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Meet Gretchen Cook-Anderson: LabCentral Ignite’s new Executive Director

Disclaimer: the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this blog belong solely to the individual author, and not to LabCentral or the author’s employer, organization or committee.

What drew you to LabCentral, and specifically the Ignite opportunity?

For most of my career I’ve been drawn to opportunities that have the potential to advance our culture or impact the lives of others in positive, meaningful ways. As a result, I’ve spent years moving up through the ranks in mission-based nonprofit environments, including eight years managing Earth science and science education PR and communications at NASA.

Driving greater biotech diversity is a tremendously important, inspired mission to me – with the potential to affect the mosaic of innovators changing and saving lives. To that end, I was particularly attracted to my new role at LabCentral Ignite because we have the chance to inclusively bridge gaps along the STEM education pipeline to inspire more awareness and curiosity about life sciences, help repair inequities in biotech to stem the loss of STEM majors and young scientists of color, and to amp up how we connect Black, Latinx, women and other underrepresented people to entrepreneurship and the variety of well-paying biotech careers. So, we have a consequential task to contribute to creating true access for those who have been excluded to grow and contribute at every level of the biotech industry.

I should also emphasize there’s urgency in this mission. We need more diverse human catalysts of change who will use their talents to resolve persistent disparities in health outcomes.

The more we expand racial, ethnic and gender diversity among life science researchers and entrepreneurs, the sharper the focus on and the more therapeutic solutions will emerge for diseases like sickle cell, colorectal cancer, and some forms of breast cancer that disproportionately or more aggressively affect populations of color and women. This challenge is very compelling to me.

Why do you think diversity has been so lacking in biotech and life sciences in particular?

At the earlier end of the STEM pipeline, there’s an overall lack of exposure for middle and high school students in communities of color to life sciences and biotech careers. That’s combined with other factors, like inadequate mentoring opportunities in life sciences to attract, and a lack of funding and other support to uplift more scientists and entrepreneurs of color and women across the spectrum of biotech research and industry. The effect is a demographic landscape that’s not inclusive of the breadth of existing and potential talent.

What have you learned so far about the LabCentral community?

It didn’t take long to recognize that the LabCentral community is made up of smart, dedicated people. They’re passionate about the role innovation plays in our ability to thrive as human beings. This is also a multicultural workplace community that seems to value equity and opportunity, where colleagues feel they can be heard, make a difference and thrive professionally.

What are you most looking forward to in your new role as Ignite’s Executive Director?

In my career I’ve learned by way of real-world outcomes, backed by research, that human diversity makes a difference in sparking more innovation. So, honestly, I’m just excited to jump in and inspire our team and others to keep the Ignite mission keenly focused on targeted programs and partnerships that truly expand the demographic makeup of biotech from labs to leadership, in Boston and beyond.  We’ve got a real opportunity to craft our own blueprint for attracting and elevating underrepresented talent who may be among the next superheroes of scientific discovery.

Is there a first step you can tell us a little about?

Given how much has been accomplished already, it’s hard to remember that Ignite is still a very new initiative. Among my first steps now is working with our team to evaluate our first year so we can use what we’ve learned to plot our course for next year and beyond in ways that’ll be most impactful from Ignite’s unique vantage point at LabCentral. Our goal is to lead, convene, collaborate, invest and instigate to fuel a more diverse workforce and equitable industry change.

Year one has been one of learning, growing networks, learning more, testing program approaches, hosting or joining meaningful conversations, and understanding data and the history of race and gender gaps in biotech and life sciences. Oh, and did I mention lots of learning??? Look out for us to ignite even more activity aimed at moving the needle of inclusive progress in biotech in 2022!