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Women Who Lead- Suzanne Powell (Part 2)


 

In February – the Black History month, I had a chat with Suzanne Powell, a global health leader and epidemiologist at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a great example of Black Excellence in STEM.


Enjoy Part 2 of my interview with her below where she shares on how to navigate discrimination and build a strong community that can be leveraged for a successful career.


What recommendations would you give other Black women and any other woman of color out there, given your experience and the trends within North America at this time?


My recommendation for Black women and other racialized women is that they continue to use their voice and persevere for a seat at the table. Likewise, as an epidemiologist, robustly collected data speaks for itself. So, I recommend and push for the collection and use of gender and race-disaggregated data around recruitment, hiring and promotions in the health (or any/all) sector(s). Without this data, there’s the perception that inequities don’t exist, which undermines our capacity to do something about it address the patterns and issues.


Lastly, we must lead by example. We do this by becoming a mentor and an ally to racialized women, cultivating friendships with them, and becoming a champion for them. We must deliberately support and nominate other women for important projects or invite them to join critical teams that segue to larger opportunities.

What value have you found in community over the years of your career, and how does that influence the support you provide to other women in your community? What resources are out there for women who are seeking to build or be established in community to achieve career success?

I would not be where I am now without a supportive community and any successful woman would tell you the same. I think of the African proverb, ‘if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’ when I say that. If it were not for my community and the mentor that I had, I would not be in global health today.

To this day, my communities have provided guidance and support to me through the peaks and valleys. They have provided examples to emulate and have been role models in my career.


I think the LYP program would be a perfect place to start due to the guidance and the network it provides. I also recommend joining organizational associations, or even workgroups which aligns you with like-minded individuals. LinkedIn groups are also useful to meet people in your field.


Other non-professional settings are important as well. The people you meet during your hobbies, at volunteer groups can also be a good source of community for you.


As a woman working and leading in your industry, do you feel that there are core attributes that women uniquely bring in terms of their leadership and strengths? What is your advice for the next generation of women, particularly those who aspire to careers in Global Health and/or in STEM?


It is interesting and unfortunate that women make up 70% of the global workforce yet hold only 25% of leadership positions. Time and time again, research has shown that having women in leadership positions lead to much more profitable organizations, and healthier populations. I think it is due to our combination of intrinsic empathy, compassion, self-awareness and perhaps our ability to multi-task. Also, women are not afraid to ask for help, and that is always important in inclusive leadership.


For women in STEM, I would advise them to stay curious, ask for help from your network and never be afraid to fail. My experience of failure is that it redirects you to where you are meant to be. So, step out of your comfort zone and be uncomfortable.

What advice would you give your younger self? What advice would you give your older self?

I would tell my younger self not to worry so much. I wasted so much time trying to prepare for the worst-case scenario that I didn’t enjoy the present moments as much and missed a lot of the wonderful-ness going on around me.


Here is what I would tell my older self, ‘All the age spots and wrinkles on your face and body tell a wonderful story about your ups and downs and unique experiences. Remember to be grateful. Oh – and I should start writing daily notes to myself now that daily movement/exercise keeps my vessel and mind in good shape!


As an LYP Program alumna, what is your message to our most recent December 2022 LYP sisters on how best to leverage the learnings/takeaways from the program?


The LYP program connects you with a wonderful community of successful women across a wide range of fields so take advantage of it. Keep in touch with your cohort members and build genuine, trust-based relationships with them. Continue to nurture your relationships. It is a worthy investment. Do not forget you can reach out to Jean and Lilith if you ever need help with anything, such as negotiating a new role, salary, planning a career-shift, or anything personal brand or career-related. Use the resources the LYP program has given you and stay in touch!


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Adetola Oladimeji is a medical doctor and a global health leader who is deeply interested in the use of digital health technologies for optimizing population health outcomes. She is committed to lifelong learning, continuous personal development, and intentional community building. Check out her research and other publications here.

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