iSpeak Blog

When in Rome - Women in Pharma at 2018 Europe Annual Conference

Kelly M. Keen
Article - ISPE Pharmaceutical Engineering

I wrote this blog upon return from the 2018 ISPE Europe Annual Conference in Roma March 17-22. Over 800 attendees from 45 countries. The focus was on Pharma 4.0 and Factories of the Future. Unfortunately, there was not much of a Women in Pharma (WIP) presence in the session, but many supporters wearing our pins!

While site seeing in Rome, I visited some modern Architectural projects by Zaha Hadid, one of the most prominent females in modern architecture, Richard Meier, Santiago Calatrava and Renzo Piano. I am an architect by training who somehow fell into the biopharmaceutical industry.

In March, the #metoo movement hit my profession. Richard Meier was accused of sexual harassment charges over four decades of his career. To see that even people you idolized as a student can be guilty of disrespect towards women and abuse their power is heart-breaking. He stepped down as managing partner of his firm.

In contrast to Richard Meier, Zaha Hadid was truly a female pioneer in Architecture & Engineering. She was a designer trained 20 years before me when even fewer females ventured into architecture and she was from the Muslim country of Iraq where women have even fewer rights. She was luckily born into a prominent family and studied mathematics at the American University in Beirut before venturing into Architecture. Her project MAXXI in Rome was described by her as ‘a fluid kind of spatiality of multiple perspective points and fragments of geometry, designed to embody the chaotic fluid of modern life.

There is also a great TED talk that embodies how the world formed around us would be better if it had more female designers shaping our societies. 

I was in architecture school at a time when less than 10% of students were women and only half of them graduated in Architecture & Engineering. Many left the programs and started families before graduating and the competition was too fierce for some to succeed. Part of my curriculum I completed in Versailles, France where there were even less females in the studio. They still had unisex restrooms. Women were expected to be at home with their children.

Upon return to the US, I landed in Madison, Wisconsin, a very progressive Midwestern town. During the dotcom era I moved to California, a state even more ahead of the gender equality curve in the workplace, then 3 years ago, I moved back to Europe to Switzerland, where they did not allow women to vote until 1971. In some Cantons it was well into the 1990’s. Women in Europe have come far in the 25 years since I left, but not far enough.

Even as I sat through the ISPE keynote session, I realize there is only one woman on the panel and it is only because her boss could not make it. They have recently added two female Facility of the Year Awards (FOYA) judges this year. I am also happy to see other strong women on the ISPE International Board along side of me – Alice, Christine, Joann, Fran, and Fatyma. This is a clear opportunity for Women in Pharm and the role they play in providing:

  • A forum for connecting and collaborating on technical and career advancement topics
  • Opportunities to speak, deliver technical presentations, and contribute to panel discussions
  • A community of Women in Pharma mentors, resources across all levels, and educational sessions to be an enabler for career success and work-life balance

In the 2017 ISPE Annual Meeting in San Diego, as part of the Women in Pharma events I attended, it was surprisingly refreshing to share our stories with one another, knowing we are not alone in the struggle to elevate and strengthen the contribution of women.

Learn More About the Women in Pharma

The title ‘When in Rome’ means to follow the customs of those around you when in a foreign environment. It should not mean to engage in actions and behavior just because others are accepting of it in a place or in a profession. It is time to stand up and make sure our next generation of woman are prepared not to expect less than what is deserved. We need to promote each other and stand up for what is right in the profession.