Bayer Recognizes the Power of Diversity on the United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in ScienceLook at any major scientific work and it’s easy to see that great achievements are rarely accomplished alone. What has energized me since I entered research more than 20 years ago is working with groups and tackling complex scientific challenges that eventually will improve people’s lives. To take on the great challenges we face in agricultural research and development, we need to continue diversifying our teams and create an inclusive environment for great minds to thrive.
This Saturday, we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This is a unique opportunity to remind ourselves that gender diversity is great and that we all need to pave the way for women to embrace and strive in scientific careers. And, in addition to great minds, women can bring a whole lot of fun to the table. Don’t believe me? Check out the photo of some of Bayer’s greatest role models from the Global Leadership Conference!
It’s no secret that scientific innovation and creativity thrive in diverse, collaborative environments. If we truly want to be the best R&D organization, we must aspire to create such an environment and enjoy the benefits it brings to our business while having fun working together – something we can all appreciate.
Head of Trait Research at Bayer Crop Science
Diversity of thought doesn’t stop at gender or race. We all have unique personalities, backgrounds and experiences. So often we picture leaders with x, y or z personality traits or think we all knew very well right from the start that we wanted to be where we are now. Look no further than the evolution of my career and leadership since I joined Bayer. Originally, I wanted to be a veterinarian in Africa because I loved watching “Daktari” (Google if you are too young to know what I am talking about…). I was also more interested in pursuing a hand ball career than focusing on my studies, that is until I first set foot in a research lab… actually by chance because I forgot to register on time for my master’s degree so had the opportunity to do a practical diploma for one year instead. Needless to say, I never pictured myself as a leader, let alone a leader at Bayer.
I was encouraged to examine leadership more carefully during trainings at Bayer. It was then that I realized that I had been leading teams since I was four years old starting with the kids in my neighborhood, my class mates, my handball teams, and later on research teams in academia, ultimately leading to my position now in Trait Research. What did I learn? During a StrengthsFinder test, I realized that among my top 5 strengths was empathy. A trait that, until that moment, I viewed as a weakness. Am I more emotional or caring? Yes, most likely. But I realized this isn’t a bad thing. It’s what allows me to truly understand others’ perspectives which helps me build strong and diverse teams. Ultimately, leadership is a lot about learning and accepting who you truly are and leveraging your unique characteristics to create value. Embrace what you bring to the table and contribute to diversity for the benefit of all.
In the same way that we should embrace our strengths, being open to new opportunities is also important. I have noticed in myself and other women that we don’t always realize our own potential or feel qualified for bigger roles. In fact, when a headhunter originally called me about the Head of Trait Research position at Bayer, I assumed he was looking for names of qualified candidates, not even thinking for a minute that he wanted to talk with me and that I may too have been a qualified candidate for the job. I am really glad that he insisted on talking to me about it, as that conversation became a defining moment in my career.
Throughout my career when I was doubtful of my own ability to lead or take on responsibilities outside my comfort zone, I have let my curiosity, passion, attraction to daunting challenges and joy of working with teams overcome that fear. It provided me with unique opportunities such as leading the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, moving from academia to the industry side while having the privilege to work and meet incredible people along the way.
Looking back to that call with the headhunter, while I wonder why I did not have the confidence to imagine myself in the position, I am proud that my initial response was to think about others including highly qualified women. It is our job as leaders to not only value and promote diversity but to live it each day, pulling others up along with us, just as others, including two women mentors, have done with me. In the same way that I enjoy bringing groups together to tackle challenges, I strive to mentor others. Nothing pleases me more than seeing those around me start to believe in their potential and spread their wings. In the end, it is not the glass ceiling that will hold women and girls back but the barriers that lie within our own heads.