How Do We Encourage More Talented Women and Girls into STEM Subjects & Jobs?
Six Women at BIOTRONIK Share Their Advice
Despite being half the world’s population, women make up less than ten percent of students enrolled in subjects like statistics, mathematics, and engineering. At the same time, only about 30 percent of the world’s researchers are women. Recent UNESCO statistics also find women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) publish less, are paid less for their research and do not progress as far in their careers as their male counterparts. Yet whether it is the first approved COVID—19 vaccine, the discovery of new elements like radium and polonium for cancer treatment, or understanding DNA structure—women have long been at the forefront of scientific breakthroughs. Developing scientific talent in girls, and helping women working in science advance in their careers are key parts of encouraging human innovation that helps tackle modern challenges.
To this end, the United Nations General Assembly designated February 11 as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science to help spur the discussion about how to spot and develop such an untapped pool of promising scientific talent. To help mark the occasion, we asked six women working in challenging technical positions at BIOTRONIK about how they got into their fields and what advice they have for girls and young women thinking about a career in science. For several of them, having a supportive teacher or mentor early on was crucial.
Early Mentorship Matters
“It was actually my physics teacher who first got me excited about science in general. When it came time to decide what specialty to study, I remembered that math—the language of physics—always came easy to me. I found the logical approach to solving problems very attractive and I still use that approach in my job today,” says Dr. Sarah Biela, who leads BIOTRONIK’s team of marketing and product managers for electrophysiology products as Director of EP Product Management. “You don’t have to believe everything someone says, instead you can measure and analyze, and then see what the facts tell you.”
“I had a great chemistry teacher who got me excited about the subject since my very first school lesson,” recalls Dr. Janine Broda, who heads up Manufacturing Production Operations for Active Implants at BIOTRONIK’s Berlin headquarters. “I made the decision early.”
Once we had genetic engineering in our biology class, I knew that this is what I wanted to know more about.
“I had a very inspirational chemistry teacher and he made me connect to science in general. However, once we had genetic engineering in our biology class, I knew that this is what I wanted to know more about,” says Philine Baumann-Zumstein, Manager of the Preclinical Affairs department at BIOTRONIK’s Vascular Intervention headquarters in Bülach, Switzerland.
The importance of support early on motivated Sofia Binias, who leads BIOTRONIK’s quality assurance team for pacemakers and defibrillators as Senior Engineer, to get involved with Club Lise—a German mentoring program for high school students interested in a future scientific career. As part of the program, Binias has facilitated visits to BIOTRONIK for grade ten girls since 2012. “As a part of this project, these girls and young women can visit our company, talk with us and find out what we do every day,” explains Binias. “I like to help give them the courage to pursue studies in the sciences and show them where I work. It’s important young women discover their talents for science while still in school. That puts them on the way to making valuable contributions to science and industry.”
Susanne Spintig, Director of the Club Lise mentoring program, outlines how important it is for young women to have the opportunity to visit their mentors at their workplaces. “It‘s not about emulating the mentors directly. Instead mentees reflect together with mentors on how careers, strategies and experiences can be adapted in order to find their own paths,” Spintig explains. “The professional reception from our BIOTRONIK mentors is something very special every year and lastingly impressive, with Club Lise alumni eventually going into internships and working student positions at BIOTRONIK.”
Scientific Careers Begin with Scientific Curiosity and Passion
Although early mentorship and exposure can make a huge difference, the women were quick to stress that the most important thing when thinking about a career in science is that it complements a personal interest. “Studying science opens up so many options and possibilities for future careers. That shouldn’t be the only reason to make that decision though,” argues Dr. Anke Topp, a trained chemist who leads a team that develops production and testing technologies for BIOTRONIK stents. “Far more important is your personal interest and passion for the sciences.”
“Be curious, be bold and confident, but always keep questioning yourself. Pursue what awakens your inquisitive nature,” advises Baumann-Zumstein. “You will always have your dream job as long as you do what you love for as long as you love it.”
You shouldn’t decide too quickly on a particular career, but instead take it step by step. Think about what scientific topics are fun for you and then study those.
Binias similarly says that the most important place to begin is with a love for science, with the rest eventually following from there. “You shouldn’t decide too quickly on a particular career, but instead take it step by step. Think about what scientific topics are fun for you and then study those,” she advises.
“Stay curious and open and don’t be afraid to change your plan. Things often turn out differently. Don’t see that as failure, but rather as experience,” adds Dr. Broda. “Take the route that is the most fun and don’t let setbacks get you down.”
Pay Attention to Other Skills Too
Finally, girls and young women looking at a scientific career in the private sector should still keep an eye on business contexts.
“If you want to work in industry, it’s a good idea to study something business-related in parallel, such as taking economics or business as a minor. Doing an internship or writing a thesis with a company also helps you see what companies are suitable for you, and what they’re offering,” says Dr. Petra Heerklotz, Director of Design Control & Risk Management at BIOTRONIK’s Vascular Intervention headquarters.
Doing an internship or writing a thesis with a company also helps you see what companies are suitable for you, and what they’re offering.
“Soft skills like negotiation, communication and diplomacy are important too, especially for asserting your interests and promoting understanding. And then there’s teamwork. At BIOTRONIK, we always work as a team,” adds Sofia Binias.
“I myself am a numbers, data and facts person—and these things play a big role at work,” says Dr. Broda. “But when it comes to developing employees and looking after work relationships, there’s an emotional element where facts, data and numbers can’t do much,” she argues.
“Scientific know-how is often required but not everyone understands it. That’s why it’s really important to know how to explain complex issues to non-specialists,” says Dr. Biela.