Daring Women: Intertox Inc. Scientist and World-Class Mountain Bike Athlete Anne Galyean Believes in Embracing Fear

She says fear can be a great tool in decision-making because it ‘heightens our senses and sharpens our minds’
 
 

Anne Galyean is a staff scientist and executive assistant with Intertox Inc., a Seattle-based scientific consulting firm that assesses the risks posed to public health and the environment by chemical and biological agents. Galyean has more than 11 years of laboratory research experience as well as experience coordinating multi-year projects, managing researchers and organizing collaborative work.

Galyean also has another side to her life. She is one of the top North American mountain-bike enduro riders, with sponsors that include Yeti Cycles, SRAM, Rockshox, Ergon Bike and more. Her passion for the sport was sparked in 2008, while a junior in college studying abroad in New Zealand. On a whim, she says she joined a mountain bike club there and rode all over New Zealand.

Galyean earned her doctorate degree in aquatic analytical chemistry from the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As part of the latest Daring Woman interview, Galyean shares some insights about the challenges faced by women striving to achieve leadership roles and ways to overcome them, her views on mentors and networking, and she also shares some advice for the upcoming generation of female leaders.

What are the most important characteristics of a good leader and what leadership traits are overrated?

To me, humility is the most important characteristic and the most overrated trait is subject-matter expertise. These are two sides of the same coin. A good leader not only recognizes that they are only as good as their team, but also actively seeks out people with knowledge to supplement their own. Acknowledging that you don’t know (nor do you have to) know everything allows you to focus on asking the right questions and gathering as much information as you can when making decisions. I personally respect a leader who can say, “I don’t know,” and then seek out to learn from someone who does.

As a woman, what is the most significant barrier to becoming a leader?

In addition to working in science, I’ve been a professional mountain biker for nearly a decade. Despite some progress, both mountain biking and STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] remain male-dominated fields. The biggest factor I’ve experienced in both environments is being underestimated, whether that’s a male rider cutting me off at the trailhead because he assumes that he’s faster (only to hold me up on the trail) or a scientific colleague who passes me over for a task because he doesn’t think I can handle it. Addressing them both requires being bold and taking up space. I will pass that slower rider, and I will speak up to take on the challenging task. Playing small serves no one and just means you will miss an opportunity to go faster, learn something new, solve a problem, etc.

How can women achieve more prominent roles in their organizations?

TAKE UP SPACE. Work to identify your own talents in the organization. (Hint – they might not be what you expect!) Consider what you can contribute to your work environment to support your team’s success, and then, ensure your voice is heard. In the words of Susan Lucas-Conwell, global chief executive officer at Great Place to Work, “Speak up, speak out and contribute.” However, this can be difficult or uncomfortable in many work environments.

I think one of the greatest tools to address this is called amplification. While I don’t know the precise origin of this tool, I believe it was popularized by women in former White House administration positions to ensure that one another’s points were acknowledged during meetings. When one woman presented an idea, another woman would: 1.) repeat it, and 2.) give her colleague credit for the idea. This tackled two common occurrences that women face in the workplace ― not being heard and watching as male colleagues repeat, and take credit for, the woman’s original and unrecognized idea. Another tool is to find a community within your organization, comprised of mentors and mentees, who can collectively help each other navigate an organization’s advancement structure and provide a support system.

What key lessons did you learn from a woman who has inspired, mentored or sponsored you?

My dear friend Anita Naidu is by far one of my biggest inspirations. She is a professional mountain biker and an award-winning humanitarian who holds master’s degrees in environmental and chemical engineering. She is someone who truly uses her skills and talents for the greater good, from coaching women’s mountain-bike clinics that combine outdoor adventure with social impact discussions to developing an app, called Services Advisor, that has provided essential resources for more than 3 million refugees in Jordan and Turkey. The biggest lesson that I’ve learned from Anita is summed up nicely in her quote, “We, especially women, must allow ourselves to be defined by the audacity of our goals.”

What advice do you have for the next generation of female leaders?

I can say with confidence that being decisive has been one of the best habits that I have prioritized. It’s a seemingly reckless thing ― to make decisions quickly. However, it’s a skill that I borrowed from mountain-bike racing. When you’re racing bikes, information is coming at you very quickly. You might have a split second to gather input on obstacles, braking points and line choices. Once you make a decision, the next step is equally as important: Move on.

Mistakes can be made if your brain is focused on something that happened five seconds ago instead of the big rock directly in front of your tire. While professional or career decisions aren’t often on the same time scale, the approach is a good one. Gather information as quickly as possible, assess your choices and make a decision. Once made, move on and keep focused on what’s ahead. There will always be another decision to make, another fork in the road. No single choice is (usually) catastrophic and if the decision turns out to be a bad one, reassess and make a better decision at the next opportunity.

How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts?

Networking is everything. I think that networking is most important when you’re not actively looking for a job. You can build your network by meeting people without the awkward pretense of tapping them for a doorway into their companies. Instead, you can focus on learning what makes them tick. What are people passionate about? What gets them excited about their own careers? This can help you better understand your own goals. Use their strengths and energy. These contacts will become your network and, down the road, can help mentor you through your own career when you’re in need of guidance.

What would you do different in your career?

I believe you can be retrospective without feeling regret about your past decisions. Hindsight allows you additional information with which you can analyze your choices ― specifically, information that you probably did not have when making the original decision. That said, knowing what I know now about what I really enjoy about science (and what doesn’t energize me) I would have picked a field that was more hands-on in an industrial setting, such as engineering. Do I regret my chemistry PhD? No! I learned how to be a critical thinker, how to analyze data, how to interpret information, how to design experiments and ask hard questions. I have the chance now to apply those skills to any number of industries.

Where will we find you on a Saturday afternoon?

This is easy ― on my mountain bike. Preferably speeding through the trees on some perfect dirt in the shadow of majestic mountain peaks ― probably scaring myself a bit!

What would be the title of your autobiography?

“Embrace Fear: Don’t be scared of being scared.” I firmly believe that being scared is one of the greatest biological tools available to us. It heightens our senses and sharpens our minds. It brings clarity to a confusing situation. I think fear should be embraced and harnessed to make good decisions and perform well. Do something that scares you once a week. Start with small things ―speak up in a group, make a decision you’ve been putting off, go to an event that intimidates you, or try a new sport. Just one per week. Once that becomes easier, graduate to bigger things. Take more risks.

One of the best things that happens to you when you’re learning to mountain bike is crashing and not getting hurt. You can jump up, brush off and realize that you’re OK! This is the same principle. Take that risk or do the thing that makes you a little scared. You’ll realize that you will be OK. It will boost your confidence and allow you to tackle more and more. Pretty soon, being scared won’t be so … scary. You can embrace, and use, your fear to your greatest advantage.

We’d love to hear from more women across all industries who are challenging the status quo. Does it sound like you? If it does, click here and fill out our questionnaire. 

Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.

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