How Leadership Development Programs Are Advancing Women In Tech

For the first time in US history, female representation in the workforce has reached nearly 50 percent. That’s a stark difference from 1950, when it was less than a third. And that’s not all that has changed: Since 1982, women have earned more bachelor’s degrees than men, in recent years by as much as 7 percent.

But this wave hasn’t yet reached the leadership level.

Only 15.7 percent of board member seats at Fortune 500 companies were held by women in 2018. And in recent years, only 24 percent of director-level roles and 16.5 percent of the top executive positions at S&P 500 companies were held by women. This problem is especially acute in the science and technology fields, where female representation lags far behind other sectors.

According to a study in the Harvard Business Review, a host of factors—including isolation, hostile company cultures, and a lack of executive mentors and sponsors—all contribute to high dropout rates for women at around the 10-year mark of their careers. That, in turn, leads to a lack of women advancing into senior leadership roles in the science, technology, and engineering industries.

That’s why Leadership Development Programs like the ones at Thermo Fisher Scientific are so important in the push to help women advance in technology. Why? Well, they provide opportunities and support that help overcome each of the factors that contribute to a lack of women in STEM leadership roles.

To get a better sense of how they accomplish that, we spoke to members of Thermo Fisher’s IT Leadership Development Program—who are all at different stages in their careers.

Thermo Fisher Matches Everyone With A Mentor—And Connects Them To Senior Leaders

“It’s not a secret to anybody that there’s not enough women in technology,” Sarah, a two-year veteran of Thermo Fisher’s IT Leadership Development Program, says.

This can make finding a relatable mentor a challenge—which is a bigger deal than it might initially seem. Consider this: Seventy-five percent of executives say that mentorship has been critical to their career growth and development. Mentors also often serve as sponsors, helping you secure promotions and opportunities during your time at a company.

As a member of a Thermo Fisher LDP, you’re connected to senior leaders through events and given access to a mentor through the company’s formal mentorship program. This has been a serious advantage to people like Sarah, who had the confidence of knowing she had someone to both guide her and promote her at Thermo Fisher.

This same network of mentors and leaders also helped connect her to other women in the company—which helps to prevent the feeling of isolation that HBR identified as one of the key “dropout” factors for women at work.

“I’ve been lucky enough where the program connected me with higher-up women in technology who will mentor me and teach me about what their experiences were—as well as connect me with peers,” she says.

Networks Of Leaders And Learners Help Women Shape The Company Culture

These networks that Sarah and her peers were able to tap in to are both formal and informal at Thermo Fisher. One example of a more formalized network is the Women’s Employee Resource Group, which connects Thermo Fisher professionals from across fields for networking events, Lunch and Learns, and more.

That was Sophia’s experience. She’s a former Thermo Fisher intern and Class of 2019 graduate who will be returning in the fall for Thermo Fisher’s IT LDP. “I went with my boss and my mentor. We had lunch and listened to somebody speak,” she says.

The Women’s ERG drives conversations—like the one Sophia and her mentor participated in—that help shape the company culture. By speaking to the experience of women at the company in a setting that includes both men and women, they help to create awareness and understanding and prevent non-inclusive cultures from forming.

Learn Real Leadership Skills—From Real Leaders

This kind of networking is so effective in large part because everyone is so willing to support the LDP members. And that’s no accident.

“When you introduce yourself as an LDP, it’s like, ‘Oh, okay, you’re a high potential person.’ People like to foster you and mentor you,” explains Alexa, who graduated from the IT LDP and became a Marketing Manager on one of Thermo Fisher’s e-commerce teams.

Regardless, something that many talented techies struggle with is developing non-technical skills, especially those foundational soft skills that great leaders are made of. That’s where mentors and managers were especially helpful in the LDP, as was the case for Alexa.

“It was soft skills, she says. This serves the dual purpose of teaching the skills required of leaders—clear communication, setting meetings with senior leaders, etc.—while also preparing them to find their next role after the two-year rotational program comes to a close.

“The program really focuses on networking because that’s how you get your post-program role,” Alexa says.

“No matter which LDP you participate in, you will have visibility throughout the company to take your next step,” she says.

This visibility makes finding your next job at the company much more of an opportunity than a challenge. While it might sound like a lot of pressure, that freedom to explore new departments and forge your own path is actually one of the best parts of the rotational LDP.

“It gives you the gift of seeing if what you think you like is actually what you like,” Sarah says. “I think one of the most amazing things about this program is while you’re gaining this growth and learning, it’s giving you the gift of exploration.”

Thermo Fisher’s IT Leadership Development Program aims to address the universal factors that hold women back in the tech industry—and the needs of each individual participant. The company works to ensure its LDP members are able to find a mentor, learn essential technical skills, and break into leadership roles when they graduate.

How’s that for a first job?

To learn more about Leadership Development Programs, check out Thermo Fisher Scientific on WayUp!

What’s A Leadership Development Program—And Is It Right For Me?

So, you’re an overachiever about to graduate from your undergraduate or graduate program. You have great experience in school and out, and you want to hit the ground running at your first job. The only problem is, how, exactly, are you supposed to find a job that provides everything you’re looking for?

Even the most specialized fields contain endless possibilities when it comes to actually practicing them in the real world. Many students—including and especially the ones who excel in their chosen fields—have trouble deciding on a specific direction to take their career.

If you’re an overachiever with a desire to establish yourself as a leader early on in your career, then a Leadership Development Program could be perfect for you.


What’s a Leadership Development Program?

Are you familiar with Rotational Programs? If you participate in one of these, you’ll be rotating to different departments or teams within the same company over a predetermined period of time.

Well, Leadership Development Programs take that concept and elevate it. You can think of them as elite Rotational Programs designed to fast-track your career in your field of choice. Leadership Development Programs allow recent grads to familiarize themselves with the industry while also learning leadership and management skills that will allow them to advance more quickly within the company.

But unlike a general Rotational Program, a Leadership Development Program offers exposure to different areas within a specific field or industry. They also usually require a degree that aligns with the program you want to apply for. If you apply for a program in Finance, for instance, you’ll most likely need to have studied finance, accounting, or economics.

Thermo Fisher Scientific, the world leader in serving science, offers Leadership Development Programs across their company. Take, for example, their Operations Leadership Development Program. It involves four six-month rotations during which you immerse yourself in various parts of the operations function, including manufacturing, distribution, and supply chain. You’ll have the opportunity to work alongside some of the most respected operations leaders in the world in order to accelerate your technical, professional, and leadership development.

There’s also their Human Resources Leadership Development Program. It focuses on building the next generation of HR leaders through rotational assignments in important fields like mergers and acquisitions, diversity and inclusion, talent management, and employee relations.

Gaining this kind of exposure is what makes Leadership Development Programs such a great way to kick-start your career.

Am I right for a Leadership Development Program?

Leadership Development Programs usually cater to recent grads and graduate students who want to work in a competitive, intensive program centered on their field of study.

This usually entails a commitment—at least a year or two. However, you can have some assurance that, if you perform well, there will be a permanent place for you within the organization.

Even if there isn’t a guaranteed offer, most companies do hire their Leadership Development Program graduates. After all, they chose you from hundreds or thousands of candidates to fill a very small class. (At Thermo Fisher, the final program comprises only 50 or so people.) They also devote considerable time and money in your career development.

They’ll equip you with the knowledge you need to figure out a potential specialty and help you acquire more valuable experience. Not to mention you’ll be building way more contacts at the company, because you’ll be rotating across teams. This will make future job searches a bit easier, giving you a broader network to tap into.

It’s a big commitment that comes with a major payoff.

Leadership Development Programs can be major commitments—some will even ask you to move around to new parts of the country or the world.

Yet a major commitment often means a major payoff down the road. You’ll be in a great position when it comes to long-term employment. You’ll have more—and sharper—skills. You’ll know way more about the industry and the different fields within your space. And, chances are, you’ll have met many interesting and inspiring people along the way.

Interested in working for a company that offers Leadership Development Programs? Learn more about Thermo Fisher and apply for open roles by visiting their WayUp company profile!