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The Importance of Mentors, and the History of the ISPE Women in Pharma® Mentor Circle Program

Lori K. Kim
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I have always been a big advocate of mentoring – both being a mentor and a mentee. As great mentors frequently remind us, no one cares about your career more than you and you need to actively manage it. Mentors can help in numerous ways. One lesson I learned from mine is that networking is key to broadening knowledge, developing your career, and widening your circle of personal and professional relationships – those who will support and advocate for you throughout your career -- and help identifying your career goals for the short and long term.

In the Fall of 2018, Jeannine Hillmer and I, both strong advocates of mentoring, started our journey of developing an ISPE Women in Pharma® Mentor Circle program. We were both very excited and motivated at the fact ISPE Women in Pharma® leadership was a big advocate and sponsor of this new program. The ISPE Women in Pharma® community has a great forum where members are encouraged to share information and knowledge, and support each other for career development. Clearly, networking was important to them and enjoyed by the community.

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We recognized that there are many mentoring programs, both in and outside of our industry. Many companies have mentoring programs – both of us had been involved in some of these. However, those we had experienced often forced matching – mentors and mentees were randomly placed together, and sometimes, their personalities and/or approaches differed, and the relationship was not sustainable. We decided the ISPE Women in Pharma® Mentor Circle program would provide a circle of people – mentors and mentees – that would come together and talk as small groups. From those groups, 1:1 mentor relationships could be created naturally, with people choosing who they felt most comfortable and aligned for working with. In addition, we recognized that anyone could be both mentor and mentee, which is also unusual and could likely work better when meeting in a circle setting. After speaking with Women in Pharma® leadership, which was fully behind the idea of starting this unique opportunity, the ISPE Global Women in Pharma® Mentor Circle Program was established, with Jeannine serving as the first International Mentor Circle Leader.

Once starting the program, we developed surveys to gauge ISPE members’ interests in the Mentor Circle program. The survey outcome helped create a Mentor Circle roster by geographic region across the globe. These surveys helped individual Chapters and Affiliates learn who would join the program and what topics they wanted to discuss in the Mentor Circles, and whether they preferred being a mentor, mentee, or both.

As the global program started shaping up, I started initiating Greater Midwest Chapter Chapter Mentor Circle, working with a few fabulous enthusiastic colleagues (Dave McAlonan, Beth Brock, Brandon Clough). Our chapter started our program with launching membership survey.

The survey gave us some very valuable insight on why the members wanted to join our mentor circle program. It also gave us an opportunity to identify and prioritize key topics to address for the circle members.

Below are some examples of members’ input:

  • Gain broader insight about the pharma industry and how to navigate my career path.
  • Expand my network and meet other engineers within the industry to learn about their career paths to gain perspective on what other people have done in order to help me shape my career.
  • Share experiences with people regarding various industry employment/leadership.
  • Gain insights from other women in the industry, outside of my company.
  • Gain career development knowledge and recommendations.
  • Enhance my self-confidence and obtain career guidance and exploration, positive affirmations. Learn to be a better professional, how to advocate for myself in the workplace, how to navigate through workplace politics, how to handle constructive criticism.
  • Hear about different perspectives outside of my company, gain insight on different potential career paths, network.
  • Collaborate and learn.
  • Connect with women in Pharma within and outside of my company.
  • Build my network and learn about opportunities for career growth, technical expertise.
  • Mentor and learn from others.
  • Opportunity to give back.

Since the launch of the Greater Midwest Chapter mentor circle chapter, our team held two really successful Leadership Development programs: one in December 2019, when John Clapham, CEO of PSC Biotech, discussed the Path of Entrepreneurship, including the importance of your network, mentors and sponsors, key decisions, and how all of this might impact your career. Another, in September 2020, our Guest Speaker Sandy Chambers, Senior Director, Immunology Programs, Abbvie Inc., shared her experiences in Building Confidence through Self Awareness. These highly attended sessions attracted more than 200 participants from around the globe and Regional Mentor Circles resulted.

Overall, the ISPE Women in Pharma® Mentor Circle has been a great success across the globe. In addition to career and leadership development topics, Mentor Circles focused on technology, education, the BioPharma industry, entrepreneurship, confidence, and many more helpful and interesting topics. Numerous people joined, and networking sessions were often held following the Mentor Circles, thereby enabling participants to establish closer relationships with their fellow Mentor Circle Members.

Other early ISPE Chapters included San Diego, Delaware Valley, Boston Area, Carolina-South Atlantic, and soon after, numerous ISPE Chapters and Affiliates, including United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, and others, began sending out regional surveys and developing outreach programs to gain members. In August 2019, Mentor Circle training was created and Women in Pharma® toolkit development began. An official Mentor Circle Program launch and training program were held at the 2019 Annual Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada in early November 2019.

Since then, Mentor Circles have grown globally – more than 21 ISPE Women in Pharma® Mentor Circles are active around the world throughout the US and Europe, in Asia Pacific, including Japan, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines, in South America – Mexico, and Brazil – and in Eurasian countries including Russia.

The rest, as they say, is history – I’m excited about the future of ISPE Women in Pharma® Mentor Circles and can’t wait to see how far we can go, and how many people’s involvement, we can enjoy!

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