International Women's Day : Meet the female STEM leaders who are forging tomorrow’s world

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International Women's Day : Meet the female STEM leaders who are forging tomorrow’s world

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International Women's Day : Meet the female STEM leaders who are forging tomorrow’s world

Happy International Women’s Day. We are dedicating this blog post to some of the brilliant women who are making a difference across our sectors.

This article is dedicated to the countless brilliant women who are making a difference across the various sectors of STEM. Read on to discover how inspirational female leaders are helping to forge tomorrow’s world.

(L-R) Dame Sally Davies, Dame Emma Walmsley, Bahija Jallal, Jane Griffiths

Professor Dame Sally Davies, UK Special Envoy on Antimicrobial Resistance

Having held the position of Chief Medical Officer for England and Chief Medical Advisor to the UK government between 2010 and 2019, Professor Dame Sally Davies was the first woman appointed to this post.

She has written and spoken extensively about antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and has worked to raise its profile globally. Her 2011 report on infectious diseases focused on the increasing threat of antimicrobial resistance, calling for action in areas such as stewardship, surveillance, and antibiotic development and gaining government support on the issue. She has written a book, The Drugs Don’t Work, was chair of the WHO Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on AMR for three years and most recently has been made co-convener of the UN Inter-Agency Co-ordination Group on AMR.

During her time as the Chief Scientific Adviser for the Department of Health, Dame Sally was actively involved in NHS research and development, founding the National Institute for Health Research. She was awarded the DBE title in 2009 for her services to medicine and was named the most influential woman in the NHS by the Health Service Journal in 2015.

Dame Sally left her role as Chief Medical Officer to become the first woman to hold the title of Master of Trinity College, Cambridge in October 2019. Since 2020, she has also been a member of the Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance.

Dame Emma Walmsley, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline

Emma Walmsley was appointed CEO of GlaxoSmithKline in 2017, becoming the first woman to lead a major pharmaceutical company.

Having been a member of GlaxoSmithKline’s corporate executive team since 2011, Emma previously worked as the CEO of GSK Consumer Healthcare and, under her leadership, the consumer products division accounted for nearly 25% of the company’s total revenues.

Since Emma became CEO, GlaxoSmithKline has made high-profile business moves in the $5.1bn acquisition of cancer drug specialist Tesaro and the joint venture with Pfizer, a move which combines the two companies’ consumer products divisions to create a consumer health market leader. This has also allowed the drug development arm of GlaxoSmithKline to spin off with a view to accelerate its priorities in the drugs and vaccine business.

Emma also co-chairs the Consumer, Retail, and Life Sciences Council, a business advisory group for the UK Government, and was named top of Fortune Magazine’s ‘Most Powerful International Women’ list in 2018. She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the Queen's 2020 Birthday Honours for her services to the pharmaceutical industry and business.

Bahija Jallal, CEO of Immunocore

Bahija Jallal joined leading T Cell Receptor (TCR) biotechnology company Immunocore as CEO and Director of the Board in January 2019, having previously been president of AstraZeneca’s global biologics research and development division MedImmune. She was described as an “ideal candidate to lead Immunocore at this transformational point in its development” by Immunocore chairman Sir John Bell.

Under Bahija’s leadership, MedImmune’s R&D pipeline increased from 40 molecules to 130, targeting a range of conditions from cancer to cardiovascular disease. She has authored more than 70 peer-reviewed papers and holds over 15 patents.

As well as being a Council Member of the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Bahija was until recently the President of the Association of Women in Science and in 2017 won the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Woman of the Year award. Speaking of her win, Bahija remarked: “If you can convince one person that ‘if she did it, I can do it too’, then it’s not about me, and I’m happy.”

Jane Griffiths, Board Mentor at Criticaleye

Griffiths was Global Head of the Johnson & Johnson-owned pharmaceuticals and biotech company Actelion between June 2017 and December 2019. Prior to her appointment, Jane had been with J&J’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals business in senior roles for ten years, culminating in her position as the first female Company Group Chairman for Janssen Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA) before her transfer to Actelion.

Jane is also Chair of the Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust in EMEA and Sponsor of the Janssen Global Pharmaceuticals Sustainability Council, describing her personal business approach as focusing on “openness, collaboration, sustainability, and accountability” and aiming to improve the reputation of the pharmaceutical industry in the process. She is also a Sponsor of the Johnson & Johnson Women’s Leadership Initiative.

Reflecting on her time as Global Head of Actelion and on Johnson & Johnson’s acquisition of the smaller company, Jane commented that the “powerful merging of therapy area expertise, industry knowledge, and global reach is sure to result in great things for our patients, and for our people.”


(L-R) Andrea Doolan, Celine Bradley, Baroness Joanna Shields, Elin Haf Davies

Andrea Doolan, CEO at Atlantia Foods Clinical Trials

Andrea Doolan co-founded Atlantia, a clinical trials provider for the food, beverage, and supplements sector, in 2011. Originally established at University College Cork’s Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre (APC), the company was spun out in 2012 and Andrea became the CEO of Atlantia in 2014.

Due to its academic roots, the company can operate a unique business model with close links to the APC but also act as an independent contract research organisation. It works with 5 of the 10 top global food companies, has achieved 100% growth year on year since spinning out, and recently expanded into the USA with the opening of the Chicago office to cater to the increasing functional foods and supplements market. They plan to create 10 new jobs over the next two years as part of their continued expansion.

In 2018, Andrea won the Women Mean Business Female Entrepreneur of the Year award, beating competition from some of the best female leaders in Irish business in the process.

Celine Bradley, Deputy Managing Director & Global VP of Operations at Almac Clinical Services

With over 28 years’ experience in the pharmaceutical industry in clinical trial supplies, Celine Bradley has held the position of Global VP of Operations in Almac Clinical Services since 1996 and was then appointed Deputy Managing Director of the division in 2013. 

Celine has overall responsibility for the Project, Manufacturing, Packaging, and Logistics departments in Northern Ireland and Pennsylvania, USA.

Almac has won several awards in recent years, including the 2018 Global Forum Excellence Awards for Best Innovative Supply Chain Strategy, the UK’s Board of Trade Award, the Irish Pharma Industry Research & Development Achievement Award, and the CMO Leadership Award six years in a row. The company also encourages the next generation of STEM students with the Sloane McClay Award for GCSE and A-level achievement, careers events, and sponsored interactive science exhibitions aimed at children and young people.

Baroness Joanna Shields, Group CEO of BenevolentAI

Before her appointment as Group CEO of BenevolentAI, a world-leading medical artificial intelligence (AI) company, in 2018, Baroness Joanna Shields worked in the UK government as the Under Secretary of State and the UK’s first Minister for Internet Security and Safety as well as Chair & CEO of TechCityUK. She has also held senior positions at Facebook, AOL, and Google. She was brought on board to enable the company to strengthen its position as the market leader in developing and applying AI for drug discovery and development.

Described as “a digital entrepreneur, experienced executive, and prominent leader in the global technology industry,” Baroness Shields is passionate about creating technology for good, founding WePROTECT, a global alliance to protect children from online abuse and exploitation. She was also named one of the fifty most inspirational women in tech in 2018 by Inspiring Fifty UK.

At the time of her appointment as CEO, Baroness Shields said, “I believe AI in bioscience now promises a new renaissance in human health and well-being: from better monitoring, advice, and diagnosis to personalised medicine and faster drug development.”

Elin Haf Davies, CEO of Aparito

Elin Haf Davies founded digital health company Aparito in 2015 to improve drug research and development, specifically in children’s medicine and rare diseases. The company uses wearables and apps to help monitor conditions outside of a hospital environment, which improves disease understanding, supports better patient outcomes, speeds up the drug’s time to market, and allows for a more connected care plan.

Aparito has won numerous awards, including selection for Bayer's Grants4Apps start-up programme, being an alumnus of the Nesta New Radicals list, and a winner of the 2015 Nominet Trust 100 award.

Elin herself has raised nearly £300,000 for charity and has rowed across the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans, both as part of a team and singlehanded. She uses her experiences to raise awareness of children’s diseases and new drug development and has been awarded for ‘Services to Wales’ by the Welsh Assembly. Elin encourages children to be more proactive about their health needs and treatment, running workshops for young people with the Gaucher Association, ERIC (the Children's Bowel & Bladder Charity), and Findacure.


(L-R) Deborah O'Neil, Nikki Whitfield, Elaine Warburton, Dani Loughran

Dr Deborah O'Neil OBE, CEO of NovaBiotics

Deborah O’Neil founded the anti-infectives company NovaBiotics in 2004, spinning it out of the Rowett Research Institute at the University of Aberdeen. A trained immunologist, Deborah has twenty years’ experience in researching, designing, and developing novel antimicrobials, using NovaBiotics as a commercial platform for her therapies.

The company sponsors the Nuffield Foundation and Crest Science Award schemes for secondary schools, encouraging NovaBiotics staff to act as STEM Ambassadors for local young people and participating in TechFest (Aberdeen's science and technology festival), the British Science Festival, Royal Society of Edinburgh antimicrobial resistance events, RSC Chemistry@work events, and the TechFest Outreach programme.

Deborah is editor of the European Biopharmaceutical Review and International Pharmaceutical Technology, a member of the Scottish Life Sciences Advisory Board, sits on the Industry Leadership Group for Life Science in Scotland and the Life Science Board of Opportunity North East. She is also a Trustee of Crohn's in Childhood Research Association (CICRA), was named as one of the 15 women leaders in European Biotechnology in 2017, and was Ernst & Young’s UK Healthcare Products & Services Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014.

In 2020, Deborah was awarded an Order of the British Empire in recognition of her services to biotech, business, and charity.

Nikki Whitfield, Vice President & Head of CMC for Tavanta Therapeutics

Nikki Whitfield was appointed Vice President of CDMO Services at drug development and clinical research organisation Quotient Sciences in 2017, having already held the position of Vice President of Pharmaceutical Sciences since 2012. In May 2020, she became Vice President and head of CMC at Tavanta Therapeutics. With a career spanning 25 years, she has also held director positions at Vectura and Omniceutica.

Tavanta is a clinical-stage specialty pharmaceutical company developing a diverse pipeline of specialty drugs for patients with serious or debilitating diseases.

Elaine Warburton, CEO of QuantuMDx

Elaine Warburton co-founded and became CEO of molecular diagnostics company QuantuMDx in 2008, her third start-up. The company’s mission was to address humanitarian health challenges by developing a simple-to-use, cheap-to-run portable molecular diagnostic lab which could quickly detect disease and track emerging pandemics. Q-POC™, a hand-held “portable lab,” was launched in 2019 after 11 years of development, and it is hoped it will democratise global healthcare in parts of the developing world that do not have easy access to hospitals and labs. The first UK field study for the Human Papilloma Virus genotyping test on Q-POC™, in partnership with St George’s, University of London, commenced in January of this year.

Outside of QuantuMDx, Elaine is also the Director of Opal Health Consultancy, a management consultancy focusing on the healthcare and life sciences sectors, and until late last year, was also the Board Director and CEO of NorthGene, a DNA testing lab. She received an OBE in 2014 for services to innovation in healthcare and was named one of the fifty most inspirational women in tech in 2018 by Inspiring Fifty UK.

Dani Loughran, Managing Director of Aston Chemicals

Having worked her way up from the position of Marketing Manager, Dani Loughran was made a Director at Aston Chemicals in 2006 and then Managing Director in 2017. An Oxford graduate with an MA in Biochemistry and a PhD, Dani previously worked in gastrointestinal healthcare product research at P&G.

Aston Chemicals is an independent specialty chemical distributor for the personal care market, providing a completely integrated service from R&D support to raw material delivery. Founded in 1990, the company supplies raw materials to the European Personal Care industries.

Improving diversity in STEM

As study after study shows, diversity is one of the key drivers of success in business. However, while much progress is being made in this regard, the STEM sector is still a long way from achieving anything like true gender or demographic equity.

An MIT audit of 250 biotech startups, for example, found that fewer than 10% were founded by women. In the UK, women account for only a quarter of the STEM workforce. At SRG, our global research into the STEM workforce has shown that the gender pay gap has not decreased but risen this year.

The gender divide becomes ever starker once race is factored into the equation. According to The Lancet, women of BAME backgrounds only make up around 2% of boards and senior executive teams. If it's already difficult for women to get a foot on the STEM career ladder, it's even harder for women of colour. What's more, our own research at SRG shows that the gender inequity in STEM salaries has been exacerbated over recent years.

This International Women's Day is a time to celebrate the trailblazing achievements of the women who continue to push the boundaries and inspire new generations of female STEM workers. But it's also time to take stock about what needs to be done. By pulling together and creating an environment that's open to all  — regardless of gender, race, or socioeconomic background  — STEM can become a shining light for other industries to follow.

Ultimately, a fairer STEM sector directly contributes to a fairer society. With better representation across the sector and more diverse leadership, STEM organisations will be better placed to address key issues such as structural inequalities in healthcare and demographic bias in datasets. There's still much to be done, but as the women above demonstrate, it only takes a few pioneers to usher in a tidal wave of positive change.


SRG strives to be a great supporter of women in across all our sectors. If you are looking for talented staff to drive your business both now and in the future, our team can help you source the very best talent. Get in touch now — together we can make the difference.

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