iSpeak Blog

Saying "Yes" to Opportunity - Women in Pharma

Kerren Bergman


Life usually doesn’t turn out the way you expect. Most people, when asked, can identify points in their lives when they made a choice and took a certain path, and that changed all that was to follow. They chose a specific school to attend or career path, they took the challenge of an overseas assignment, they raised their hand for the opportunity to solve a problem and ended up finding themselves leading the department or even the company. At the time, their choice might not have seemed monumental, but it turned the tide of their lives significantly thereafter.

What’s behind those decisions is saying “Yes!” to the opportunity with courage and a little faith. I believe strongly that the more we increase our “Yes!” response to life, the more we achieve, the more diverse and challenging the path, and the greater our opportunity for success.

Almost everyone has heard of Steve Jobs, but have you ever heard of Steve Shirley? “Steve” is actually short for Stephanie – Dame Stephanie Shirley – a pioneer female entrepreneur in the 1960s and onward (look her up on Ted Talks). Ms. Shirley began what we’d basically now call a software company in the U.K., only the code was written by pencil and paper. When she started the company, 100% of her employees were women - writing code using math and statistics to model such things as freight train schedules, bus routes, and stock markets. And, she allowed the women to work from home! All they needed was a telephone (which not everyone had at that time). This extraordinary woman managed to build her company at a time when women in the U.K. couldn't even open a bank account without their husband's permission. She didn’t intend to build a billion-dollar company or change the path of many employees’ lives. She just said “Yes!” to solving a problem and figuring out that an incredibly talented pool of people was being underutilized - professionally qualified women who'd left the industry for marriage or when their first child was expected or who wanted to return to work after a career break. The opportunity she gave those women, to continue a professional career and work from home, was ground-breaking. In describing her success,

“When I started my company of women, the men would say, how interesting - it only works because it's small. And later, as it became sizable, they sort of accepted, yes, it is sizable now, but of no strategic interest. And later, when it was a company valued at over $3 billion and I'd made 70 of the staff into millionaires, they sort of said, well-done, Steve... You can always tell ambitious women by the shape of our heads. They're flat on top for being patted patronizingly.”Dame Stephanie Shirley

Ms. Shirley describes herself as ambitious and aggressive – a workaholic. I think she was also inclined to say “Yes” at a time when most were saying “No”. While never expecting the success that followed, she said yes to providing women with an opportunity for professional work, she said yes to starting a company and she said yes to fulfilling a purpose. In my own life, I never would have imagined I would rise to the level of VP and did not set that goal for myself. I always just tried to do the best job I could at whatever role I held and tried to solve problems. Looking in the rear-view mirror, I see how many times I said “Yes!” to the opportunities life presented me and that changed my path significantly, over and over again.

If you feel you aren’t getting the opportunities you’d like in your life and professional career, say “Yes!” to trying something new and take a leap of faith. Look for problems that need to be solved and volunteer yourself to take them on. You’ll grow in the process, whether you succeed or fail, and will add to the potential success that lies ahead. One of my favorite movies is a goofy film with Jim Carrey, called “Yes Man” (released in 2008). The main character agrees to say yes for a period of time to whatever opportunities come his way, and it ends up significantly changing his life: “The fact is, saying yes hadn't been a pointless exercise at all. It had been pointfull. It had the power to change lives and set people free... It had the power of adventure. Sometimes the little opportunities that fly at us each day can have the biggest impact.” The next time you’re faced with an opportunity to say “yes” or “no” to a situation, consider where the answer “Yes!” could lead you and how much you’ll grow in the process.

Wishing you great fortune and success in all of your endeavors!

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