iSpeak Blog

24 Hours of Women in Pharma: ‘Speaking Up’ Tips and Discussion Launch the Event

Susan Sandler
24 Hours of Women in Pharma

Twenty-four hours of sessions, mentor circles, book clubs and more with ISPE Women in Pharma® (WIP) took place on 27–28 October. The event had almost 160 registrations for the virtual event, which brought together ISPE members around the world for interactive opportunities to learn and exchange ideas.

The opening webinar on 27 October set the tone for the day: a session on “speaking up.” The focus was on women gaining confidence to be part of the conversation through which they contribute to the workplace, as well as speaking up in situations where they take an alternate viewpoint or in defense of maternity leave, working from home, and other issues.

Tanya Sharma
Partner At Assurea, Steering Committee Women in Pharma
Assurea, LLC
Jennifer Lauria Clark, CPIP
VP, Sales and Account Relationship Management
Vivianne J. Arencibia
Vice President, Global Quality Systems and Compliance

Tanya Sharma, Principal Consultant, Assurea LLC, and International Mentor Circle Leader for Women in Pharma® , served as session leader. Jennifer Lauria Clark, Executive Director for Strategic Development, CAI, and Chair of the Women in Pharma® Steering Committee and Vivianne Arencibia, President and Owner, Arencibia Quality and Compliance Associates, LLC, and Co-Chair of the Women in Pharma® Steering Committee , presented tips, and discussed their experiences with the process of determining when and how to speak in meetings, becoming more comfortable presenting ideas to senior executives and others in a group setting, and how to present alternate viewpoints in a professional way.

The Importance of Women in Pharma®

Sharma reminded attendees about the importance of Women in Pharma® : it gives women a chance to grow and learn from peers, and spreads awareness among men and women to promote women in leadership positions. Women in Pharma® provides the opportunity to build leadership skills and participate in professional development. She noted that to date WIP has participants in 25 countries .

Women in Pharma®’s mission statement

ISPE Women in Pharma® (WIP) provides women in the pharmaceutical industry a forum for connecting and collaborating on technical and career advancement topics. Women in Pharma’s inclusive community leverages a network of mentors, role models, and resources across all levels to foster balanced professional success.

The opening webinar ties to Women in Pharma® ’s mission, Sharma said. The takeaway: “Your ideas are just as important as other people’s ideas,” she said, adding that how your performance is valued may depend on speaking up.

Both Clark and Arencibia are mothers and in their initial remarks during the session, both reflected on parenting challenges experienced during pandemic life. Arencibia said that it can be challenging to come together with her four children, but they have made music the common ground for this, with virtual performances via Zoom during Sunday lunches to connect. Clark addressed her challenges with life during the pandemic as part of a response to one of the questions that were posed to both participants by Sharma during the webinar.

Questions and Answers

What would you do when your ideas are dismissed or you are not given the opportunity to present your perspective while male colleagues present theirs?

“I ask, is it something worth speaking up about now, or can it wait until later,” Clark said. “Gauge the conversation, read the room, pause and reflect, and wait for the entry point to make your point. In meetings, it is perfectly acceptable even if it is two topics later to wait for an entry point, then say you would like to revisit the topic.” She noted that she has not ever felt that she has intentionally been dismissed in a meeting; instead, people can become very excited about the conversation and that may be the reason for difficulty in getting the chance to make your contribution.

Arencibia agreed, adding “Making sure your point is heard, provided that you actually have a point to make and that it adds to conversation, not just because you want to be heard or noticed.” She has used the approach with certain executive-level discussions where she may have been the only woman in the room or perhaps one of two women by interjecting, “I want to go back to that issue, I want to add to this and bring up a different perspective.” Your role in the organization or conversation may have an impact as well, she said. For instance, a past role of hers in compliance may have made some people in some discussions reluctant to hear what she had to say because she was in that role.

No matter what the dynamics or your role, Arencibia said, “Be authentic. Don’t try to mimic what others are doing or saying.” She suggested that if you are uncomfortable because you are in a room with executives or technical leaders, jot down your points so you can remain focused.

Responding to Two Difficult Scenarios

Several scenarios were set for an audience poll and then discussion. The first scenario: attendees were to imagine you are returning from maternity leave, entering a meeting, and heard people talking about you and the ability to work part time and how you got the deal to work remotely. How would you react?

Most attendees chose the option of speaking privately after the meeting with the person who was saying the negative things to share your feelings, rather than confronting them during the meeting or going to human resources.

The second scenario used the same situation except you are at a meeting and hear colleagues saying negative things about another colleague. This time the reactions by the attendees were more varied: the two most common responses were to either speak up during the meeting or take the speaker aside privately after the meeting.

“All of us have gone through similar scenarios,” Arencibia said, noting this is very personal and real to her because of having four kids and returning to work from maternity leave. In fact, she said she minimized opportunities to work from home for most of her career because she felt she could be discriminated against because of this, or would have been passed over for projects and opportunities.

“Talk about this distracts from your opportunity to provide input,” she said. Arencibia said she would raise the issue of not being able to provide input to the team leader or supervisor after the meeting, noting that returning from maternity leave had nothing to do with the ability to address the issue at hand. She observed that different cultures may view this scenario differently, including some cultures where return to work after having a baby may not be as culturally acceptable as in other locations.

As to the second scenario of being in the room while another woman is negatively talked about for having been on leave, she said she has seen this happen. “I would deflect some of it to say working from home does not mean not working—you are working under different circumstances. I would say when I have worked from home, I always ended up working more, so kudos to the person for doing it. The idea of avoiding conflict is important—not that you do not speak up, but you do not want to do it in a manner than seems adversarial, chastising, or scolding. Bring it in subtly but still get the point across. The objective is to be heard, not to make a point about why you are not being heard. I found that worked quite well.”

Clark said she agreed with much of what Arencibia said, adding that there may be a concern about how you will be perceived if you speak up and confront the group. It may depend on what group you are in; she said her preferred approach would probably be a private conversation depending on the meeting. She added, “I would try to go back and understand the root cause: why is so-and-so making a big deal about me working from home? What’s going on with them? A lot of the time, it is probably not about you. If you hear someone talking about a colleague, pause and take a deep breath. There is an appropriate way to speak up in a meeting.” Sometimes a private setting is best to ask questions to understand why people are making comments.

“Healthy conflict is ok in business,” Clark continued. “It is ok to speak up to get your point across. It is in the tone and how you present yourself while communicating that message.” You can be polite and still get your point across, she said.

Arencibia recalled a time when she did speak up in a meeting when a colleague wanted to talk by saying “I think my colleague needs to speak.” She was called out afterwards for being inappropriate—but that the leaders appreciated that she highlighted that the other person was not being heard. Cultural elements may have come into play, and Arencibia was meeting with new leadership during this meeting.

Some Examples of When You Did Not Have Confidence to Speak up

Clark recalled a time when she served on an international board earlier in her career with just three women among a group including many men. She was not sure about speaking up on a point where she was unsure if she was right or wrong, but she wanted to get her point across. It was an “internal battle of whether I was confident enough to speak.” Ultimately, she did ask her question, and after the meeting, another woman on the board thanked her for speaking up, saying she had the same question and was timid about raising it. A man who had been at the meeting said that no man would ever be afraid to say something at a meeting. “I wondered if it was me lacking confidence,” Clark said, and she said she is glad to be able to help other women gain confidence to speak up through WIP. Now she is confident to speak as long as she is prepared and has talking points, she noted.

Arencibia agreed about the importance of speaking up, especially when there is something happening in your personal life that is important for colleagues to understand. She recalled when she was expecting her first child, she had just gotten a promotion and was afraid to let her colleagues know that she was pregnant so she hid her pregnancy for six months. “Speaking up comes in a lot of different ways. Understand your rights, advocate for yourself,” and know that a pregnancy should not influence your value to the organization.

“It is important to speak up in all circumstances,” she emphasized. “I tell every woman I mentor: speak up for yourself, advocate for yourself, and make sure your voice is heard no matter what the situation.”

Clark noted that working for an organization that supports the ability to share your viewpoint can be significant. Her company, CAI, advocates for speaking up and makes it clear that it is ok to express different viewpoints. “If you find yourself in an organization where you are not allowed to speak up, or you have tried with not very much success, you may need to look at finding a different organization to work with,” she said. “There are lots of places out there where your voice will be heard.”

What lessons do you have that tie into speaking up at your workplace when you have competing priorities? How do you manage home and work lives?

As a single mother of four, Arencibia said she is “incredibly focused on where to spend time outside of the home.” She has started her own business, which is successful, and she has learned from this. “Know yourself, advocate for yourself. When speaking up, make sure it is for the right reasons. You don’t have time to grandstand or take on things because you want to get noticed. Projects you take on are important to you and the work to do.” She appreciates that she has the choice to take on projects that are meaningful to her.

Motherhood has also been a good instructor in communicating with others in the workplace. “With four kids, I have learned that when everyone is speaking, no one is listening,” she said. “Helping my kids learn to speak and listen to each other was a skill I took into the workplace.”

Clark agrees that communication approaches that work with her two children can have value at work. “If I can convince a 9 and 11 year old, I can probably convince an executive team,” she said.

Clark shared her challenges since the pandemic’s onset and the steps she has taken for self care and the care of her family. The change in her work dynamic from a high travel situation to being home with all the related pandemic challenges of home schooling, being supportive of her husband’s new business, and the pressures of the pandemic created a stressful situation for her. A colleague saw that she was challenged and said that she needed to speak up and take some time off for her health. She called her boss to see what the impact might be to the company if she took some time off, and then took a five-week sabbatical. This gave her the restorative time to care for herself and her family. “If someone had not spoken up for me, I’m not sure that would have happened,” she said. If faced with a situation at home or work, she encouraged attendees to find someone you trust to talk with.

Closing Thoughts

“As long as you are authentic and genuine and respectful, there is always an appropriate time to speak up,” Clark said. “You just have to navigate and understand when that is. Be brave and speak up for yourself; no one else will.”

This is the purpose of WIP, Arencibia said. “It is finding the opportunity to connect with women, learning how to deal with difficult situations, and becoming in charge of yourself, your career, your personal life, and to build confidence, which is built from experience.”

Sharma wrapped up the session by noting that WIP is growing, with global representation, and offers opportunities to network and engage on issues such as those discussed during the webinar. “We need more people to speak up about their experiences and share them with us!”

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