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4 women, 4 paths, 1 goal

Written by: | chris.truelove@medadnews.com | Dated: Sunday, September 1st, 2013

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Although the four women interviewed for this article – Anna Protopapas, president and CEO of Millennium Pharmaceuticals; Jill DeSimone, senior VP and general manager of Teva Global Women’s Health; Dr. Joanna Horobin, chief medical officer of Verastem; and Dr. Cynthia Verst, head of the global Phase IIIb/IV for Quintiles – have taken different paths to the heights of their careers, they all have scientific backgrounds. But all got into their chosen fields for one reason – the patients – and they are taking the time to mentor the next generation of leaders in the industry.

For Protopapas, her involvement in the pharmaceutical industry came because of her experience with biotech. And her path to biotech was directly because of her science background.

“I was trained in science and engineering, I’m a chemical/biochemical engineer, when early on in my career I decided to switch to the business side,” Protopapas says. “I was really looking for an environment where I could combine the business and the science, and biotech was quite an exciting opportunity. You could definitely combine the science, and very cutting-edge science, that coupled with my background, with the business side. And the mission of the industry, to really bring new science and turn it into new medicines that help patients, was a very exciting one. And it’s been just as exciting if not more exciting since then. There’s really been an explosion in our understanding of human biology and that really has unearthed huge opportunities to use that information to improve human health.”

Protopapas started with Millennium in 1997, three years after the company started, and became senior VP of corporate development in 2005, and then executive VP, Global Business Development at Takeda Pharmaceuticals International Inc. in 2011, a position that she still retains.

“It’s been a change, there are also new dimensions, there are additional dimensions to my expanded role,” she says. “But it’s not like I am walking into a completely new organization. I know Millennium well, I know Takeda well, and hopefully I can help bridge the gap during this time of transition as we look at Millennium and aligning it more closely with the rest of Takeda.”

Both Dr. Verst and DeSimone have backgrounds in pharmacy – DeSimone was a pharmacist, and Dr. Verst eventually received her doctorate in pharmacy after a realization.

“I actually began with a career interest in quite frankly the research sector, and I was bound to get my Ph.D. in biochemistry and in particular structural and cellular biology,” she says. “And it was there that I was actually getting my master’s when I realized that benchtop research was probably not for me. Serendipitously, my advisor had collaborated in research with one of the faculty members who happened to be a pharmacologist. One day in the lab, he looked at me and said, ‘Hey Cindy, what do you want to do when you grow up?’ And I said, ’I don’t know. I love science, and I love research, but I have to say, benchtop, probably not for me. But I guess maybe I’ll have to continue on the trajectory of trying to figure out what research has more readily acceptable applications.’ The short answer here is, he was a pharmacologist involved in industry research in the pharmaceutical sector, and that’s what changed my life.”

To make the career switch to pharmacology, Dr. Verst had to become an undergrad again and get a pharmacy degree. “I graduated on a Saturday night with my doctorate in pharmacy and actually began Monday morning with an industry career at Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals,” she says.

For DeSimone, the decision to become a pharmacist came when she went to college – at a time when there were very few women in that field. But her switch to the pharmaceutical industry came after she observed the pharmaceutical reps at the pharmacy she worked at after graduating.

“I thought that would be a way to take the reasons why I went into pharmacy – healthcare, helping people, and counseling people, educating people – and I thought I could take those priorities into the pharmaceutical industry,” DeSimone says. “I didn’t understand much more than that they were sales reps who went into doctors offices and pharmacies. I didn’t understand the marketing piece at the time and everything else that went into it.” DeSimone worked for ER Squibb, and then Genentech, and then went back to ER Squibb when it became Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Dr. Horobin was a working physician when she had the encounter 30 years ago that spurred her to go into the pharmaceutical industry.

“I was doing a research project concerning antibiotic abuse and use, and I contacted Beecham as it was in those days, and Glaxo, as it was in those days, to find out more information about antibiotic development and prescribing and all that good stuff,” Dr. Horobin says. “And I was actually amazed to find that there were physicians working in the industry, and that they had an interesting and completely different career track than anything I’d ever heard about. It seemed rather exciting, this idea that you could affect the lives potentially of hundreds of thousands of patients, was rather appealing. And so frankly, I joined Beecham. And then within the first five years of Beecham, I had the opportunity help drive the approval of four antibiotics and a nonsteroidal, which all reinforced what I thought in the first place, that pharma was going to be a great place to be as a physician.”

Dr. Horobin, in her time at Beecham, helped develop and launch the antibiotics Augmentin, Bactroban, and Timentin, and the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory Relafen.

“It was a golden era for Beecham at the time, and I just happened to drop into it and grow with it,” she says.

After Beecham, Dr. Horobin worked for Rorer, which became part of Rhone-Poulenc Rorer, which itself eventually became part of Aventis, and then Sanofi. It was at Rorer that she discovered her true research and development passion, oncology.

“I was completely hooked. I was never going to do anything else again except drug development, and I was never going to do anything else except oncology,” she says.

During the time she was VP of oncology at Rhone-Poulenc Rorer, Dr. Horobin worked on the development and launch of the breast cancer drug Taxotere, and the colon cancer drug Camptosar/Campto. She also ran the joint venture between Chugai and Rhone-Poulenc Rorer to develop and market the white blood cell stimulator Granocyte.

The joint venture reinforced her love of small company culture and gave her the experience of leadership. “That was just an extraordinary opportunity to be running a cross-cultural organization,” Dr. Horobin says.

“That gave me a taste of what it would be like in an entrepreneurial role,” she says. “That was a very small company, but of course the backers were two large ones, so it had tremendous financial stability if you like but it had all of the aspects of a startup that I’ve come to love. It was a wonderful opportunity and I was given a great break.”

When she left Rhone-Poulenc Rorer, Dr. Horobin became chief operating officer of CombinatoRx and executive VP of EntreMed. As CEO of Syndax, an independent biotechnology company, she designed and implemented the Phase II clinical development of entinostat in metastatic breast and lung cancer.

Dr. Horobin’s move to small biotech companies was driven by the need to better serve patients in the oncology arena.

“One of the things that’s been really interesting to me, first and foremost, I am still an M.D., that’s the moniker I wear and am proud of it,” she says. “So that means what I really want to do is bring new options to patients. That’s why I get up in the morning. In oncology, the needs have always been obvious, but the challenge we have there, particularly in the last few years where we have had lots of new drugs coming into oncology and yet we haven’t really moved the needle on survival. And so as I left large pharma and jumped into these smaller companies, I was really interested in trying to take on new targets and new ideas because it seemed to me to keep on doing the same old, same old, to try and solve the same old problem, you never get anywhere. You needed to have new ideas and new approaches if we were ever going to make a difference.

“So I spent time with antigenesis inhibitors and I then spent time thinking about combination drug strategies, I was working with epigenetics in my last company, and here I am working against cancer stem cells. So really, all of those are new approaches to try and change the way we treat patients with cancer – not just about bringing new drugs, but new ideas and new paradigms of treatment.”

Dr. Horobin’s love of entrepreneurial companies is shared by DeSimone, who had left Bristol-Myers Squibb last year “to pursue other areas in terms of wanting to take all of my commercial experience and go to startup-type of organizations,” she says.

DeSimone found just that situation with Teva, which wanted to establish a women’s health division. “I was able to take my focus on helping women develop, and being a mentor, and developing people as a passion, and creating the new, to Teva as they were creating the women’s health business,” she says.

Like the rest of the women interviewed, Dr. Verst wanted to see the results of her work translated into immediate gains for patients. “I knew industry research was the best of both worlds – research prevalent, but yet immediacy in terms of the application of that research,” Dr. Verst says. “I have to say, it was the right place at the right time, but never without the sole focus of wanting to be involved in clinical research but having some immediacy in terms of the application.”

Making the decision not to seek her doctorate in cellular biology was difficult but the lack of immediate applications for her research helped guide her, Dr. Verst says.

“I probably didn’t choose the best of all topics for my thesis,” she admits. “It was cellular regeneration, and I was working with a regeneration model of a Mexican lizard, genus and species, Ambistoma mexicana, an axolotl, and trying to find relative homology between that little critter and the human genome, and regeneration. And let’s face it, there’s not a lot of immediacy there, right?”

As head of the Phase IIIb/IV unit, Dr, Verst has responsibility and oversight of the late-phase clinical trials as well as the observational side. “This is the real world evidence side,” she says. “And so here I am responsible for that business unit, responsible for the oversight, the top and bottom line, of the interventional and the observational side of the house, and growing that business, ensuring that business is delivered with high-quality approaches output and ensuring as well that we’ve got a business strategy to be delivered for our continued growth in the sector.

“In addition, I have the overall growth of the top line, so I have all of the business development team members as well as the operational team members under that remit.”

Women in the sciences

All of the executives interviewed for this article had a different path into the pharma industry than their counterparts who went the marketing/business route. When it comes to women’s presence in the sciences, with master’s level or higher degrees, the number of women obtaining these degrees remains lower.

According to statistics from the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine, in 2002, 3,669 U.S. women earned degrees in biological sciences, compared with 6,334 U.S. men.

When it came to those earning doctoral degrees in 2002 for biological sciences, the numbers were slightly more equal: 2,549 women, compared with 3,133 men.

There has actually been a decrease in the number of women earning master’s degrees in biological sciences – in 1983, 3,236 women graduated with these degrees. However, the number of women earning their doctorates has jumped tremendously. Only 787 women were recorded as earning their doctorates in biological sciences in 1983.

The number of medical degrees awarded to women by U.S. medical schools continues to increase as well, though continues to be less than half of the total degrees earned. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, in 1980-1981, 3,898 degrees were awarded to women, 24.9 percent of all the degrees awarded. In 2011-2012, 8,285 medical degrees were awarded, 47.8 percent of the total.

Scientific American reported in May 2013 that during 2008, for the first time, U.S. women earned more doctorates in biology than men did (a breakdown of numbers was not provided).

There have been concerted efforts by U.S. schools to interest more girls and young women in careers in science and technology, though the going remains tough and perhaps colored by perceived gender roles in society. The clothing store chain The Children’s Place came under fire recently for carrying a girl’s T-shirt listing “My Best Subjects” as “Shopping,” “Music,” and “Dancing” checked off. Not checked off, however, was “Math,” with the tagline, “Nobody’s perfect.” (In response to public complaints, the offending T-shirt was removed from stores and is no longer available.)

For Dr. Verst, parental support, particularly from her mother, was important in overcoming gender biases in many ways and never making her doubt she wanted science as a career.

“I’m reminded as a small girl where I came home one day in middle school and I said, ‘Hey Mom, sign this release form, I need to turn that in tomorrow,’” she says. “And she said, ‘Sweetie, I think you picked up the wrong form, this is not your softball parent signature form, you picked up the baseball form for the boys. Boys play baseball, you play softball.’ And I said, ‘No, I want to play baseball!’ I had thought softball was way too slow. My brothers had played baseball, and I had said, ‘I want to play like my big brother on a baseball team.’”

Her mother could have easily discouraged her, but instead decided to support her. “Long story short, I was the first girl to play Knothole baseball in my area,” Dr. Verst says. “I had said that I have to challenge that, I can play as well as the boys. … . My mom could have easily put the kibosh on that, but rather said, ‘OK, well, if you’re up for that, let’s challenge that!’”

As it was, she never doubted that a career in science was what she wanted, Dr. Verst says.

“It was really my love, I knew I wanted to be in the healthcare arena, wasn’t quite sure where,’” she says. “I was always asking the question, ‘Why?’ And biochemistry was the first real subject area that began to answer those questions of the why. Like blood clots, why does blood clot? Well, because prothrombin goes to thrombin, fibrinogen goes to fibrin, you know these cascades…but why? Why the cascade? And I think that my love and quest for the understanding in the scientific arena was what ultimately led me to a career on the pharmacology side. Understanding the human pathways, the biological pathways, how drugs impact the mechanisms of action, it was the first time gratifying and I really found that love here in the clinical/pharmacology side of things.”

DeSimone says when she shared her decision that she wanted to become a pharmacist, her father had questions. “Going into college in the ‘70s I came home and told my dad I was going to be a pharmacist, and right away he wanted to go to, why did I not want to be a nurse or a teacher,” she says. “We had those early conversations, and after that, he was always in my court, he was always an encourager. And my aunt was a successful businesswoman, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, growing up and watching her I had a great role model in her in those important formative years.”

According to Dr. Horobin her decision to go into medical school had to be made early, when she was in high school.

“The big decision for me was actually during my high school career, where do I want to go,” says. “And it was in the days of Watson and Crick and things were looking extremely exciting, and I felt I wanted to be part of that. For me, I think it wasn’t so much the bench science that I found interesting, it was the opportunity to take that science as it was translated into treatments for patients and then be able to translate it for patients. It’s interesting, because I’ve not really done a lot of bench science at all, didn’t do that much at medical school. In those days, it was really purely a clinical training. But I do think that one of the strengths I’ve been able to bring to my career is taking complex scientific ideas, distill them down to something relatively simple, that I can then translate into an actionable development plan, or I can communicate to an investor, or to a potential investigator. To me, I think that’s been an ability of mine. It’s always been less about the ability to do the science, than the ability to talk about the science and make it intelligible to other people.”

Protopapas says for those girls who want to go into science, they should pursue their dreams and not worry about the ultimate job goal.

“I’m a big believer, and I say this to my children, that ultimately everyone needs to follow their passion,” she says. “And I think for anyone who finds science exciting, anyone who gets excited with hearing about sequencing the rabbit genome and what it means, or the president’s new initiative around mapping the human brain, I would say to anyone who finds that exciting, ‘You should pursue your passion and learn about it.’ I would encourage them, and I don’t think that closes the door ultimately to a career that is not in the lab, but in a business career where the background you have in science helps you be better at your job. But you have to be excited about the science, if you are, then I don’t think whatever the ultimate goal is should stop you from pursuing scientific studies.”

Entering pharma and developing confidence

For women who want a career in the pharma industry, the executives interviewed have a lot of advice.

Dr. Verst says to build a career, a person must overall pursue their heart’s desire and set goals extremely high.

“Also one factor that’s paid off for me in my career is always trying to have that prospective viewpoint of being two to three years, with foresight, where I should be – what do I want to aspire to be, two to three years from now, and always beginning with the end in mind, and having short-term increments, as well as the 10-year plan,” she says. “And thinking about the steps, the bridges, the necessary places one needs to be, the educational endeavors one needs to acquire, in order to get to that next step, and having that vision along the way is incredibly important.”

Collaboration is also very important, Dr. Verst says – not only with peers, but those in adjacent positions.

“While you may be in a particular business unit, understanding those adjacencies and connections along the way, in the spirit of collaboration not only for your own business unit, but also where you can help others along the way,” she says.

Protopapas advises that to plan a career, focus on the things that you can control.

“You can’t really map out in detail a career path for years to come, but there are a lot of things that do influence one’s career path that you can control,” she says. “It’s usually doing things around following your passion, pick a path that you are good at and you like doing, focus on delivering quality results, collaborate, and indeed where it’s appropriate and just be yourself, and the rest is really outside your control. And if you do all those other things, I am optimistic that the right career path will emerge for you.”

DeSimone says women need to find their voice to succeed, recommending Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.

“That book, when I read it, I was so reminded that we need to find our voice,” she says. “We need to lean in, we need to make sure that we’re confident and courageous. Women have a tendency to say, ‘Well, if there are 10 skills that are needed for a job, I need to have nine of them, or I’m not going to apply.’ Be confident in your abilities and your skills, go for it, put yourself in uncomfortable situations, that’s the best way to grow.

“Think about when you have gone skiing, and I used this story with one of my sales teams once, and I thought about it as I read Cheryl’s book. I was going skiing, and was so happy that I was not falling as I’m skiing. And then I realized what that really meant was that I wasn’t stretching myself, maybe I needed to go down a harder run and challenge myself. Sometimes, we need to push ourselves. Lean in, be confident, be courageous, and push yourself. You’ve got it, you know you’ve got it, so put yourself in those uncomfortable situations, because that’s the way you grow.”

Dr. Horobin also says it’s important for women to have that confidence. “If they believe they’ve got the skills, they’ve got to find a way to develop the self-confidence to go for it,” she says. “Women can sometimes come over as not having confidence in themselves.”

She was particularly struck by this trait after spending a year at MPM Capital “where there were very few women coming into the venture capital firm to present their ideas.”

“Sadly, more often than not, they didn’t inspire confidence,” Dr. Horobin says. “And I used to talk to these women afterwards sometimes, when they got the bad news that we weren’t going to invest in them. They’d say, ‘What can I do differently next time?’ And I would always say to them, ‘You’ve got to have more confidence in yourself, because unless you’ve got confidence in yourself, how on earth can you expect other people to have confidence in you?’”

According to Dr. Horobin, a lot of this still has to do with stereotypes and how children are still raised to meet them. “There was a wonderful book a few years ago, called, ‘Brag is Not a Four-Letter Word,’ it’s essentially about the fact that most women are not prepared to self-promote,” she says. “And unfortunately we live in a world where there is a lot of self-promotion. And so women put themselves at an immediate disadvantage if they’re not prepared to advocate for themselves. So one of the things I’ve often said to young women, particularly those early in their careers, is ‘If you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, identify somebody who’s a real supporter of yours. Get them to first of all help develop those skills in you, but also get them to advocate on your behalf, it’s fine to do that.’ So I think this is a skillset that actually needs to be taught to girls in school, actually how to brag, it doesn’t sound very ladylike, but it’s probably what they need to do.”

DeSimone says early in her career, she did encounter some indication of different treatment because she is a woman.

“When I was first promoted, I was told it was because I was a woman,” she says. “I was fortunate to become a sales trainer, we were hiring more women at the company and they needed a woman trainer. My response was, ‘I don’t care why I’m getting the job, you’ll forget that I am a woman and just remember I’m the best trainer.’ And that has always stuck with me, because that was the first time something had been called out so directly. But it also made me recognize that there were those thoughts that were thought, but not verbalized. I was not going to let being a woman, or any of that, get in my way if they would just remember I was a good trainer.”

In the end, Protopapas says, there is one thing that truly will lead to a great career. “I am a believer that it’s the quality of the work that you do and how you do it, the way you interface with your colleagues, with your management, with the people you manage and lead, that it’s going to drive your career success,” she says.

The roles of mentoring and networking

Besides advocating for themselves, women also need to find mentors and sponsors, and when they get ahead, offer to mentor others Dr. Horobin says.

“The idea is if I work harder and put in a few more hours, or I park another A-plus paper, to get that, is unfortunately, not the reality of life,” she says. “You could argue that instead of working harder to get a better grade, you actually might be better off going out and talking to people who could make a difference in the next promotion. … And I think that one of the most important things that we who have managed to get to senior level in our careers can do is mentor other women. I think that’s really important and to make sure other women who have the potential are, not necessarily by a woman, but are mentored in how to make this happen. So that’s something else I try to do.”

Protopapas says she tries to give advice when she is sought for it. “I have to say I’ve had people from inside and outside the company who come and ask for advice and I always enjoy doing it,” she says. “Various people have helped me along the way with good advice and I am always glad to give my advice for whatever it’s worth.”

DeSimone says everyone needs mentors for a successful career, and she makes it a point of being a mentor.

“If I was going to write my tombstone today, it would have something about developing people and mentoring,” she says. “I take great pride in that. I think that’s really important. For me, successful mentoring was about taking on people who were not like me. It’s great to have a couple of people and they’re exactly like you, you’re asking them for advice, they’re giving you back exactly what you would have done. You need to, again, push yourself, get mentors that can help you stretch. If you’re not strong in a certain area, that’s probably the right mentor for you.”

Successful women also need to be sponsors as well as mentors, DeSimone says. “Mentoring is there providing counsel, feedback, helping to advise, having tough conversations,” she says. “Sponsorship is something different, and I think women need to think about sponsoring people. Sponsoring folks that they mentor, sponsoring folks that they see that are very talented and speaking up on their behalf. So mentoring and sponsorship, obviously very different and something that we as women leaders need to think about. I do see that is very strong with my male colleagues and I think we all need to give that shoutout to folks that we see are those future leaders in organizations.”

She and Dr. Horobin point out that while it’s important for women to mentor, a good mentor can be a man or a woman.

“I had one mentor who I worked with over the years, he’s no longer with us,” DeSimone says. “His name was Mike Iafolla, and he was there to be an encourager and to have tough conversations and to be a sounding board, and he took risks with me. He was also in a hiring position, not all mentors are in that position, but that goes back to that sponsorship. Sometimes you just have to take a risk, and believe in the person, and he did that with me. But he helped me as well. He was very key in helping me get through many steps over time.”

Dr. Horobin says she encountered similar supporters at Rhone-Poulenc Rorer.

“I was very lucky early on in my career to just have a couple of fantastic mentors,” she says. “I didn’t go out seeking them, I was lucky enough to, I really can’t remember quite how I found myself paired up with such great people. They happened to be men, by the way, but they were people who were really gunning for me and my prospects.”

And women should join professional networks. All of the executives interviewed had been HBA members at one point or another.

DeSimone says she is trying to get Teva to be an HBA sponsor. “We’ve recently hired a head of inclusion and diversity, and she’s helping us gain those contacts, also with organizations such as the National Organization for Female Executives, again, places where we can highlight opportunities for Teva to take on that leadership role,” she says.

Quintiles has its own internal network for women, Women Inspired Network, or WIN. According to Mari Mansfield, a spokeswoman for Quintiles, the WIN coaching program is designed to support the professional development of its members with strategies and actions focused on increasing the number of women in leadership positions and expanding their leadership competencies. Additionally, Quintiles has been a partner with HBA for 22 years.

Dr. Horobin had been head of HBA’s Boston chapter but says “I’m not sure it matters too much what the organization is, I think it’s more important that we encourage young women to actually join that sort of group, that they’re not sort of thinking about this in isolation, that they’re actively seeking out others in a relatively protected environment and they can talk about things.

“This would be my advice – join any of the many excellent professional women’s organizations around and be an active member and take part. You’ll increase your confidence and learn how to network and that will stand you in good stead.”

Encouraging diversity in the upper levels

To ensure that more future pharma CEOs and upper-level executives are women, these future executives need to be developed now, DeSimone says.

“The way to change it quite frankly is to make sure with our bench strength today, we’re focused on developing the right talent to take on that P&L responsibility,” she says. “If you have a P&L mindset, that you’re going to develop people to really have diversity at that C-suite level, that’s important, in terms of how you think about it. If you want a diverse workforce, if you want a match to the customers you’re marketing to and selling to, if you want to have different kinds of thinking, then you have to have diversity at the C-suite level and at every level. We all have a responsibility that we’re developing that bench and a very junior point. You don’t show up one day and say, ‘I can take P&L responsibility.’”

According to DeSimone, it’s important for companies to be very clear as to why certain skills are needed for certain jobs.

“When I’ve taken on more senior assignments, I’m ready to jump in if my head of marketing was on sabbatical, or if we walked into a business development opportunity,” she says. “We want to make sure you have all of those skills and your career is a lattice, not a ladder. That’s really important, to consolidate those skills and get those experiences. A lot of times, people don’t fully appreciate that, and that’s our responsibility to make sure that folks understand what they’re going to get from each assignment. And if you have a good plan in place and you can articulate the benefits of each assignment, what you’re going to gain from it, that makes it much clearer for the individual to have a development plan and discussion. And ultimately, you’re going to get people to leadership roles.”

DeSimone saw the results of these diversity-encouraging plans take effect at Bristol-Myers Squibb.

“I know that when I was at Bristol a few years ago, in the U.S. organization, half the folks that were sitting around the table that were owning the P&L were women,” she says. “And that’s because if I looked around at the folks at the table, they had been developed over the years. All of us, not just women – we had great development opportunities along the years to get us ready for those assignments. So I think you need to make that conscious effort early in the game to say, ‘Hey, you know what, we value diversity and inclusion, and we need to put plans in place to make sure we have the right folks at the table.’”

Verst says there has been progress at Quintiles and throughout the pharma industry in developing women for higher-level, P&L roles.

“I have seen terrific, speaking of statistics, terrific progress in the way of a greater distribution of females in that late-phase arena, in the marketing, the commercial, the sales, the commercial arena as a whole, and I’ve seen that at Quintiles as well, representing a big share of our CRO industry,” she says. “So I’m very uplifted, very motivated to see that distribution increasing with regard to women in that sector of our marketplace. So progress is being made.”

Protopapas says while some would perceive Millennium’s corporate parent, Takeda, as innately conservative with women’s careers because it is a Japanese company, that is not true.

“What is unique about Takeda is that although it’s a 232-year-old company, it is also a very young company at the same time,” she says. “It’s a company in the midst of a major transformation. We have a CEO who’s had a vision to fully globalize the company in a way that is unprecedented for a Japanese pharmaceutical company. He’s grown operations significantly in the US and the world through acquisition, and with that has come diversity in the employee base. And I think there’s a real understanding among the Takeda senior management that diversity is a strength and has really tried to advocate for that diversity.

“In addition to myself and previously Deborah [Dunsire, former president and CEO of Millennium], there are other senior women in the organization, It’s been tougher in Japan, although the company has put in place development programs to help overcome the challenges for women there, and it is a priority for the organization. But I would say that Takeda really has been approaching this in kind of a unique way.”

In the end, for there to be more upper-level, C-suite women executives, there have to be women who want those positions, Dr. Horobin says.

She adds that she took positions based on what made her feel fulfilled, not for the title.

“I honestly do think that it’s largely up to us,” she says. “We need to have the drive to move into those positions and really make the case for why we deserve those positions. I don’t think, at the end of the day, some sort of external legislation is going to make this happen.”

“I think there’s another piece to it as well, and that while I think it’s a good thing for corporate culture to have a more diverse group for leadership, I think there is also perhaps a bit of a stereotype about the fact that everyone needs to aspire to a senior position. Some of that is maybe a more male way of looking at things. I do think that there are quite a lot of women who are very happy not to necessarily be in the most senior position. We need to factor that into our thinking as well. I don’t think we necessarily need to mandate 50/50 or something like that.”

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