What Needs to Change so More Women Can Reach Their Full Potential?
Flexibility and support in the workplace helped me unlock my full potential
Yuwei Chang, a senior research scientist at the Mars Global Food Safety Center (GFSC). After two years of research experience as a research assistant professor at a biological institute in her alma-mater, the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, she joined the Mars GFSC as part of the analytical team in 2016. In her role, she utilizes her passion for biological and analytical sciences to deliver breakthrough research for our food integrity (including food fraud) program. Here, she discusses her experiences as a woman in science and shares her thoughts on how to encourage of the next generation of young female scientists.
What needs to change so that more women can reach their full potential?
I think in the short-term, providing more flexibility and support in the workplace is a key to unlocking full potential for all, but especially women. From my perspective, being an expectant and working mother can be an especially challenging time. One of the things that drew me to Mars was flexible ways of working. In 2021, we are all too familiar with virtual ways of working and having that level of flexibility, but I think the continued practice across organizations will continue to enable women to reach their full potential.
In the long-term there is a cultural shift that needs to take place and we need to move beyond gender stereotypes. We tend to hear boys are better at subjects such as science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) – whereas girls may be viewed as more sensitive, better at creative subjects such as art and drama. These views can harm confidence of young girls and perhaps stifle or misdirect their ambition. As a female scientist, I know this to not be the case and have been fortunate to have had the support to pursue a career in STEM. These perceptions or bias needs to change to enable more girls to grow up to be confident women who can reach their full potential, in any field. I am proud that Mars has committed to work to remove gender bias and negative stereotypes in our advertising as a founding member with UN Women’s Unstereotype Alliance. Every action taken towards reducing gender stereotypes in the media will help encourage girls to pursue their interests in traditionally male-orientated careers.
How has your experience as a working mother influenced you?
As a research scientist, a significant portion of my work requires me to be in our labs experimenting with new ideas to solve food integrity challenges. Unfortunately, I had a difficult pregnancy which limited my ability to work from our office and laboratory. However, I was very fortunate to receive a lot care and support from my line manager and my fellow Mars GFSC Associates during this time. I was given the opportunity to continue to contribute to the great work of our team in a flexible and remote way enabling me to deliver results, drive progress by preparing reports, drafting research manuscripts, and support our team through the management of collaborative global projects.
Flexible working and being home allowed me to focus on my overall health and wellbeing during a critical time. During this time, I successfully co-organized a food allergen management workshop, delivered a final report detailing advances methodologies to strengthen testing capabilities within the global supply chains, and built a strong partnership with a key collaborator, Waters International Food and Water Research Center, with whom we are working on developing rapid testing to solve global Food Integrity challenges. I believe I wouldn’t have been able to reach my full potential if I was not supported by the Mars GFSC team and it’s why I want to encourage all workplaces to show similar care and flexible work practices with their Associates.
What is your number one piece of advice for girls interested in science today?
My advice to girls who are interested in a career in science is to ignore those who say you can’t; be true to your heart, be confident, work hard and in doing so, you can reach your full potential and achieve great things. Know your strengths and focus on them.
There has never been a more exciting time to pursue a career in science, and especially food safety. One of the most inspiring areas in this space are the integration of state-of-the-art technology with global databases. You could imagine that one day we will be able to more rapidly prove the authenticity and trace the origins of all food using this technology.
I am very lucky to be surrounded by incredible leaders at Mars, and female mentors and role models. At the Mars GFSC, 50% of our scientists are female, with women making up 69% of the Mars GFSC team. In my experience Mars is a great advocate for women in science and I am proud to have shared my voice for the #HereToBeHeard initiative. I’d encourage women at any stage of life to get involved and add their voice at beheard.mars.com.
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