March at BenchSci was full of exciting events and activities in recognition of Women’s History Month (WHM). BenchShe+, our women’s Employee Resource Group (ERG), hosted a series of events to champion equity for women and foster inclusion. The month kicked off with International Women's Day Inclusion Circles, where employees engaged in meaningful discussions about women's empowerment and the company's commitment to inspiring an inclusive culture. BenchShe+ unveiled a new logo symbolizing its commitment to inclusivity and recognizing the contributions of women in STEM throughout history. The month-long celebration also included events like company-wide Sheep, a twist to the classic trivia about experiences of women in history and at BenchSci; selecting a new book club book, "Lessons in Chemistry," a novel that explores the challenges and triumphs of women in STEM; and events to foster community among women in engineering. Lastly, one of the highlight events for WHM was a company-wide panel discussion called “Lessons from Women in Leadership”.

Lessons from Women in Leadership

We were fortunate to sit down with three women from our senior leadership team to learn about their journeys to leadership positions and some of the highlights and hurdles along the way. The discussion focused on three themes: 1) self-advocacy in pursuit of career growth, 2) sponsorship versus mentorship, and 3) balancing personal and professional lives. 

Our panel featured:

  • Michelle Lenarduzzi, Vice President (VP) of Key Accounts
  • Nika Stelman, Vice President (VP) of Talent
  • Yan Liu, Senior Vice President (SVP) of Technology and Executive Sponsor of BenchShe+ 

We started the discussion with the importance of self-advocacy, and everyone agreed that it is an essential skill for growing and thriving in our careers. Self-advocacy is about championing ourselves in the pursuit of opportunities, recognition, and equitable treatment. We asked Yan and Nika how self-advocacy has played a role throughout their careers, and it was interesting to see the contrast between Yan’s more linear career path to her role as SVP of Technology and Nika’s path to VP of Talent, which has taken several twists and turns. 

Yan offered a meaningful reframe, urging folks to think about advocating for their impact over advocating for themselves.

“I advocate for my value, my impact. The question I would ask is what kind of impact and value your skill sets and your strengths bring to an organization, team, or strategy?”

Nika reflected on an interaction with a mentor earlier in her career, which helped her build her confidence to take up space and speak up. They’d told her, “We’re paying you to have a voice at the table—that’s why you’re here. Use it!” This was a powerful reminder that resonated with our audience!

As we moved into the importance of sponsorship and mentorship, we took a moment to acknowledge how the two differ. Both are important for career development while serving different yet complementary purposes. Mentors are those who guide us, offering wisdom, support, and counsel based on their journeys and experiences. On the other hand, sponsors are the champions of our potential; they believe in our capabilities and actively work to ensure our talents are recognized and utilized. 

Nika urged that “Sponsorship is critical—mentorship is great because it helps you learn, but sponsorship gets you a seat at the table.” She shared that sponsors throughout her career have helped her grow her career in ways she never imagined for herself. Her advice for seeking sponsorship is a combination of doing your best work while connecting with people who see your strengths and are in positions to advocate on your behalf. 

Michelle is a VP in our Go-To-Market stream (which includes Sales, Service and Support, Account Growth, and Management), where women make up 60% of the respective teams. When we asked her about her approach to mentoring and supporting the career development of the next generation of leaders, she said,

“It’s about making a deliberate effort to encourage women to step forward and contribute.”

She does this by making space for people to contribute, pushing them outside of their comfort zones, and providing coaching for constant improvement. 

Finally, we moved into a discussion on balancing work and personal lives. Working in an industry that moves at lightning speed, the distinction between our work and personal lives can sometimes feel like a blur. This challenge is often amplified for many women, who frequently find themselves juggling disproportionate domestic responsibilities alongside their careers, with significant implications for both mental health and professional growth. Our panelists, all of whom are caregivers, leaned into this theme. Like many BenchSciers, they face the very real challenge of managing their home and work responsibilities. I appreciated hearing firsthand how they approach the series of trade-offs that come with juggling it all. 

Yan talked about all the twists and turns she’s experienced throughout her personal life and her career. “You can’t control everything in life or at work, but you can always control how you respond.” Building a strong support system and practicing gratitude at work and home have helped her navigate it all. 

Nika raised the issue of how we often talk about it as work versus life, putting them at odds with each other.

“We spend a ton of time at work. If you don’t consider work part of your life, and your life part of work, it’s a missed opportunity.”

Her preference is to prioritize work-life integration in a way that bridges the two worlds together. 

Michelle spoke about the importance of carving out time for the things that matter to you, both at work and in your personal life. Setting boundaries that help you be present when it counts can help you be happier overall.

It was a pleasure to sit down with these three women and get to know them on a deeper level. The overall feedback from BenchSciers has been very positive, and it’s clear that folks appreciated the chance to get to know some of our leaders on a deeper level. I look forward to continued partnership through our ERG as the year goes on. 

Overall, BenchShe+ and BenchSci's Women's History Month and International Women's Day events were a resounding success, fostering a sense of community, empowerment, and inclusivity among employees. The company's commitment to gender equity is not just limited to these events but is an ongoing effort that is embedded in the company's culture and values.

Written By:
Angie Ibrahim

Culture DEI ERG