This April 23rd marked the twenty-second year of Bring Your Child to Work Day, a chance for parents all across America to let their children see what Mom and Dad do for a living. At L’Oreal USA’s New York office, more than 200 kids participated in activities ranging from filming anti-bullying videos to mixing their own hair gels. The hair gel activity was led by L’Oreal scientists Kruti Shah and Jolene Hatzisavvas, who gave the kids an in-depth look at what it means to be a chemist at L’Oreal. Activities like these help reinforce L’Oreal’s For Women in Science program and commitment to supporting the next generation of women and girls in STEM.
We sat down with Kruti and Jolene to talk about what led them to their careers, challenges they faced along the way, the importance of mentorship, and how to get the next generation engaged in science.
What made you want to go into a career in science?
Kruti (Chemist) - I was always interested in science. I thought creating new things and understanding how things work was really cool. When I found out there’s science in cosmetics, I was like “Yes!” I was a tomboy for most of my life and then as I got older, I got more girly. I started playing with makeup. It was very interesting to me, colorful.
Jolene (Senior Chemist) - I’ve always been around the medical field and I’ve always had an interest in science. I had my first microscope when I was in the third grade. My parents got me my first chemistry set in the fourth grade. I blew up the kitchen by the time I was in the fifth grade because I wasn’t following the instructions in the book. My mom asked, “Why did you do that?” I told her, “If everyone always does what the book says, how do we ever get anything new?” That was the moment my mom knew I was going to work in research and innovation.
It sounds like you were both exposed to science from a young age, but we know that’s not always the case. A lot of kids, and especially girls, don’t think of science as a viable career path. How do we change that?
J - Because I’m a track coach, everyone expects me to be a teacher. When I tell them that I’m actually a chemist, they think it’s so cool. All the kids think that’s awesome. We have a lot of colleagues at L’Oreal, fellow scientists, who will speak at elementary and middle schools to get kids interested in science.
K - Activities like this one in Bring Your Child to Work Day are a great opportunity for exposure and to teach kids what we do. I also feel that our coworkers in the labs at L’Oreal are so proud of their jobs that they do go home and talk to their kids about what they do. It plants the idea in kids’ minds that, “My mom or dad is a scientist and that’s really cool. Maybe I want to do that someday.”
Do you think the kids were surprised by what they saw today—that this is also science? Making shampoo and applying it to a mannequin head is probably not the same kind of science they see in their classrooms at school.
K - I think the highlight of today was when we demonstrated the liquid, watery base and then added one ingredient to make it into a semi-solid goop. Witnessing that change right in front of their eyes, I think was a ‘wow’ moment for them. Having the opportunity to get their hands dirty is so important to get kids excited about science.
Did you have mentors, professional or personal, who got you to where you are today?
K - Jolene was my mentor when I started. Any questions that I had, she was there to answer.
J - Everyone in R&I at L’Oreal gets assigned both a mentor and a “buddy”. The mentor is someone within your group, to help train you and teach you, so you always have that person you can go to and feel comfortable asking questions. The “buddy” is someone else within R&I who you can just talk to about L’Oreal in general, or if you’re stressed, anything like that…so you automatically have a friend at work
K - It was very important for me, especially having just graduated from school, being able to ask someone for help and them taking time out of their day to answer questions and guide me. That was a really big deal to me when I first started at L’Oreal and it is continuing now. I still have questions, and I’m not just limited to Jolene. I can go to anyone in the group because everyone has their expertise in their particular field.
Have you encountered any challenges in your careers as female scientists?
J - Not at L’Oreal. In general, yes…very much so. There is definitely a stigma against women in science fields.
K - I haven’t personally experienced it.
J - My previous job was very much a “Good Old Boys Club”. All the top execs were men and they were impressed I’d made it as high as I had. There was never going to be any other growth for me there. I had a coworker who encouraged me to apply to L’Oreal. He knew it would give me much more mobility, more chance to expand and grow professionally.
Did you experience similar stigmas during your education?
J - I was pre-med and my undergraduate advisor told me “Women don’t belong in medicine.”