Lene Visdal-Johnsen Ph.D., Senior Manager Strategic Partnerships
The day I walked into my Oriflame interview in Dublin, 15 years ago, it felt like coming home. There was a huge photograph of a woman walking into a lake in the lobby – clearly Sweden – and so familiar to me as I come from Norway. From there on, everything snapped into place perfectly. Coming from the pharmaceutical industry I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a cosmetics company but it really wasn’t that different – the rigorous protocols, research methods; the connection between ingredients and the benefits they deliver. It was a revelation to me! I’ve worked my way through various roles at Oriflame, from Research Scientist working with plant stem cell research to my current role working with front-end innovation and partnerships.
I originally went to Ireland on a 6-month Erasmus exchange as a Bachelor’s student, discovered and fell in love with Phytochemistry and basically never went home! I went on to complete my Master’s in Phytochemistry and then took my Ph.D. in Pharmacognosy at School of Pharmacy at Trinity College Dublin. I think one of the most intimidating things as a scientist can be choosing the right scientific field, and I can wholeheartedly recommend studying pharmacy – because it covers so many disciplines your passion can lead you anywhere!
I’m thankful to say that I haven’t experienced the gender challenges many women have to push against – I have been blessed with the support and leadership of amazingly strong, glass ceiling-crushing women throughout my academic and working life and today I strive to do my best to pass the baton of encouragement and strength to the next generation. In the words of the great Muhammad Ali: ‘impossible is nothing’ – follow your dreams.
Khadija Kakouk Ph.D., Senior Formulation and Innovation Scientist
I think that, culturally, women pursuing a scientific career still face questions and attitudes that would never be asked of a man – ‘will you manage? don’t you think you’re being over-ambitious?’ And this is reflected throughout academia and industry – men are still over-represented, particularly in senior roles. The message this sends out to girls and young women is that this is not for them. One of the things I appreciate about Oriflame as an employer is that it not only boasts a high percentage of women scientists, but a high percentage in senior positions – it’s important to see the potential for career progression.
I fell in love with chemistry when I was in high school – it came very naturally to me and I immediately felt a powerful connection to it. I studied solid state chemistry at university, and for my Ph.D. I focused on discovering and creating new materials with optical properties.
I originally wanted to work in optical industrial materials with environmental benefits, but this field is actually very niche, traditionally masculine, and the limited career opportunities eventually led me to the cosmetics industry. I still get to work with my passion of optical chemistry – researching and formulating with materials including pigments, and particles that reflect or diffuse light. Right now, I’m working on a really exciting new product which incorporates optical ingredients in an innovative and multi-dimensional way and I’m super proud of this achievement!
My advice to young women is to trust your gut, ignore the gender constructs and go for it – science is for everyone and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! It’s up to us to pave the way for other girls in the future.
Jennifer Farrell Ph.D., Senior Manager, Cosmetic Industrialisation
I only ever wanted to be a scientist but I always thought I would work in medical science. I studied Medicinal Chemistry at Trinity College in Dublin and researched antibiotics to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria for my Ph.D., and now I work in cosmetics. I think that’s the beauty of science – the path isn’t always straight and you can always change direction along the way. There are just so many interesting scientific fields and jobs that you have no idea even exist when you’re young!
I’ve worked at Oriflame for 4 years and I’m responsible for making sure the formulations we develop in small flasks in the lab can be scaled up for production. Some of the technologies and formulations we work with are extremely complex and difficult to work with so while a formulation might seem amazing in a small batch in the lab, it doesn’t mean it is feasible to produce on a large scale in the factory. I lead a team of 6 people and we work closely with the product formulators in the lab and travel to Oriflame’s factories around the world to oversee production of new products.
Like most women, one of the greatest challenges in my career has been becoming a parent – managing the life-work balance and feeling good about it. I am so fortunate that Oriflame is an extremely supportive employer – I know that’s not the reality for some female scientists.
If I could give one piece of advice to the aspiring young female scientists out there it would be to always speak out and ask for what you need in order to reach your goals – I wish I’d been a bit more assertive when I was young. As my dad always says, ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ – what’s the worst that can happen?