Freenome event supporting women in STEM fields


Last Thursday, over 120 women and men gathered at Surviving to Thriving: Stories from Women in STEM, hosted at Freenome’s South San Francisco office. With a focus on concrete, actionable tips, the event provided a forum for women already established as leaders in their fields to share stories about their professional journeys, with an emphasis on personal experiences and the factors that helped them flourish

Panelists included Monisha Perkash, Co-Founder and former CEO of Lumo Bodytech; Selina Tobaccowala, Co-Founder and CEO of Gixo, and former President and CTO at SurveyMonkey; June Andrews, Principal Data Scientist at GE Digital; and Kim Popovits, CEO of Genomic Health. Attendees came from a varying array of fields and companies across the Bay Area and beyond.

Panelists from left to right: Dr. Lena Cheng (moderator), Selina Tobaccowala, June Andrews, Monisha Perkash, Kim Popovits

Panelists from left to right: Dr. Lena Cheng (moderator), Selina Tobaccowala, June Andrews, Monisha Perkash, Kim Popovits

The panel discussion, moderated by Lena Cheng, MD, VP of Marketing at Freenome, focused on ways attendees could build resilience, leverage resources, and garner support for diverse teams. Freenome’s Chief Medical Officer, Girish Putcha, MD, PhD, introduced the panel, reflecting on the role of his personal champions, his mother and his sister, and their perseverance in the face of adversity.

To frame the discussion, Dr. Cheng provided statistics on the current state of women in STEM and the challenges that remain: While women make up 50% of the workforce, they comprise just 24% of the STEM workforce, with 50% choosing to leave within 10 years. At the same time, in 2018, 71% of jobs require STEM skills, and 74 percent of young girls express interest in STEM fields and computer science. The wage gap between men and women, while still present, is smaller in STEM jobs than in non-STEM jobs.


In the freewheeling exchange that followed, panelists focused on recent progress in diversity in STEM, and provided tips to maintain that momentum from both a career and community perspective.

Best career advice for women in STEM:

  1. See failure as an opportunity for growth. Develop a failure muscle and work it out regularly. Don’t stop short of reaching your potential because of past failure or fear of future failure.

  2. Understand where you can contribute uniquely in your career—in other words, be yourself. Find what you’re good at and pour fuel on that fire to get traction and build momentum.  Avoid trying to emulate others, without a good justification for doing so.

  3. Self-care leads to higher performance. Check in with yourself regularly to understand what you need to be a top performer.

Tips to improve company diversity in STEM recruiting:

  1. Engage with your recruiting team and build relationships. As a woman, underrepresented minority, and/or leader, establishing relationships with your internal and external recruiters and providing ways to access and surface talented candidates from these groups in your network can provide company and industry-wide benefits.

  2. Commit right away. Develop a recruiting strategy early on to prioritize diverse candidates for open STEM leadership roles and act on it. Learn strategic recruiting strategies from bigger companies.

  3. Present and share data on the role diverse teams play in building company culture and success.

At Freenome we believe that diverse hiring practices lead to better results. For a list of STEM and other open positions, please visit our careers page. And please be on the lookout for more Freenome events like this one in the future. We hope to see you next time!