How Do We Support Women In Advancing Their Scientific Careers?
Six Women at BIOTRONIK Share Their Advice
As we mark International Women’s Day in 2021, we’ve been reflecting on the invaluable contributions women make to science, technology, and clinical research. Women have long been at the forefront of scientific advances and this past year was no exception—as the first approved COVID—19 vaccine demonstrates. In 2021, BIOTRONIK celebrates its ninth year of partnership with Club Lise—an initiative to encourage and mentor young women interested in a scientific career, which we profiled last month for the International Day of Girls and Young Women in Science. A few months ago we also saw the enrolment success of the BIO-LIBRA study. The study aims to help address the underrepresentation of women in certain clinical studies, by enrolling over 40% women, to see if they respond the same way as men to cardiac device therapy.
But there is still a way to go. Recent UNESCO statistics find women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) publish less, are paid less for their research, and do not experience the same career progression as their male colleagues. In the second part of our series of contributions from women in technical positions at BIOTRONIK, we asked our panel about how to support women as they progress in their scientific careers. What needs to change, and importantly, what already works?
Acknowledging—and Embracing—Different Experiences
Women and men should have the courage to cooperate and approach each other.
“I do think women have other challenges, because we are perceived differently and because men and women have mutual prejudices that cannot be argued away or overcome simply. People still wonder about a woman who studied physics—not because they think she can’t do it—but because it is still so unusual,” says Dr. Sarah Biela, who holds a PhD in physics and leads BIOTRONIK’s team of marketing and product managers for electrophysiology products as Director of EP Product Management. “Women and men should have the courage to cooperate and approach each other.”
Sofia Binias, who heads BIOTRONIK’s quality assurance team for pacemakers and defibrillators as a Senior Engineer, agrees. “I do think women experience different challenges than men. You need to assert yourself more to be heard.”
Binias and Dr. Biela both note how the landscape for women in technical positions has made positive strides—both at BIOTRONIK and in MedTech in general. However, there are still steps to making the sector more supportive for women to advance.
“I find it particularly noteworthy how in recent years, we’ve seen so may women take their places and earn respect in traditionally male departments like engineering, for example,” says Dr. Biela. She notes it’s important to be able to find role models and mentors across both industry and job function—whether in STEM fields or not—and from the factory floor to the C-Suite.
“BIOTRONIK is endeavoring to promote more women, particularly in management roles. There are a few managers in particular who are working to increase the proportion of women in their teams and this is good. There are non-technical teams too where the ratio between women and men is virtually balanced,” adds Binias. BIOTRONIK’s Women in Leadership Network also helps women inside the company support each other in navigating questions around promotion and advancement.
Promoting a Supportive Work Environment
I have received most of my encouragement, all the way back to my studies, from men.
While women should be encouraged to take initiative and assert themselves, organizations and companies also need to promote a supportive culture—where everyone has the common goal of ensuring that entire teams excel. “I have received most of my encouragement, all the way back to my studies, from men,” says Dr. Janine Broda, who heads up Manufacturing Production Operations for Active Implants at BIOTRONIK’s Berlin headquarters.
Indeed, our panel notes how important it is for all employees to take on issues that perhaps in the past, were often thought to primarily affect women. For example, the question of how to balance work and family life continues to come up in discussions of how to help women advance. However, our panel suggests that more STEM-focused companies need to move further in treating work-life balance as an issue for the entire workplace in general.
As a positive trend, I see more men taking longer parental leave or taking care of their sick children at home.
“In my view, family planning still has more professional consequence for women than for men. I was concerned about the conditions of which I could return to work after my daughters were born,” says Dr. Anke Topp, a trained chemist who leads a team that develops production and testing methods for BIOTRONIK stents. “As a positive trend though, I see more men taking longer parental leave or taking care of their sick children at home.”
Encouraging Excellence at Work and at Home
Companies can help the process by being proactive on issues of work-life balance, and making clear that arrangements like parental leave or part-time options are open to everyone. As an example, from 2011 to 2015, BIOTRONIK saw an eightfold increase in the number of men taking parental leave. Since then, the average amount of time men take parental leave has also gotten steadily longer.
Philine Baumann-Zumstein, Manager of the Preclinical Affairs department at BIOTRONIK’s Vascular Intervention headquarters in Buelach, Switzerland, says women thinking of going into a scientific career should know they can have both. “This is not a decision to take for one OR the other. They both work together perfectly fine. I have met so many wonderful and extremely capable, scientifically brilliant moms. If anything, having your own kids will make science look easy and that intellectually challenging job will make you love to read that picture book for the hundredth time in a row,” she says
So what can we learn for the future? Our panel tells us even companies that are on the right track can consistently reflect on their progress and make improvements. Establishing a supportive work environment is key, where all employees—men and women—respect and encourage each other. Helping all employees maintain a good work-life balance can also help advance women’s careers while still benefitting all employees. Finally, the importance of role models became clear. Many of the colleagues we interviewed have a management role at BIOTRONIK, and stressed that advancing the full potential of women in science, still requires more women to be present at the very top — across all departments, companies, and industries.