Meet Women Who Rule in the Bio World

by Hope Cullen

The Chicago Chapter of Women in Bio (WIB) held its inaugural event honoring Women’s History Month on March 13, 2014, uniting a contingent of influential women in the industry. Organized by WIB volunteers, including me and Emily Miao, the event took place at the Gleacher Center on the campus of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

The evening started with a cocktail hour and hors d’oeuvres, which facilitated networking among the guests and allowed members to meet the speakers before the panel discussion began.

The panel discussion followed an informal format where the audience was encouraged to interact with panelists and ask questions related to women in the life sciences and the challenges they face. As one of our panelists observed, “The audience participation created a free flowing and dynamic discussion.”

From left to right: Sharon Green, executive director, Women’s Health Research Institute, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University; Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CEO, Chicago Public Schools; Lilli Zakarija, president, EdgeOne Medical, Inc.; and Carol Meyer, vice president, Therapeutic Area Management and Operations, Takeda Pharmaceutical Company.


“Collectively, regardless of degree level (Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctorate), there are nearly 5.4 million men and women employed as scientists and engineers in the United States. Women hold 27% of these positions,” she said. “At the business or industry level (non-academic), female science and engineering managers make up only 25% of all science and engineering managerial positions.”

The panel agreed that although issues and challenges abound, the industry has become sensitive to gender-based pay disparity and compensation is more equitable than ever.

In answer to the question of what can be done educationally from K-12 forward, Barbara-Byrd Bennett, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, said it is important to direct young girls toward science and math and not accept the presumption that boys are better than girls in these subjects. Moreover, it is the teacher’s responsibility to encourage female students to take more risks and be more assertive inside and outside the classroom.

The discussion continued with Carol Meyer, vice president of Therapeutic Area Management and Operations at Takeda Pharmaceutical Company, who theorized that women who struggle with self-doubt tend not to self-promote, which may explain why men dominate executive-level positions in the industry. Carol, whose own career began in the lab, attributed her rise in rank to her willingness to assert herself and take risks.

Lilli Zakarija, president of EdgeOne Medical, Inc., suggested that women should “just go for it.” She added that for women to succeed in their careers, they need the support of the men in their lives. She said that her best mentors have been men, and thanks to those mentors – including her biggest supporter, her husband – she is a successful businesswoman today.

The discussion ended with the speakers drawing from their personal experiences in offering advice on career paths for women in the life sciences. The collective message was to, “Be deliberate about pathways. When making a career decision, always ask, ‘How is that transferable? What’s the applicability?’ And most importantly, it’s not always better to work harder, but rather to work smarter.”

Stay tuned for more posts on career development and networking opportunities.

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