Life Lessons: What I’ve Learnt As A Woman In The STEM Industries

Courtesy of Louise Scott

I love my job – we take science and make it come to life through a wide range of innovative products. As the chief scientific officer at Avon, my role is very technical and requires a lot of problem-solving, but because of the team of dedicated and passionate people, we have a lot of fun along the way.

I studied in a predominantly male environment and although this is changing, there is still a lack of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Marketing) practices – only about 30 per cent on average. That’s one of the reasons I’m proud to lead the Research & Development team at Avon, which is almost 70 per cent female. It’s certainly not a gender battle, however – I passionately believe in helping people to prosper and fulfil their potential, and in striving to bring your best self to everything you do each day. Here’s how I try to achieve that.

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1. Keep aiming for better.

The job is never finished. Continue challenging the status quo. Be restless. That’s how you’ll keep improving and discovering new things. It used to be that as a company you’d refresh your innovation strategy every three years; now we re-look at everything we’re doing every six months. We are continuously questioning whether the new products we are working on are the right ones, which trends we need to lead or follow, where we need to move faster and how we can improve things further.

2. Know your customer.

Make sure you really know the needs and wants of your target audience. There’s no point coming up with great products if your customers don’t require them. You can have the most amazing scientific breakthrough, but if it doesn’t translate into an application for someone using the product at home, it’s not right. At Avon we have our representatives, who, being consumers themselves, are an amazing conduit through which to learn what works and what doesn’t. We get very direct feedback from them on new product trials.

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3. Look at the big picture.

You have to look outside your own industry for inspiration. Quite a few of our technologies come from the paint industry, healthcare and even aviation. Our Infinite Effects serum, which had 30,000 people on the waiting list when it launched, is a good example of that: we looked at interval training – the concept of alternating high and low periods of intensive treatment – and realised that the principle of biological adaptation could have a hugely positive effect on the skin, too.

4. Trust your people.

If you show people that you have confidence in them, they are more likely to flourish. I think setting an expectation that people have to earn trust is counter-productive; give it freely and people will step up. Of course, you initially need to assess what an individual is capable of, but after that you have to delegate accountability and decision rights, not just tasks.

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5. Make every day count.

From both a personal and a professional standpoint, I try to make every day count, whether that means making progress at work, spending time creating memories with my family or pushing myself hard in the gym. Make sure you are truly present with the people you’re connecting with – they, and you, will feel the difference – and most importantly, enjoy it.

From: Harper’s BAZAAR UK