Career 18 January 2017
I am frequently asked to share advice with young women who are seeking careers or seeking to advance in careers in business. Quite often these requests for advice involve careers and businesses that have traditionally been considered “male dominated.”
I share two thoughts, the first of which is no different than that which I share with young men: work hard – work really, really hard – work as hard as you can – and when you don’t believe you can work any harder, work harder. Hard work matters.
After I share that gender neutral thought, I share this thought: stop thinking about the fact that you’re a woman.
For as long as I can remember – certainly, dating back to my teenage years – it has been my view that if a woman doesn’t want others to think about her gender, it makes no sense whatsoever for her to think about her gender. If a woman wants to be considered and treated without regard to gender, she should comport herself without regard to gender. If a woman wants her gender to be irrelevant, she shouldn’t consider it or make it relevant.
At no time during my career did I walk into any setting – not an NFL owners’ meeting, not a meeting with Raiders owners, not a football operations meeting, not a meeting with coaches, business associates or others - thinking about my gender.
It is nonsensical for me to hope and expect that those with whom I interact will interact with me without regard to gender if I am thinking about my gender.
I am also frequently asked if I believe I was tested because I was a woman. I never thought or worried about that. But let’s say I was. People are tested for different reasons. What’s the best thing one can do when one is tested? Pass the test.
I am also frequently asked if I experienced gender based resistance during my career. I certainly experienced resistance. Was some of that resistance gender based? Let’s say it was. Would I have done anything differently if I stopped to consider that it might be? No. I wouldn't have conducted myself or done anything differently. I did my job.
I comported myself without regard to gender and I didn't waste any time or expend any effort or energy worrying about my gender or whether anyone was bothered by it. If others wanted to waste their time or expend their effort or energy worrying about my gender, fine, better they than I.
Related to this, I don’t believe that women must – or should – support other women simply because they are women. To do so is not consistent with a gender blind approach. Over the course of my career, I received support from both women and men and I offered my support and to both women and men. I support women when support is warranted and I support men when support is warranted. I don’t believe it is fair for me to consider gender when interacting with others if I don’t want others to consider gender when interacting with me. If we want men to treat us without regard to gender then it is only logical and right for us to treat men without regard to gender. After all, gender blind is gender blind.
I’ve discussed these issues with a number of accomplished women for whom I have tremendous respect. I have observed that those women with whom I have discussed this who are roughly my age – certainly of my generation – agree that it is counterintuitive to think about one’s gender while hoping and expecting others will not. I have also observed that those women with whom I have discussed this who are younger than I strongly disagree with my views that women in business should conduct themselves without regard to gender.
Many of these same women also strongly disagree with my views that women in business are not obliged to support other women simply because they are women. As such, I have concluded that it may well be that my views on these topics are generational.
I don’t care that I’m a woman.
I don’t want those with whom I interact professionally to care that I’m a woman. I don’t think about the fact that I’m a woman. I don’t want anyone with whom I interact in business to think about the fact that I’m a woman. I want my gender to be irrelevant and I conduct myself as if my gender is irrelevant. That approach may not work for everyone but it worked for me.
With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."