Our Thoughts

//Recognising the role of women in science and innovation…

Posted 06/02/2024 5:00pm

Each year on 11 February, UNESCO recognises the vital role females play in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

As Imperial Brands transforms to create healthier futures for our consumers, we’re proud that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are playing a central role in our evolution.

To mark the 2024 International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we spoke to Pre-Market Stewardship Manager Georgiana Cava and Global Head of Discovery Rebecca Zhang. Both play important and exciting roles in the testing and development our next generation product (NGP) portfolio, but how did they first discover the exciting worlds of science and innovation?

As a child, Geo explains her parents noticed she “had a knack for taking things apart or mixing things together to understand how they worked”. This ultimately led to an MSc in Toxicology. Rebecca, meanwhile, fell in love with the garden at her childhood home. It ignited a lifelong passion for biology and the wonders of the natural world, and a PhD in molecular genetics.

At Imperial, Geo leads the Pre-Market Stewardship team in Group Science & Regulatory Affairs (GSRA), responsible for the human health risk assessment of our product portfolio prior to launch.

Geo: “there’s never a dull day in IMB Science with all the varied requests and projects we’re involved in!

Closely involved in reviewing the risk assessments and scientific data prepared by her team, Geo’s scientific background is not only integral to her role – it’s great for future planning, too. “Having a background in tox means I can also better support my team in identifying development opportunities to suit both their needs, and those of the business,” she reveals.

Rebecca is the Global Head of Discovery within our Innovation function, where she and her team explore how Imperial is best able to leverage emerging technologies and scientific advancements.

Rebecca describes her role as “a fantastic blend of intuition and scientific precision. Grasping the intricacies of consumers’ lives and desires requires an almost artistic touch, infused with love and care. Conversely, the process of product creation involves the application of rigorous science and technology.

“By striking the perfect balance, we aspire to help craft products that make people’s lives a little better every day.”

While Rebecca’s primary role is to “research and articulate potential new technology’s ‘so-what’ impact on the business”, her foundation in biology helps her understand mechanisms for harm reduction – while her proficiency in data analysis helps her rigorously interrogate consumer, laboratory, and clinical data alike.

Both Geo and Rebecca are strong advocates of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace, both within Imperial and beyond. While concurring women are still broadly underrepresented in STEM disciplines, they’re hopeful the situation appears to be improving over time and through initiatives like Gender and DiverseAbility employee resource groups (ERGs).

“I’ve seen great progress being made in advancing DEI topics in Imperial since these groups have been formed. Their existence is crucial to creating positive change,” reveals Geo. “The biggest impact for me was seeing colleagues passionately championing DEI topics owing to their involvement in these ERGs.”

Rebecca, meanwhile, is the Innovation Leadership Team (ILT) sponsor for the Culture Diversity Program, an experience she describes as “enriching”.

“I believe groups like ours not only ensure everyone feels a sense of belonging and the freedom to contribute, but also promote diversity in thoughts and perspectives – which are essential for generating innovative ideas and solutions,” she adds.

Rebecca: “My scientific background has been instrumental in understanding the complexities of the business world.”

Geo recently returned to work after becoming a mum for the first time. How important was it to feel supported by the business during this potentially challenging time?

“Incredibly so! I didn’t realise the extent of the changes a woman goes through during and after pregnancy until I went through it myself, so having a flexible working policy in place and a supportive team across GSRA helped both with my transition into motherhood and return to work.

“This made me feel like I was away for a short break rather than 10 months, which was very helpful given the challenges of adapting to a new life and a new identity as a mother.”

Are there any final pieces of advice our interviewees would give to any other women or girls contemplating a career in science?

“Trust your instincts and be curious,” says Geo. “Science is so complex, and there are so many career possibilities and research opportunities, that it would be a shame not to at least try to find an area of interest before deciding a career in science is not for you.”

For Rebecca, it’s about ensuring females don’t confine themselves to limits or boundaries.

“If you encounter stereotypes or biases, challenge them by showcasing your capabilities, perspectives, and results. Our achievements and commitment will contribute to paving the way for future generations of women in science,” she concludes.

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