Lift Up
Lift Up: Elevating Women in STEM

At Lift Up, we often celebrate the inspirational women who work in the Life Sciences. Recently we were able to sit down with Hollie Church, who is a Senior Corporate Social Responsibility at Illumina, a global leader in DNA sequencing and array-based technologies and the Founder and Chair of the Embrace Your Uniqueness (UNIQUE) ERG, which celebrates unique abilities and promotes inclusive workspaces through diverse teams. With such a people-focussed professional background, Hollie is an inspirational example of women in STEM.

Here are the highlights of our conversation on the topic:

Why is it so important for us to encourage the women who work in STEM?

“The dynamic has changed a lot over the years, and I really think that’s driven by people speaking out, educating themselves and raising awareness for the opportunities there are. The Life Sciences used to be very male-dominated, but there has been a switch. Women have seen that we have a voice, we have an opinion, and we would like to try something different. That’s great to see, because it’s allowed us to push forward and see that change in the new generation that’s coming in. That’s making a positive impact for lots of reasons.

When it comes to women entering the industry, When recruiting within the software and technology group, so I often see a lot more male applicants. Strangely, if we’re recruiting for a junior position I see more females applying for jobs, but at a more senior level that changes dramatically. Lots of people are now going to university and educating themselves in those disciplines, but there is a gap when you look at the mature dynamics. I think that there has been a lack of awareness and support for some generations of women to access that education because of funding or encouragement deficits.

The more we see businesses coming together, going out into schools, and connecting with the next generation, the more we will see a shift in the market. There’s a lot more we can be doing from a mature angle, but the future is looking brighter.”

Could you explain the importance of the ‘Dream Big’ mentality when it comes to entering a field that you don’t have an education in?

“Unfortunately I wasn’t aware of the opportunities within STEM whilst I was studying, but through working in recruitment I’ve managed to learn a lot about technology and science. Actually, I didn’t need to be an expert in those fields to be successful. I’ve built a valuable (business) while working in agency recruitment in this area, which just goes to show that you don’t always have to have the qualifications to be successful or make money. Fortunately, I did learn that I was very good at building relationships, taking requirements and sourcing some of the best talent in the world, which led me also to having a lot of fun along the way.

I’ve learnt that by sharing your ideas you can turn them into a reality. Now, in terms of education, there are some roles where it’s essential, such as lawyers, doctors, etc. When my life is in their hands, I would hope that they are fully qualified to save me. For the majority of roles however, I strongly feel that there are many ways individuals can be educated enough for them. There are routes such as apprenticeships, work experience, job training and volunteering which build skills that you might not be exposed to in your current job. You can also put yourself out there, sign up for projects (whether it’s internally or externally), and get involved in charity work. I was drawn to the Life Sciences, and I’ve made my way here.

For me personally, it was about recognising where my strengths and weaknesses were, and then maximising my ability to do well. Although I left school with no education, I proved my resilience, my desire, my passion, and my courage as well. It’s led me to be very successful, and I’ve not looked back and wondered ‘If I did have a degree, would my life be any different?’ I might have fast-tracked my career a little bit quicker, but I think the life skills that I’ve acquired along my journey have made me who I am, and I’m proud of that.”

What other resources or tips do you have for people who are looking to build their experience or break into a new area?

“Things that I’ve already mentioned such as apprenticeships and putting yourself out there for projects are great ways to develop. But, I need to add that I did spend six years educating myself through The Open University, because I felt during that time that companies wouldn’t take me seriously if I did not have a degree or education. Times have changed, and I get to see this firsthand during my recruitment career.

My second piece of advice would be to surround yourself with a handful of mentors. I have a group of mentors, some of whom I’ve handpicked or approached, and some of them have offered to mentor me and share their leadership skills with me themselves. They’re all at different levels, on different paths and in different career journeys. I decided to go with those mentors because I had identified the areas that I was weaker in, and I saw that they could provide me with more experience and knowledge in those areas. I could then become more confident and credible when offering advice on different matters.

Finally, I often attend webinars and events too, both virtually and face-to-face. I’m often connecting, building, and maintaining relationships because it’s amazing what you can learn from others. When I was at school, I was always scared to put my hand up and ask a question, because I didn’t want to embarrass myself. As I’ve gone through my career and I’ve experienced different things, I’ve reached a point now where I’m comfortable. My advice is to always share your questions.”

What role has networking played in your career?

“Working in recruitment, I’m all about building connections. It’s invaluable. Ask yourself ‘Does it affect your personal growth?’ Absolutely, it does. I would recommend building connections, building your inner and outer circle, and thinking about how they’ll contribute to your growth and development going forward. Surround yourself with skilled people who will add value to wherever you want to go. If you have a dream, go for it. I never thought it was going to happen for me, but it has, and it’s happening right now. Having recently moved into my new role internally as a Sr CSR I’m now able to bring my passion into my role full time as well as outside of the office.

You can achieve more than you think is possible. Having the right support around can only amplify that. Set yourself goals, set a plan to achieve them, create your career map and understand what your legacy will be, then go from there.”

To learn more from Hollie, you can find her on LinkedIn here.

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