PDA Letter Article

Fifth Annual Women in Life Science Panel Discussion

by West Coast Chapter

“Do not be afraid to take on new tasks and seize every opportunity you can to learn and grow.”

That was just one of the many profound pieces of advice five women leaders in the life sciences industry provided during the PDA West Coast Chapter’s “5th Annual Women in Life Science Panel Discussion.” While normally held in person, this year’s event was held online on Aug. 20, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, more than 500 individuals from across the nation signed onto Zoom to hear five accomplished women talk about their experiences working in the life sciences sector and ask them questions.

PDA West Coast Chapter President-elect Liraz Oechsli relayed a few messages from the event’s sponsors, then welcomed the attendees. She introduced discussion moderator Carolina Valoyes, Executive Director of Quality/Site Quality Head, Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Fremont, who introduced the five panelists:

  • Ghada Haddad, PhD, Executive Director, Global cGMP Compliance and Auditing Organization, Merck & Co.
  • Lucy Cabral, Senior Director, Global External Quality, Roche Genentech
  • Valerie Brown, Vice President, Quality, Gilead Sciences, Inc.
  • Tara Callahan, JD, Senior Director, Corporate Counsel Technical Operations, BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc.
  • Diane Hagerty, Senior Vice President – Quality, Compliance & Operational Excellence, Dermira, Inc.

Valoyes kicked off the discussion by asking each of the women to share an instance when they had to push themselves outside their comfort zone. While the panelists’ responses varied, all concurred that it is important to take risks, embrace uncomfortableness and jump at the chance to lead a project.

The attendees could then ask the panelists questions of their own, which covered a broad range of personal and career topics. The more casual questions sought the women’s thoughts and experiences with impostor syndrome and the expectations of their significant others supporting their career ambitions. Deeper questions involved the stereotypes that women face in business, how they can ensure the pay gap is minimized and how to support each other in the workplace.

In the life sciences sector, these are particularly pertinent questions given that women enter the industry in equal proportion to men but account for just 24% of C-suite positions and only 14% of board-level positions (1). While the panelists each had unique responses to this issue, all agreed that it is critical for women to not just expect to be given promotions due to their hard work, but rather to ask their superiors for the positions they seek. All five panelists also acknowledged that women need to have each other’s back, best summarized by Haddad who stated, “A strong woman stands up for herself, but a stronger woman stands up for others.”

Another speaking point that greatly interested attendees was the importance of mentorship; they asked what advice the panelists would give to both mentors and mentees. Cabral noted that it is imperative for mentors to serve as a guide to help focus a mentee’s interests, while Callahan emphasized giving mentees space to work through their own issues rather than solving it for them. Brown added that a mentee needs to take ownership of the relationship with their mentor, laying out their goals and driving those conversations. In addition, she noted the significance of not just having a mentor but having a sponsor who can advocate on your behalf.

Valoyes concluded the discussion by asking each of the panelists what motivates them every day. Each responded by citing her company and her personal mission to provide the best care, the best medicines for all patients, especially amid this global pandemic.

The members of the PDA West Coast Chapter extend a special thanks to all the panelists, our moderator, and those who attended, as well as our sponsors, for making this event a success. They invited everyone to continue the conversation via social media, and they look forward to seeing you in person (hopefully) on August 19, 2021, for the 6th Annual Women in Life Science Panel Discussion!


  1. The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio) and Liftstream, LLC. 2017. “Opening the Path to a Diverse Future: Creating gender balance in Massachusetts life sciences sector.” Cambridge, MA. https://www.massbio.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/MassBioLiftstream-Gender-Report-2017.pdf (Accessed Aug 26 2020)