PDA Letter Article

Women in Biotech Panel Offers Career Advice for All Sexes

by Fabio De Martino, PDA West Coast Chapter President-elect, F. Hoffmann La-Roche, and Beth C. Keij, Sangamo Therapeutics

The challenges faced by women in the workplace are not as unique as they once were, so when a panel of women leaders in biotech convened, the advice was universal.

On June 22, 130 industry professionals gathered to hear this panel openly discuss the successes, failures and challenges they have faced as women in biopharma. This was the second “Women in Biotech” panel sponsored by the PDA West Coast Chapter.

Female Microbiologists

Moderated by Beth C. Keij, panelists Carolina Valoyes, Janet Hsu, Kathleen Meyer, Jacquelyn Chester and Patricia Lufburrow shared their personal journeys and offered key advice for both women and men hoping to build careers in biotech. All agreed that mentorship, either formal or informal via “coincidental mentors,” has played an important role in their career growth (coincidental mentors are those that provide guidance not via a formal mentoring process). One panelist advised the audience to take mentor selection into their own hands and to look at parts of the business they do not know well as a potential source of a mentor.

The panelists also extolled the benefits of working with managers who instill a sense of personal integrity. For example, a great manager provides guidance on dealing with difficult situations, such as when it is appropriate to engage a difficult colleague directly as opposed to laying low.

Networking also is essential to career development according to the panel. Participating in industry conferences, associations and activities organized by local organizations like the West Coast Chapter and PDA’s national headquarters provide panelists occasions to meet like-minded individuals and build long-lasting professional relationships. Although networking can be a challenge, requiring individuals to get out of their comfort zones, it offers access to new opportunities. The panelists found that networking has given them insight into what they really want to do with their careers and the confidence to seek it.

Does the focus on career-building mean sacrificing personal life? The panelists concurred that attaining a good balance requires dedicating enough quality time to themselves, their families and their careers so they are fully present and effective in each role. There is no secret formula or one-size-fits-all solution, however, the panelists recommended learning to prioritize, working flexibly and recognizing that sometimes it is acceptable to slow down or say “no.” Some notable quotes that came out of this session were: “work to live, don’t live to work” and “manage your energy, not your time.”

During Q&A panelists were asked “what is the one thing that you wish someone had told you much earlier in your career?” The panelists provided a variety of responses:

  • “Don’t be afraid”
  • “Fail and fail fast”
  • “Get into the game”
  • “Believe, be confident”
  • “Recognize the value of accountability”

There was also some lively discussion around salary equality. A few of the panelists recounted how they had to deal with managers who rationalized lower salaries as the individual panelists were not “primary breadwinners” for their families. One panelist shared how disappointment about being passed over for a prime position motivated her to hone her negotiation skills and arrive at the table armed with salary information and firm expectations.

Although this was billed as a “Women in Biotech” panel, the West Coast Chapter hopes that both women and men can use the panelists’ experiences to grow their own careers in industry.

PDA Who's Who

  • Jacquelyn Chester, Associate Director, Commercial Quality Assurance, Gilead Sciences
  • Janet Hsu, Executive Director, Development Sciences Compliance, BioMarin
  • Beth C. Keij, Senior Director, QA, Sangamo Therapeutics
  • Patricia Lufburrow, Head, Biologics Product Quality Management, Roche/Genentech
  • Kathleen Meyer, Vice President, Nonclinical Development, Sangamo Therapeutics
  • Carolina Valoyes, Director, QA, Boehringer Ingelheim
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