Own your successes. I often interview women who are extraordinarily competent, but who are timid when talking about their successes. Personally, I’ve struggled with talking about myself and my accomplishments, but I have learned to recognize how sharing my story — the success and the failures that led to those successes — can inspire other women to embark on their own leadership paths in STEM.
As a part of my series featuring accomplished women in STEM, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Rousset. Jessica is the COO of CURE Pharmaceutical, an oral delivery company that develops and manufactures innovative dosage forms such as oral thin films, where she oversees operations and drives corporate growth. During her two-year tenure, she’s helped CURE exceed financial and operational goals by establishing and executing against strategic priorities, attracting a high impact leadership team and nurturing a cohesive and driven corporate culture. She not only identifies strategic opportunities but creatively and diligently structures and negotiates deals to position CURE as a global market leader in oral delivery, including pharmaceutical cannabinoids. From a leadership position, she works tirelessly to advance CURE Pharmaceutical as a purpose-driven organization by creating a culture of openness, meaningful conflict and gratitude, all key to building trust. She believes that with a strong fabric of trust, employees are more inclined to contribute ideas and call out problems. Rousset previously served as Head of Innovation at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where over ten years, she helped launch both therapeutic and medical device companies and founded and operated a national pediatric technology accelerator. Prior to that, Mrs. Rousset held positions at The Scripps Research Institute and GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals in laboratory, clinical research and business development roles. She trained as a biochemical engineer at the Institut National des Sciences Appliquées in Lyon, France.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path? Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
My time at CURE continues to be an extraordinarily fulfilling journey because of the team and culture that we are building. The story that I am most interested in and that continuously unfolds is the unlocking of people’s potential. There is nothing more galvanizing than having all-staff meetings where everyone is leaning in, even your usual curmudgeons. When those most jaded and adverse to change become active contributors, they become their fuller selves and that’s the best story of all. As humans, we need purpose and we need to feel valued. When we harness this, transformation at the individual and organizational level is lasting and measurable.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Back in my early twenties, I returned from Boston on the heels of what I thought was a decent interview and eagerly awaited feedback, hopeful for a second interview. When I finally got the call, I was told I would not be advancing in the process. However, the hiring manager took the time to give me very honest feedback on all of my missteps, from content on my resume to my excessively candid responses to the interview questions. While I sat there mortified, I quickly regained my composure realizing in that moment what a gift this was. By the end of the conversation, the embarrassment of feeling inadequate and naive turned to gratitude, and you can be assured that I never made those mistakes again!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I believe that what makes CURE stand out are the interpersonal dynamics among our leadership team. We have very different personalities, but we all care deeply about and believe in what we are building together.
We go out of our way to support our staff in times of mourning or personal trauma. We also come together to improve the community where we work by volunteering quarterly with Ventura County’s food bank. It’s the CURE family way.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
The reality is that from colleges to the workforce, women — and particularly women of color — continue to be underrepresented in STEM. The power structure in our field is male-dominated, and gender bias is inevitable. Unfortunately, if not managed, gender bias leads to sexual harassment, limited career opportunities and more generally an environment in which it is more difficult for women to thrive — thus perpetuating the inequities.
Having worked in academia, healthcare and industry, I have had a number of female colleagues experience discrimination and derogatory treatment by men. Bad behavior in male-dominated fields hurts women, lowering their job satisfaction and performance. The power structure needs to change to break the cycle. This means implementing hiring practices that promote diversity — particularly in positions of leadership — as well as diligently enforcing policies and training on what is and is not acceptable behavior in a diverse workforce. Until the boardroom, executive teams, congress and other decision-making bodies throughout society reflect the makeup of the overall population, the status quo will remain.
That said, change is afoot. We are now seeing more equal gender representation in the biological sciences in the United States, which will hopefully spread to the other STEM disciplines from college to the board room.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Don’t change who you are. Gender discrimination which sadly remains a prominent problem in STEM, is designed to make women more aware of gender differences and self-conscious. As a result, we may try to minimize our femininity or emphasize it depending on the circumstances. I suspect many of us can relate to this, and one of the most important lessons I have learned is to define for myself, who I am as a woman, scientist and leader and not to allow other people’s perceptions alter my own.
2. Own your successes. I often interview women who are extraordinarily competent, but who are timid when talking about their successes. Personally, I’ve struggled with talking about myself and my accomplishments, but I have learned to recognize how sharing my story — the success and the failures that led to those successes — can inspire other women to embark on their own leadership paths in STEM.
3. Take the time to mentor and empower others. If we wish for gender equity in STEM, we all need to mobilize. As we gain influence, we have a unique opportunity to help even the playing field by mentoring and empowering other women, as well as guiding men so they can be more aware of their behaviors and become champions of talented women as well.
4. Be bold and steadfast. Self-doubt is inevitable, particularly when there are intrinsic power structures that reinforce notions of women not belonging or deserving too much success in STEM. One thing I know, having birthed two children, is that women are warriors J and when we find our cause, we can be fearless and unstoppable.
5. Have compassion. As women in male-dominated fields, we tend to feel that we need to work twice as hard for the same opportunities as men — and we often do. We sacrifice, we invest our all and sometimes, we forget to have compassion for ourselves. As leaders, we must model a healthy balance of self-care and dedicate to our work, because when we invest in our own well-being, we become better leaders!
Thank you for all of these great insights!