Celebrating IBM women on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science

By | 10 minute read | February 11, 2021

At IBM, I’ve been tremendously lucky to find a company whose purpose is to make the world better. Solving the hardest problems in business and society requires a highly skilled workforce and an inclusive culture that enables people from all backgrounds to thrive.

Today, Feb. 11, marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a designation made by the United Nations to promote full and equal access to participation in science for women and girls. As I think about my own career and the careers of many other technical women at IBM, I know that a diverse and inclusive workplace leads to greater innovation, agility, performance and engagement, enabling both business results and societal impact.

A career in science and technology can be incredibly fulfilling. We strive for impact every day. But this requires work, and a strong focus on education and skills. There is no one path to success. Continuous learning is required. To celebrate this year’s Day of Women and Girls in Science, I invited a few of our IBM women leaders in technical roles to share their experiences and advice for the next generation. Below are their stories. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.

 

Irene Dankwa-Mullan MD MPH, Deputy Chief Health Officer and Chief Health Equity Officer, Watson Health

What do you do at IBM?

I am a physician, trained in internal medicine and public health with expertise in clinical and translational research, and health disparities science. At IBM, I provide clinical and scientific subject matter expertise, and strategic business leadership – and I work to build a culture of health equity, inclusive technology, and ethical AI.

Who or what inspired you to work in science or technology?

I grew up in Ghana, where there were few women doctors. I aspired to be more compassionate with patients and to pursue a deep scientific understanding of the human body, physiology of disease and why it occurs.

During my medical training, the issues of poverty, health disparity, racism and ignorance called out to me.  I became motivated to understand and challenge the root causes of health inequality – as I believe diversity in gender, race, culture, and research may help identify critical and creative solutions to our most urgent challenges.  We have the potential to make health and healthcare more equitable and fair.

What advice do you have for the next generation of IBM women in science and tech?  

Know your self-worth and value – never settle for less.  In the science and tech industry, your value will not be what you know or have, but what you share and how you motivate people around you.  Do not let others take advantage of you, be bold and speak up and make your voice heard.

Any other lessons you want to share?

The 3C’s lessons of life:  Your Choice, Your Chance, Your Change. You must make the choice to take the chance if you want anything in life to change.

 

Gretchen Purcell Jackson, MD, PhD, Vice President and Chief Science Officer, Watson Health

What do you do at IBM?  

My team provides clinical, public health, and informatics expertise for Watson Health to support sales, consulting, product design and development, and scientific studies about our solutions. I am a pediatric general and thoracic surgeon and still practice part-time at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. I’ve been at IBM for 2.5 years, previously serving as a clinician scientist and director of graduate studies at Vanderbilt.

Who or what inspired you to work in science or technology?

I have congenital heart disease, which was surgically repaired when I was 10 years old, so I always wanted to give back to the healthcare profession. I studied engineering and computer science in college because they were fun and challenging. I programmed, taught computer science, and did database and web consulting to pay for college and medical school. In medical school, I discovered the interdisciplinary field of biomedical informatics and earned my PhD. I spent my early career developing health IT to aid physicians and later became interested in empowering patients and their families to manage their health with technology.

What advice do you have for the next generation of IBM women in science and tech?  

Take more math and don’t be intimated if there is not an established pathway in the career that you want. I’ve spent 25 years pursuing career roles that many people said were not possible. I was told that I could never have a career in surgery and informatics, and that I could not be a healthcare tech executive and still practice medicine.

Any other lessons you want to share?

Be humble and grateful.

 

Heike Riel,  IBM Fellow, Department Head Science and Technology, and Lead IBM Research Quantum Europe and Africa

What do you do at IBM?

I am a physicist and am passionate about science and technology, running, handball and furniture making. Being an IBM Fellow I’m engaged in a range of tasks from very technical to strategy, leading the Science and Technology team and IBM Research Quantum Europe & Africa.

Who or what inspired you to work in science or technology?

Since childhood I loved math and building things. This passion brought me into physics as it provides an excellent combination of using your mind and hands. Working in a team with outstanding scientists exploring and developing new technologies for a purpose also provides very inspiring and satisfying moments. It is a true privilege. Of course, there are hard challenges to overcome and you need to be persistent and ambitious. All this motivated me to go into and stay in science and technology.

What advice do you have for the next generation of IBM women in science and tech? 

Be self-conscious and self-confident. Dare to win, and help to reduce bias.

Any other lessons you want to share?

If you like what you do, you will excel and you will like what you do even more 😉

 

Ana Paula Appel, IBM Research Brazil, Master Data Scientist, Member of IBM Academy of Technology

What do you do at IBM?

I am a researcher and data scientist at the IBM Research lab in Brazil. I also lead the Data Science Community in Latin America. My background is in Computer Science with a PhD focus on Graph Mining/Learning. I develop new technologies and try to help other IBMers to become certified data scientists.

Who or what inspired you to work in science or technology?

I am passionate about the power of science and technology to change our world and society for the better. During the pandemic, it was easy to see that technology and science were major players in people’s lives. With data science, we can improve the health or finance systems, remove bias from the system, and so on.

What advice do you have for the next generation of IBM women in science and tech? 

We can do great things. Women can see and create special things in data science and technology because we see the world through a different lens. We can focus, be practical and do things in a new way. IBM is a great place to learn if you want to be a data scientist because there are plenty of courses that you can take to learn about analytics and machine learning.

Any other lessons you want to share?

Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do. Think higher for your career and fight for your accomplishments. As my daughter says, “You Go Girl!!! The world is ours.” Learning about data science is a continuous process, so stay updated on new techniques.

 

Charity Wayua, Senior Manager, IBM Research Kenya

 What do you do at IBM:

I am a senior manager at the Kenya Research lab, where I work to ensure that our research teams are executing on strategic projects and have the right support to be successful.

Who or what inspired you to work in science or technology?

In high school my chemistry teacher Ms. Anne Waweru made an extra effort to make science fun for our class and by example showed us that both boys and girls could be good at science. This was my inspiration to become a Chemistry major. In college, I was able to experience many examples of how science was solving real world problems and that became my inspiration to pursue a PhD and eventually a career in science.

What advice do you have for the next generation of IBM women in science and tech? 

 My advice for the next generation of IBM women in science and technology is advice I am giving myself as well: To keep learning and to be unafraid to venture into new areas of science and technology that may not be their traditional areas of expertise.

Any other lessons you want to share?

Science and technology is the bedrock of innovation and problem solving, so I would encourage all women in science and tech to take their place and make their contributions in addressing our most pressing needs in the world.

 

Dr. Lydia Campbell, Vice President & Chief Medical Officer, IBM Corporate Health & Safety

What is your role at IBM? 

 I am IBM’s Vice President and Chief Medical Officer and have responsibility for the health and safety of more than 350,000 IBM employees around the globe in over 170 countries.

Who or what inspired you to go into science or tech?

For as long as I can remember I always wanted to be a doctor.  The idea of helping people and of solving problems appealed to me.  I attended Morehouse School of Medicine for my medical education and completed a dual residency training program in Internal Medicine and Occupational and Environmental Medicine.  I also obtained a Master of Public Health degree in Environmental Science from Columbia University School of Public Health.

What are some interesting projects you’ve worked on during your time at IBM?

 The most interesting and most challenging project I have worked on during my IBM career has been providing leadership for IBM’s COVID-19 pandemic response.  It drew on every facet of my experience and expertise as a clinician, a coach, and a leader to ensure the health and safety of every IBMer across the globe.  I led with a growth mindset and challenged my team to do the same.

Medical science and technology worked together to deliver real benefits. I’ll note one example where we deployed an application that assists with pandemic self-screening and access controls using technology created in collaboration with our IBM Watson Health team. This solution has also been deployed outside of IBM to help other companies mitigate exposure risk for their employees and for society at large while continuing to provide critical services.

A second very memorable project was leading the creation and deployment of IBM’s Milk Delivery program for nursing mothers.  As a physician, I understood the well reported positive impacts that breastfeeding has not only on an infant’s immediate health but on their longer-term development and growth. Being able to innovate a solution to allow mothers who needed/wanted to return to the workforce but still continue to nurse for as long as possible was extremely gratifying.

What advice would you give to the next generation of women pursuing a career in science?

In the technology industry, the possibilities are limitless for anyone. Every new tool or innovation can have a significant impact to anyone in the world (regardless of color, race or gender) and the outreach is greater since access can be virtual (e.g. telemedicine). For all of us, but particularly the next generation: Know your strengths, grow your weaknesses, and don’t take either one too seriously; things will work out just fine.

 

For more on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, check out Bridget van Kralingen’s interview with Dr. Elli Androulaki, a Zurich-based IBM Researcher who is a longtime believer in blockchain technology and how it can be used to protect people’s privacy. After a brainstorming session, Dr. Androulaki and colleagues dreamed up the idea of the Digital Health Pass, which allows people a secure way to show they’ve been vaccinated or tested for COVID-19.  

 

Lastly, if you are looking to boost your own skills, head over to Open P-TECH to explore free STEM courses.