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Never Know What You Might Learn Over a Cup of Coffee

Brita K. Salzmann
Never Know What You Might Learn Over a Cup of Coffee - ISPE Pharmaceutical Engineering

Lessons Over Coffee

Mentorship is a key component in career growth that can be found in unexpected ways. Cultivating a range of mentors who offer unique lessons learned and insightful advice that can differentiate your career perspective. A year ago, I sought to broaden my network beyond formal mentoring. Instead of re-engineering the wheel, why not learn from the inspiring women who paved the way?

I sent my first invitation for a virtual coffee, wanting to keep the discussion as informal as it would be over a real cup of coffee despite being limited by location. Reaching out to a familiar or new mentor across the company each month facilitated a natural build on each conversation. Ready with coffee and a notebook, two open-ended questions kicked off each discussion:

  • How can I be a better engineer?
  • How can I position myself for success?

Each engineer had unique words of wisdom, but there were common pieces of advice that applied beyond engineering. Here are a few that inspired me:

  • Do not be afraid to speak up. Ask questions to learn what you do not know. It is important to have a voice in the room even if you have the least amount of experience on paper.

  • In line with Kerren Bergman’s past Women in Pharma blog, say yes to opportunities. Take on new challenges to foster growth. Go outside your comfort zone, tackle an innovative project or present at an external event. Say yes now, and figure it out as you go.

  • Network; make connections beyond your local bubble. Getting your name out there, joining professional societies and strengthening your connections will pay off in the short and long term.

Beyond the thoughtful guidance, the virtual coffees were unexpectedly energizing (excluding the caffeine). No one declined to meet or said they were too busy. Mentors were open about their career journeys, and the discussions fostered connections across the company. It is comforting to know a young engineer is not alone, and there are supporters for her along the way. This was a unique lesson learned in this experiment that gave way to a different perspective.

Take initiative in your career; you never know when it will spark something greater.

Going Beyond Coffee

The list of recommendations for other mentors to approach continued to grow. However, the one-on-one meetings came to a halt when something greater happened. After five months of virtual coffees, I was copied on an email from one of the mentors I recently met with that was titled “Women at CRB.” She wrote, “I’ve been thinking about this for a while … In November, I received an invite for a “virtual coffee” from a young woman engineer in California … I was thinking. Maybe we could do something similar [as a group]? … I’ll pick a random time in January and see how it goes.” I was elated to see this email and happy to be the young woman engineer to spark the idea. With a resounding “yes” across the email chain, that was the start of initiating a Women at CRB group.

We began with the idea to support women at the company for personal and professional growth. In a short amount of time, we created a mission statement and key objectives to define our group goals. Already there have been breakout sessions within different regions and offices that have started crucial conversations. There is no formal structure, only women volunteering their time to grow the foundation for Women at CRB with a true entrepreneurial spirit. It has been inspiring to be a part of something that has catalyzed into a companywide connection.

The first evidence of the group’s impact was the first companywide celebration of International Women’s Day and we are not stopping there. We still have work to do to make Women at CRB an official endeavor; however, when there are this many women involved there is no doubt we will reach our goals.

Women in Pharma® at ISPE also started with an idea to connect and empower women across the industry. It started with a group saying yes to the challenge. Today the Women in Pharma fosters inspiring initiatives, events, and mentorships across the globe.

If there is not something already in place, start it yourself! I encourage everyone to find a way to bridge across their company to connect with new mentors. Pull from collective experiences around you. You never know where a new connection will go, how a conversation will spark an idea, or how an email can start a movement. Reach out to one person who could energize your career, and invite her to grab a cup of coffee.