Spark Voices

Creating a path

Reflections on Women’s History Month: Choose to Challenge Every Day

At Spark Therapeutics, challenging the expected happens every day because it’s our mission to challenge the inevitability of genetic disease by discovering, developing, and delivering treatments in ways unimaginable—until now.

This year, choose to challenge was the call to action for International Women’s Day. All around the world, people raised their hands on March 8 as a way of saying, “I’m in!” I will choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. I will seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. I will find ways to create a more inclusive work environment and world around me.

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, it’s time to consciously determine an action plan for how we will keep the challenge alive every day. I believe we can all play a part by investing in three key behaviors: encouraging young women, supporting future leaders and embracing diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Our Youth

While girls’ and boys’ performance in school in math and science courses is about the same, upon graduation, females do not pursue careers in science as often as their male counterparts. Women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 28% of the science and engineering workforce.1 As my esteemed colleague, Dr. Gallia Levy, Chief Medical Officer at Spark, wrote in an open letter to her daughter last year, “Overall women remain underrepresented in the STEM workforce. With love, I implore you, your friends and other girls of your generation to break this cycle.”

Breaking the cycle is so important. So is investment. Spark is investing in STEM education in Philadelphia and hopes to inspire the future generation of female talent to pick careers in STEM, so they can join us in tackling the many challenges that lie ahead for us in healthcare.

Future Leaders

When women do choose careers in healthcare, they often find it hard to break into management and leadership roles. A recent report from Korn Ferry notes, “While almost 80% of the broad healthcare workforce is women, only 19% of hospitals are led by women, and only 4% of healthcare companies have a female CEO.”2 This is something we must fix, not only to address the inequity, but also to improve business performance. Research shows that companies with females represented on their leadership teams perform better.3 My colleagues and I are working to support the development of our female talent at Spark, and within the industry, through mentorship, sponsorship and by advocating for the benefits of having diverse voices at the table.

Inclusive Workplaces

Women’s History Month is about celebrating women’s achievements and elevating their visibility, but as we think about females as an underrepresented group in our industry, it reminds us that there are so many more diverse voices that also need amplification. If this past year has demonstrated anything, it is that the need to create a fundamentally inclusive world exists in all corners of the planet. We must work to shatter long-standing stereotypes and embrace our collective diversity to build strength in our communities rather than creating divides. We know, too, that increased ethnic and cultural diversity also leads to better business performance.4 For a Company like Spark, better performance could mean more research, new gene therapies and more patients cured. What better reason could there be for supporting more inclusivity and diversity within our workplaces?

As this month comes to a close, please join me and pledge to keep promoting STEM careers to the girls in our lives, advocating for future female leaders and driving forward a workplace that truly reflects the diversity of the communities in which we live and work.

The challenges ahead of us are great and we’ll need our collective strength to meet them. I look forward to how we can improve the representation for both women and all underrepresented minorities across our industry, because when we do, we will be even closer to creating a world where no life is limited by genetic disease.

— Cynthia Pussinen, Chief Technical Officer, Spark Therapeutics

  1. 1 Statistics | National Girls Collaborative Project (ngcproject.org)
  2. 2 Healthcare’s Gender Diversity Shortage (kornferry.com)
  3. 3 Firms with more female executives ‘perform better’ – BBC News
  4. 4 Delivering growth through diversity in the workplace | McKinsey
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