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March 6, 2020
The theme of this year's International Women's Day is "Each for Equal" and asks everyone, regardless of gender identity how they're working to forge a gender equal world. This question, and the concept of a gender equality in the workplace are near and dear to our hearts at Alnylam. Diversity and inclusion is ingrained into the fabric our core values and ensuring that ALL of our employees are enabled to achieve their full potential is a focus for both for our leadership, and employees throughout the company.
In honor of International Women's Day, our iThrive: Women @ Alnylam employee resource network (ERN) group asked women from across Alnylam to share a personal experience or inspiration that has shaped their career in the life sciences and how they view gender in the workplace. Here is a selection of their answers:
Ariana Greco – Vice President, Legal Counsel, CEMEA Region
I started my career in the technology transfer office of a public research institution in Italy. I was already a qualified lawyer at the time, however I quickly realized that I would have to overcome two huge unconscious (and conscious) bias at work: I was obviously not a scientist AND (probably less detrimental than the first!) I was a woman. I started to realize then that if I wanted my voice to be heard, I was the first one who needed to believe that my voice mattered. I am convinced women’s experiences are shaped also by all other aspects of who they are: when we are confident enough to identify the stereotypes we face and speak about them, we educate each other about the impact of certain words and action, and then a dialogue can begin.
Katie Terry – Sr. Director, Quality Assurance
As a young girl growing up just outside the Steel City, my grandmother, Fanny, was a force to reckon with and played a significant role in my formative years. She worked in the infamous US Steel Tower during a time when very few women held formal degrees & prestigious roles. One afternoon, she & I went on an adventure to the big city showing me where she worked. I’ll never forget the sensation of seeing an impressive structure where she spent her days. During this trip, I played in the water fountain, listened to her professional stories, and talked about the importance of being an independent woman. This experience, when combined with my parents encouragement & strong work ethic, has led me to Life Sciences. Though not a scientist, she taught me what it means to be authentic, generous, the importance of knowing your worth, and the power of formal education.
I truly believe that the fearless pursuit of science and innovation that will propel us to a better future requires all of our best minds, without regard to gender, color, creed or class. As Marie Curie once said, “I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy" and we still have much work to do. All of us in the life sciences must therefore work together to break down the traditional barriers to entry and success that still hold many back. – Tanya Sangupta, Director, Launch Excellence
Satinder Chettra – Director, Regulatory Affairs, UK
Growing up in an Indian family in the UK, as 2nd generation immigrant, I was so fortunate to be raised by a feminist father of 3 daughters. My father encouraged me to follow my passion and supported every decision I took for my education and career. If it wasn’t for him, I think I would have never have gained a Ph.D., pursued a career in STEM, thought about taking a risk and leave a successful commercial company to join what was then an R&D company (Alnylam), or navigate my way in becoming single-parent. It is because of a strong ‘girl-dad’ like my father, that I didn’t need to worry about what people might think of me or do what is expected, because he instilled in me a quiet confidence and empowered me to realise… that I was always capable of much more!
Jessica Sutherland, Ph.D., DABT – Sr. Director, Toxicology
I inherited my scientific acumen and curiosity from my mother. However, when she was growing up in the 1940’s, her small rural high school in Wisconsin did not offer any science classes. As a result, she felt too ill-equipped to enroll in any science courses when she attended college. She told me this was not at all unusual, especially for women during that time. Later, when I was teaching college-level introductory biology, my mom asked me if I could send her a copy of the textbook. She proclaimed that “it wasn’t too late to learn.” I am tremendously grateful for the academic and career scientific opportunities that I’ve been afforded. I am inspired by all of the scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematical contributions made by women and I remain motivated, in part, by all of the women who because of their gender, and/or life circumstances, were never given the opportunity to develop their particular gifts in these areas.
I chose to focus my career on the life sciences because I believe that making an impact and a difference in patients’ lives is one of the most fulfilling roles anyone could wish for. To my colleagues both at Alnylam and across our industry, my advice is that as you continue to thrive in your important roles, continue to be honest, be humble, be fair and most importantly, be yourself. – Masako Nakamura, SVP, Head of Asia
Deirdre Parsons – Director, Government Relations
My view of gender and science was shaped at an early age, since I had been a Girl Scout starting at age 5 through age 18. We had to collect badges and many of them were rooted in math and science, so I thought nothing of science as being “only for boys” – and I was deeply competitive about earning the most badges! As I grew up, I was fortunate enough to find mentors in science along the way, both men and women, who demonstrated through their actions that they believed in gender equality in STEM research and education. And I guess that how I’ve come to see the world, as well, and why I’m thrilled to see more girls who are passionate about science – and not just for the bragging rights of collecting badges.
Jen Willoughby – Sr. Manager, Medical Communications and Publications
I started at Alnylam early in my career, with minimal experience. My initial interview session included one of the female R&D leaders who was so impressive and cared to know more about me. This impression was consistent with one of the male R&D leaders that ended up being my manager. From that day on both were so supportive, as were many of the other scientists throughout my 14 years at Alnylam. The support system was incredible as both mentored me, advocated for me, and pushed me as they saw potential I had yet to realize. When I proposed that I pursue my doctorate while continuing my full-time position, they never questioned but rather supported me and the company then followed.
About 20 of my co-workers carpooled to my thesis defense in support, outnumbering my family. My manger supported me as a member on my thesis committee, and the female head of research was the first one to get out of her seat when my presentation was finished to congratulate me. I was given opportunities-based potential, and the team supported one another so that we were successful. When I looked to gain another skill set, my manager worked to identify an ideal new team and supported my transition. For me, I have rarely felt that my gender has had a negative impact, and I believe that is mainly because of the two talented leaders who interviewed me, the example they set, and that they saw my potential as a scientist.
Liana Goodwin, Ph.D. – Sr. Manager, Public Relations & Scientific Communications
I grew up in Armenia with a fascination for biology and all things science. In my teenage years, we immigrated to Australia, and while I couldn’t speak English and was faced with a huge culture clash, I was still able to understand and relate to the language of math and science and excelled in those areas, ultimately graduating with a Masters in Immunology and receiving a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Sydney. I have to say I never felt deterred by the fact that I was an immigrant or a woman until I came to be a postdoc working in academia (I ended up at the Salk Institute in California) with a grueling schedule of working around the clock and pretty much 7 days a week. After six years, thoughts of where I would go next as someone who had a young child were daunting. An academic career seemed utterly incompatible with family life. A mother of two, I transitioned to industry and devoted myself to communicating science rather than discovering it. This helped me always see the big picture, spend more time with my family and stay true to my passion for science.
Learn more about Alnylam's focus on diversity and inclusion here, and about recent recognition we received from the Eos Foundation for the strides we've made in gender parity and fair representation of women of color at our Executive and Board of Directors levels here.
We're always seeking smart, passionate, “change the world” kind of people who are ready to say, “challenge accepted" to our mission to bring innovative RNAi therapeutics to patients in need. Search current job openings here.
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