Emma’s learnings from the North East Women & Girls in Life Sciences 2023 event

Emma Banks
By Emma Banks

Our CEO, Dr. Emma Banks shares her learnings from being a panel member at a recent life sciences event.

In the run-up to Women and Girls in Life Science day on 11th February I was invited to participate in a panel discussion and networking event organized and sponsored by HighForce Research in partnership with Jackson Hogg to highlight the amazing women working in Life Sciences across the North East.

The event took place on 8th February at The Core in Newcastle and attracted 85 in-person and 30 virtual attendees. The panel and audience stimulated interesting and lively discussions covering everything from career and professional development to experiencing bias and the challenges facing women in life sciences.

I was proud to join a stellar lineup of panelists that included: Fozia Saleem, Magnitude Biosciences, CEO; Amy Heptinstall, Maverex, Medical Writer; Natasha Boulding, Low Carbon Materials, CEO and Suzannah Harnor, Newcastle University, Centre for Cancer, Senior Research Associate. Ruth Daniels expertly chaired the panel discussion facilitating each panel member’s career history and backstory before hosting questions and answers from the diverse audience.

The event featured discussions about working for a CRO, experiences working in construction and the importance of sustainability, market access, the discovery of new therapeutics in the cancer arena, and life science marketing.

The recurring themes that seemed to challenge women in their careers the most and covered the majority of discussions included:

The challenges & opportunities of working in a male-dominated sector

We discussed working in a male-dominated industry and how to balance the challenges this brings alongside the opportunities. The importance of being flexible arose several times in different contexts – including how to juggle working in a lab after having twins!

Unconscious & conscious bias

I found the references to the unconscious and conscious bias women experience and the assumptions that are made around age, having children, and how starting a family will impact a woman’s career potential particularly frustrating.

As the CEO of a business with a significant number of female employees and a large percentage of female leaders the revelations around bias certainly struck a chord with me and raised awareness about gender split within businesses and the importance of having balance – ensuring women are represented at leadership and board level.

How we talk about maths and science

It starts when we’re young – what we hear and who influences how we see the world can be crucial to our decisions. As an Enterprise Advisor in a school in South Shields, I know it is so important to show all versions of life in a technical field. From someone who was told at 17 that I wasn’t ‘clever’ enough to be a medic, I know all too well how the influence of others can impact our direction. I’m keen to proactively support girls and women in their career choices and their careers.

Leading by example

The event reminded me and the rest of the panel about the example we set for those women who come after us. Suppose we embrace flexibility and an understanding that 100% of the workforce adds value regardless of personal circumstances. In that case, we can aspire to see the world from many perspectives making better decisions for ourselves and the people we work with and lead.

Taking risks

We focused on the importance of speaking out when women experience bias. It doesn’t need to be confrontational but the more we point it out, the better it is for all of us. And that goes for any bias, not just that experienced by women.

For all of us either just starting out or already working in life sciences, we need to remember how important diversity is for any business. Our sector like many others needs the diversity of thinking which makes us, our jobs, and our companies better. Alongside that, we have a chance to change the expectations around work and life; if you can, do what you love, be true to yourself, and don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Those days, I hope, are behind us.

This was such a great event to have been invited to – the panel was diverse in both age and career paths and highlighted the routes into and progression paths that exist working in life sciences. It was interesting to hear that while my fellow panelists all had an academic start, their Ph.D. qualifications and Postdoctoral research led them to varied and interesting roles. I thoroughly enjoyed taking part.

I am a huge advocate for women in life sciences (and all other careers) so if you are working through the decision-making process, or need help to kickstart your career, please do reach out – I’d be happy to help or connect you with my network. Please connect with me here.

Huge thanks to all the event organizers:
Caitlin Mooney (R&D Chemist, HighForce Research)
Ruth Daniels (Senior R&D Chemist)
Jasmine Cross (R&D Chemist)
Selma Dormen (R&D Chemist)
Hannah Sykes (R&D Chemist)
Jane Klotz (HR Manager)
Nathan Price (Development Chemist)
Jenna Lancaster (Jackson Hogg)

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