How to Make Your Viewpoint Heard at Work

By Shayna Mace | Photo courtesy Exact Sciences

For Ana Hooker, working at a company whose mission is to “eradicate cancer” has been an invigorating challenge. Yes, it’s a lofty goal, she admits — but Exact Sciences is making strides in their pursuit. Besides the company’s signature Cologuard colorectal cancer screening test, the company offers a portfolio of other screening products for breast and liver cancers. The company is also developing a multi- cancer blood test to detect multiple types of cancers at earlier stages through a single blood draw.

Hooker, who is the chief laboratory officer for the company, started at Exact Sciences in March 2013 after being recruited from a job she had overseeing an international genomics lab in Salt Lake City.

“[Coming to Exact Sciences] was an opportunity to play a role in population health, and a solution for something as significant as colon cancer was something that I felt was going to have a broad impact on my legacy as a lab professional,” explains Hooker.

“When you look at population health, the other great story out there is cervical cancer. And I consider colon cancer screening as a similar parallel to cervical cancer screening. And [what we do] has the impact to truly change the trajectory of this disease.”

The Puerto Rican native oversees the company’s eight labs across the United States and Germany. As a woman of color in the STEM field, Hooker says that she’s certainly dealt with her share of workplace challenges throughout the years. But they’re not something she chooses to dwell on — she uses them as learning lessons.

“You have to take the risk and break the ice [in a conversation]. If you start thinking, ‘I’m not being understood,’ or, ‘I’m not being treated equally.’

Or, ‘I’m being spoken over,’ then you start playing into that dynamic. If somebody’s overpowering the conversation, you
insert yourself; you say your point. You say, ‘I need to finish that sentence.’ You cannot sit there apologetically in the corner and raise your hand. You don’t need to ask permission — you have a voice — use it! That’s OK.”

Equally important is having male allies in the workplace, she says. “Getting the support of the males in the room and getting them to understand your perspective [is important]. Then you start having a voice that’s heard and respected. Because you can be at the table, but your mic might be muted [as they say].”

The good news is that Hooker says the medical technology field has a lot of female representation, though she notes the balance is still tilted toward males in the medical diagnostics/ biotech areas.

“More women are getting accolades, visibility, being able to demonstrate their work. But again, it’s something that’s taken a long time to get there,” she says. “And now it’ll take several generations until we’re ‘fully’ integrated.”

Mistakes are good. Really!

“I have made so many mistakes in my career. I think mistakes are what make you, because for me, a mistake is a gift. It’s not a gift at the time it’s happening. Because at the time it’s happening, you’re in the moment, you’re stressed, it’s terrible. But I’ve learned to think of them as a gift, because they all have a lesson embedded in them, in some shape or form.”

How have you been able to achieve work-life balance?

“Well, I wish I could tell you that I’m this magic person that did such a great job (laughs). I missed a lot of things for my kids growing up. My husband works in higher education — he taught at a university — so he had more flexibility. So, we juggled. So, for me, this was a gift — but maybe not one that pays out for me. It pays out for my staff because now I’m very conscious of my employees and telling them family comes first. I tell them, ‘Please don’t sacrifice important family times. This can wait. If we cannot wait, we’ll figure out a way that we can accomplish both. But family is very important.’ So, that is a gift I can pay forward.”

 

Read more from our “What Women Want at Work” feature here.

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