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Board Profile - Maria Alvim Gaston

11/30/2020 8:01 AM | Anonymous

Last year we wrote about Dr. Maria Alvim Gaston’s journey from her girlhood in Brazil to earning three degrees, including her Ph.D. from the University of Mississippi, and launching her decades-long career at Eli Lilly. At that time, we saw that passion was one of her defining characteristics. Now, that same passion is strengthening the future talent pipeline in her role as Advisor for the Talent Development Academy in the Medicines Innovation Hub at Eli Lilly and her involvement in Women & Hi Tech.

“Looking at my career at Eli Lilly, I could not be happier with all that I have accomplished. I’ve learned a lot on my journey, and I want to use my knowledge, gifts, and talents to be a part of creating a more equitable and inclusive world for STEM professionals and beyond.”

Dr Alvim Gaston believes that true success is achieved by giving back to create a better tomorrow for others. “It’s up to us, to me, and to you, to take the first step, to offer support to others who are fighting to achieve their goals and dreams. Helping others to become their very best selves is what success looks like to me, with the ultimate goal of building a generation that chooses cooperation and helping one another over competing. This requires giving to be valued above receiving.”

At Eli Lilly, Dr. Alvim Gaston has transitioned from a scientific role in the Open Innovation Drug Discovery Group to serve as an Advisor for the Talent Development Academy in the Medicines Innovations Hub (MIH). In this role, Dr. Alvim Gaston leads her team, along with volunteers from across Eli Lilly, to recruit and develop the next generation of talent for Eli Lilly R&D. “When I began my career as a computational chemist, I used to say I was hunting for new drugs. Now, I am hunting for top talent,” she said with a big smile. She feels thankful and proud to take the strong culture of diversity and inclusion that already exists at Eli Lilly and help identify young, talented individuals who are a great fit to lead and innovate in the future.

“We are working intentionally to bring even more diversity into our workforce. We are purposefully going to places we can find top minority talent, like historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), as well as conferences specifically hosted for diverse STEM groups.” This strategy is executed in tandem with initiatives to recruit from local institutions like Purdue, Indiana University, and other Indiana colleges and universities to help retain talented young Indiana professionals and allow them to build a career in their home state.

Dr. Alvim Gaston’s work isn’t just about recruiting young talent. It’s also about offering programs to help these hires develop in their careers as leaders and STEM professionals. “Our interns are recruited with the intent to hire. Eli Lilly MIH interns spend 12-16 weeks working in our labs. They learn about our organization and its culture. We also get the opportunity to know our interns, too, far beyond what an interview process would facilitate. I believe Eli Lilly is unique in that opportunity,” she continued. “Growth, professional development, and advancement aren’t just provided to long-term existing employees but are part of the culture for all of our employees from day one.”

Maria has seen that at Eli Lilly, diversity and inclusion are company-wide goals. “I have seen these goals in different manifestations throughout my career. The employees and teams at Eli Lilly go above and beyond providing resources to make sure every employee feels safe and appreciated. As a Latina and scientist, I can personally testify to the diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture,” Dr. Alvim Gaston joyfully commented. “I so enjoy working at an organization where I can be me and where my unique perspective and skills are accepted and appreciated.”

Her desire for every STEM professional to live the same reality she does at Eli Lilly is a big motivator toward Dr. Alvim Gaston’s continued involvement with Women & Hi Tech. Serving in her third year as the Women & Hi Tech Networking Director, Dr. Alvim Gaston revealed some of the practical value she aspires to see members take away from the organization. “I want our members to leave every event feeling like they got something out of it. For some, that’s the support or new connection they need to level up their career. For others, it’s the chance to serve as a mentor and help give someone else a leg up, and for yet others, it’s building new connections with peers. There are so many opportunities to be involved with Women & Hi Tech, and I want other STEM professionals to know that we are a resource for them.” Beyond working as the Networking Director, Maria serves Women & Hi Tech’s mission by mentoring, coaching, and volunteering, all of which help change the landscape of women represented in STEM to be equally inclusive.

“Being a part of Women & Hi Tech is an opportunity to empower others, make a difference, and give a voice to all women in STEM. That is why I want to be part of it and to help Women & Hi Tech grow, so the organization can continue to expand its impact in our STEM community.”

While the organization’s mission is specific to gender, Dr. Alvim Gaston is happy to see a growing number of male allies among the membership, benefitting from the same strong network as female members. She also acknowledges that it will take us all, all gender identities, to create authentic and lasting gender equity in the STEM fields and beyond.

When asked why she is so passionate about Women & Hi Tech, Maria shared several reasons, including, “We all need a safe place to grow, and it’s part of our mission to provide that. That is why our members join us – they are people who share our value of creating an equitable and inclusive environment for all. Men in our membership can see their value in a whole new way and help advance our mission. So, one day, when we’ve reached equity and inclusion for all, we will be People & Hi Tech.” As women and diverse groups continue to be better represented in the STEM fields, Dr. Alvim Gaston knows that future professionals will encounter different challenges and will need to work together to overcome those challenges.

“Now more than ever, we must model unity and compassion for younger generations to move forward to a better place and a better world,” Dr. Alvim Gaston concluded. “Women & Hi Tech continues to help lead the way for equity and inclusion for all women in STEM, and that inspires me.”

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