Illustration of women at the table
Sustainability | Employees

Providing equal opportunities starts with cultural change

How do we ensure equal opportunity? Like many companies, QIAGEN is striving to be a genuinely inclusive employer when it comes to gender equality. But the challenge of getting this right balance encompasses far more than just employee percentages.

For many women in the workplace, life can be a continuous balancing act. Between the demands of the job and the demands of raising a family. Between making sure you’re not overlooked or undermined or being seen as ‘forceful’ by colleagues clinging to outdated attitudes. And the higher up the career ladder you go, the more acute these challenges issues can become. 

This means that issues like flexibility and work/life balance are key factors for many women when applying for jobs, and the challenge for employers like QIAGEN is remaining attractive to potential recruits when competing with other companies for the same talent. We want to provide opportunities for everyone equally. This fosters a more positive work environment for everyone and there is even a solid business case there. 

Research by McKinsey found that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their peers. Why? Because the combination of opinions from a diverse group are often more rational. Not only that, but diversity fosters innovation. 

Across all the company’s employees the ratio is 49% women to 51% men, and has been for the last few years. But QIAGEN is striving to have a similar balance in leadership roles and part of the goal is fostering a culture that ensures all employees are seen as equals. 

“When it comes to workplaces we need forward processes and we need different opinions, and that’s only possible when a workplace is all-inclusive,” says Supriya Trika, who has been at QIAGEN for just over a year following a move from the pandemic-hit travel industry. 

This means providing employees the chance to balance work and home life. A challenge for many women in leadership roles. 

QIAGEN strives to be an open and supportive work space that encourages everyone to be honest about their needs to develop their careers. Many employees started here because they were interested in the mission and the products, but what made them stay?

“When it comes to workplaces, we need forward processes and we need different opinions, and that’s only possible when a workplace is all-inclusive.”

Supriya Trika, Content Marketing Manager

Balancing work and family

Hilary Ben-Atar has been at QIAGEN for more than seven years, during which time she’s risen to become Head of North America Accounting. “I wake up in the morning, I go to work, I pick up my kids, I bring them home, I do dinner, I put them to bed,” she says. “And then I sit down at the computer at 8:30 and start my day again until I can finish off what I need to do.” 

As tough as this can be, however, it’s nothing like what she’s experienced in previous jobs. “I was working very, very long hours – by that I mean until 3 or 4 am – and I had a child that I wasn’t seeing. My mom was basically having him sleep over at her house three or four days a week. At QIAGEN, I joked that I’d find out if I actually liked my husband, because we never saw each other before then.”

“I think that as you move up it becomes harder and harder for women with children and competing priorities to keep up with that pace, “ says Ben-Atar. But right off the bat I always said that I’m a full-time mom and a full-time wife and a full-time employee, and all those things need to live somehow together – and my managers have always allowed me to balance that out.” 

Flavia de Oliveira-Bageritz

With multiple campaigns and mentorship programs like QIAwomen, women are empowered to take on leadership roles and also to discuss issues that may hinder their development. The challenge for employers is not just to make sure that there’s the right gender balance in the workforce. They also need to ensure that the right conditions are in place for women when they get there, and at every other level of the organization.

“I’m a full-time mom and a full-time wife and a full-time employee, and all those things need to live somehow together.”

Hilary Ben-Atar, Head of North America Accounting

Employee protection

“U.S. employee protection is nowhere near what it is in Europe, so it’s not really a fair comparison as far as to what’s offered in different regions,” says Ben-Atar. “However, QIAGEN has been determined to improve the situation, and has implemented its own maternity leave provision which is far more generous than the U.S. norm.”

“To some European countries it sounds ridiculous, but up until now we only had two weeks of maternity leave,” she says. “When I had my baby at QIAGEN I was back at work – physically in the office – after eight weeks. Now they’ve implemented a three-month policy so people can take 12 weeks and use sick time on top of that, and I’m really happy for anyone who can take it.”

This was introduced around three years ago, and people who have started working at QIAGEN more recently have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of flexibility on offer – proof that things are moving in the right direction. “In my department, in my team, with my manager it’s been very flexible,” says Supriya Trika, who has been at QIAGEN for just over a year following a move from the pandemic-hit travel industry. “They encourage people to maintain a good work/life balance.”

The practical challenges of juggling family commitments with work demands, however, are of course compounded by the reality that many women feel they need to do more to prove themselves than a male colleague.

Hilary Ben-Atar

Hilary Ben-Atar is a finance professional who has held senior roles at world-leading accounting firms such as Ernst & Young. She is Head of North America Accounting for QIAGEN.

“It’s beneficial for women to have training around how to get your point across in a way that feels comfortable for you.”

Rose Thibert, Clinical Field Application Specialist

Culture change

“The fact that I’m in a leadership role, I know I’m viewed differently,” says Rose Thibert, who is manager of a QIAGEN Clinical Field Application Specialist team. “I think when women exhibit what are historically considered male traits they’re viewed as forceful,” says Ben-Atar. “Whereas if a man does something it’s ‘determined’. I think culturally that has to change all over the world.” 

In many companies, women who are perhaps “not outspoken or confident” can often find it harder to progress a male-dominated field “because it’s outside of their personality and what they feel comfortable with.“

“But QIAGEN’s culture when it comes to women in the field has been really great,” says Thilbert. “I cannot stress that enough.” Her experience at previous companies has been that even when there were several layers of women bosses, issues would still need to go all the way up to a male boss before they were addressed. That’s how much women didn’t have a voice there,” she says. 

Mentorship programs, team events and trainings set up by QIAGEN are helping drive culture for the better and to help women navigate their roles in different teams. Achieving genuine workplace gender equality is not just getting the ratios right, but ensuring that the overall culture changes for the better throughout the workforce – particularly in terms of how women are perceived. 

“I don't want to be that individual who has to be tough and come in and say, ‘There's a new sheriff in town,’” says Rose. “So I think it’s beneficial for women to have training around how to get your point across in a way that feels comfortable for you – I think that’s absolutely useful,” she adds. Ben-Atar has a similar point of view: “One thing I really, really appreciate at QIAGEN is that they’ve allowed me to be myself. I’ve truly felt that I’m able to be my authentic self here without having to worry about what toes I’m stepping on.” 
Rose Thibert
Rose Thibert is a clinical field application specialist who has worked for globally recognised biotech companies in molecular diagnostics. She now manages her own team at QIAGEN in the US.
“For a company to start to move in any direction you have to change the whole culture. It has to come from the higher executive team and it needs to translate all the way down.”
Supriya Trika, Content Marketing Manager

Benefits of inclusion

In 2022, women in management across the whole company reached 35%, up from 28% in 2018 – clearing moving in the right direction for an equal balance down the line. 

Supriya Trika has also felt fully supported in getting to grips with the biotech subject matter after her previous role as a writer for the travel industry. Her department is corporate communications, which is 80% women – “but I think that’s more to do with the department than the company as a whole,” she states. 

“I’ve worked for a few companies and QIAGEN I’ve found to be the most encouraging and supportive of them all. They give you space to grow – it’s not like I joined and it was, “Now come and start delivering”. There are people who have been here for 20-plus years, and that’s saying something.”

“For a company to start to move in any direction you have to change the whole culture. It has to come from the higher executive team and it needs to translate all the way down. My manager has been such a great support and a mentor for me. I have a voice and she helps me amplify it.”

“I may be biased because I've seen the difference with other companies I’ve worked at. But, honestly, it's been great working for this company, and the way they actively support women.” 

Supriya Trika
Supriya Trika is a corporate communications specialist who formerly worked in the travel sector. She is Content Marketing Manager at QIAGEN in Germany.

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