Reshaping the future for women in STEM

Some of the world’s most accomplished and scientific minds work at Roche, a leading international healthcare company. And over half of them are women.¹

In honour of February 11th’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which aims to promote full and equal access for women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, we recently caught up with three of our Roche colleagues to learn more about how they went from being “girls in science” to healthcare leaders.

Although they’re from two different continents, memories of their blossoming scientific interest play out very similarly for Sylvia Tong (China), Regina Mayor (Spain) and Urooj Imam (Pakistan).

Sylvia Tong, Medical Country Lead China, Roche Diabetes Care, Shanghai

Regina Mayor, Medical Cluster and Country Lead, Roche Diabetes Care, Sant Cugat

Urooj Imam, Cluster Medical Lead, Asia Emerging Markets, Roche Diabetes Care, Karachi

As youths, they were curious about the world around them, and one strong role model was all it took to inspire them to understand it through the framework of science. Urooj was first motivated to get into medicine by her family doctor. Regina’s high school teacher was “so passionate about science and his profession” that she couldn’t help but fall in love with biology on the first day of class. Sylvia, for her part, was sparked to make her mark in the scientific world as a way to make up for the regrets of her mother’s past, “an intelligent woman whose educational opportunity was disrupted by historical chance.”

But it takes more than interest to make it in the predominately male STEM world. Urooj admits that pursuing a medical career as a woman in a developing country meant she was often “undermined, underestimated and underpaid.”  Even though it continues to be a “hard job,” she has always been able to draw strength from her very supportive family.

Regina also acknowledges that a support network is essential to help guide, inspire and reinforce self-esteem at all stages of a woman's journey: for young girls still in school, for women at the height of their scientific careers and for those who become working mothers. While Regina recognises that male mentorship and allyship can open a lot of doors for women in STEM, the mother of two would like to see more “male mentors that are passionate professionals but also dedicated fathers. The more we see this pattern,” she argues, “the more we’ll equal the balance.” 

Our three colleagues predict a brighter future for women in STEM, and would like to pay it forward by sharing some of what they’ve learned along the way. 

Regina urges women to “fight for recognition.” What often happens in scientific research, she explains, is that “You always go the extra mile and work beyond your responsibilities and expectations when you’re testing a hypothesis, but without recognition”. She warns: “As women, we shouldn’t normalise this fact because we can only transform these negative and unfair dynamics from the inside.” 

Scientists always have to be curious and relentless about truth, and Sylvia encourages young women in STEM to keep believing in themselves and their ideas: “A woman in science can never give up, never take others’ opinions as fact and never stop thinking about ‘why,’” she cautions.

Despite its challenges, a career in STEM is incredibly rewarding, and Sylvia, Urooj and Regina wouldn’t have it any other way. The biggest perk? Being able to turn their love of science into real solutions that can improve the health of millions of people. In Urooj’s words, the best part of the job is “bringing about a positive change for patients.”  

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