM careers, Cohard-Radice did not think it was a big deal, she said. She spoke about the importance of building your confidence and being resilient because working in this industry is a lot of hard work.
GROWING INTO A LEADER
Some panelists spoke about not being taken seriously early in their careers, as well as the challenges they faced.
“I always admired people that had a plan,” said Terri Kelly, president and CEO of W.L. Gore & Associates, based in Wilmington, Del.
She joined the company in the 1980s and moved along the path to product development.
Her company, which makes Gore-Tex fabric, among other products, allowed her to grow into a leadership role when she began operating the fabric department.
VALUE OF CHALLENGES
Often, taking on challenges gives one the ability to gain confidence and new skills, another sentiment shared by many of the panelists.
By looking carefully at the character of the organization, Kelly was able to draw upon her strengths in critical thinking skills, which gave her the ability to tackle challenges, she said.
“I got thrown into some really challenging problems,” Kelly said.
The company’s leader since 2005, she has played a critical role in driving its success.
“I think they were looking for someone who can bring the global team together,” she said.