Female Scientists

Encouraging the Next Generation of Female Scientists

May 08, 2018


y the time she finished high school, Luisa Salter-Cid, Ph.D., knew she wanted to explore the science behind disease. Her inspiration to pursue her scientific curiosity and a career in science came from her own mother, who worked as a physician.

Salter-Cid now heads Immunology Discovery at Bristol-Myers Squibb and has worked for over 20 years in science. Her experience reinforces her commitment to engaging a new generation of women to discover a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Salter-Cid is not alone in this passion. Bristol-Myers Squibb is strongly focused on increasing opportunities for and encouraging the development of women in STEM careers. Healthcare-related STEM fields such as molecular biology, chemical engineering and biochemical sciences are vital to the innovation, competitiveness and flexibility of the modern economy.

Yet, far fewer women than men enter the field. In fact, women comprise just under half all workers, but only 24 percent of STEM workers, according to data from a 2017 Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

A Science Thing

As the demand for STEM talent continues to build, there’s growing urgency to expand women’s roles and positions within the field. That's because jobs are changing. Approximately 65 percent of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist, many of which include STEM. The importance of STEM and the need for more women to enter the field is increasingly recognized and appreciated.

Salter-Cid explains that every person brings an individual approach to research and investigation that can be of value – bold or cautious, data or hypothesis-driven, for example – regardless of whether this approach fits a traditional mold. Different perspectives and backgrounds can help ensure decision-making processes are balanced and thoughtful. 

“Science is all about people challenging and questioning each other,” noted Salter-Cid, who is on the Global Leadership Team at Bristol-Myers Squibb and has been a voice in prioritizing gender equality since she joined in 2005 to lead Immunology in vivo pharmacology.

Some of the issues or perceptions leading to the gender gap in STEM, according to Salter-Cid, include lack of awareness and acknowledgement of women’s genuine interest in the field, the perception that woman are underestimated (including underpaid or underappreciated) and the view that a STEM career does not allow for a positive or desirable work-life balance. 

Making Change Happen

But that is changing. Organizations large and small are creating durable and distinctive programs to promote inclusion and pathways to success for women. For example, the B-NOW (Bristol-Myers Squibb Network of Women) People and Business Resource group works to ensure that women have equal opportunities to be recruited, developed, advanced and retained globally within a culture that prioritizes this mission.

B-NOW hosts programming specifically for women, such as career advancement workshops. It also engages men to be full partners in gender equity. More broadly, the company cultivates and supports female employees and executives through targeted development, coaching, mentoring and sponsorship programs.

Bristol-Myers Squibb implemented a new format for interview processes that is also encouraging, said Salter-Cid. The company conducts panel interviews versus a series of one-on-one meetings. This 90-minute group interview is more efficient than a series of individual meetings and allows for a more natural conversation.

“I think it has made a big difference,” Salter-Cid added. “It’s more open and allows for a diverse slate of candidates and interviewers. Whatever biases an interviewer may have, good or bad, come to light as interviewers all hear the same thing at the same time.”

Female sponsors are also helping to shape careers, Salter-Cid noted.

“While mentors can provide great advice, it was a sponsor who changed my career track,” she said. “Sometimes mentoring isn't enough, and a sponsor can be a necessary player to champion new opportunities. Sponsors are more like knowledge managers – colleagues in relevant senior positions that are well-informed, strategic and in the same field – and can be an advocate for you.” 

Tomorrow’s Women in STEM

Careers in STEM drive innovation, generate new ideas, and grow new companies, while they are also associated with higher earnings and reduced joblessness.

“STEM is where the future is,” Salter-Cid said. “It’s really where you can make a significant contribution to society.” 

Learn more about Bristol-Myers Squibb’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, including the People and Business Resource Groups (PBRGs).