InTouch
September / October 2019

Women in Pharma® at ISPE Focus on Balance

Susan Sandler
2019 ISPE Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing Conference: Women in Pharma® Focus on Balance - ISPE Pharmaceutical Engineering

The second day of the 2019 ISPE Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing Conference in Boston, 18–20 June, kicked off with the Women in Pharma® Balance for Better in Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing breakfast session. Session leader Katherine Leitch, Director of Technical Services, External Manufacturing, Alexion, led a discussion with four other panelists:

Placeholder Person Graphic
Christina Broomes
Director, Manufacturing
Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical Inc
Thomas A. Jede
Site Head / Senior Director, Vector Manufacturing
Bluebird Bio
Anne Kantardjieff, PhD
Director of Plasmids and Small Molecules
Vector Manufacturing Group, Bluebird Bio
Whitney Kutney
VP Operations
Valsource Inc

After each panelist presented, breakout sessions gave attendees the opportunity to offer their input into a range of questions posted for discussion.

Passion for Diversity

Broomes stressed that her passion for engineering is combined with a passion for diversity. She shared her journey into engineering, which began in high school, as an illustration of how to support diversity in engineering.

In response to the question, “In your experience, what are unique challenges in a manufacturing environment for working parents and how have you overcome them?” she said, “You learn as you go what’s best for you.” Her work in internal manufacturing could require 24/7 availability, but there are solutions that relieve the demands and allow time for having a family. She recommended, “Build relationships—internally, direct reports, peers, management. Understand that we all are human, and we are not available all hours of the day.” Communication as you build coverage is essential to ensure that the manufacturing operation can keep going but individuals can have a break. “You need balance, so you are not always on call,” she said. “It is important for people inside and outside of work to show that you can balance.”


Women in Pharma
Left to right: Whitney Kutney, Anne Kantardjieff, Tom Jede, Christina Broomes, Katherine Leitch, and Vivianne Arencibia, Independent Consultant, Arencibia Quality Compliance Associates, who introduced the session.


Leading by Example

Jede provided background on his own career and noted that he has been an ally and supporter of women and diversity in various workplaces because he experienced unique and diverse leaders as he was moving up. Building teams that are both great and diverse is important to him, and this value is shared at his current company, bluebird bio, which emphasizes family, future generations, and improved quality of life. His commitment to diversity has also been inspired by strong women in his personal sphere, including his grandmother, who came from Germany and built a career in manufacturing; his wife, a women’s studies major in college; and his daughters.

In response to a question about the benefits to a leader of having diverse teams, Jede said, “I have worked in startups, bringing new teams together, building the culture for what we want the startup to be. I’ve learned the benefit of having different perspectives.” He noted that the key leadership team at bluebird has equal numbers of women and men. He also highlighted the importance of team members feeling that their voices are heard and respected, employees having role models on the leadership team, and colleagues being able to rely on each other’s strengths. “At bluebird, people at all levels are emulating behaviors of strong female leaders, and this will benefit us over the years.”

Being a Role Model

Kantardjieff moved from a chemical engineering career into manufacturing. Her mother, who was an engineer, was her role model, and so engineering “was always what I wanted to do.” Now, Kantardjieff wants to be a role model for her two daughters and the industry, to inspire more women to become involved in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

When asked what advice she would give other female technical leaders to reach their full potential, she said, “Advocate for yourself. No one cares more about your career than you do.” After being told this early in her career, “that advice made me understand that I needed to be more vocal about the opportunities I wanted,” she noted. “I have grown in those roles where I was ‘voluntold’ or able to do something outside my comfort zone.”

Kantardjieff also advised engineers to grow their professional networks, suggesting that involvement in ISPE and other professional organizations is a great way to do this. Having mentors is also critical—when approaching someone to be your mentor, be clear on the time commitment and what you hope to get out of the mentorship, she said.

Finally, whether you are a woman or a man, the two most important competencies to develop are self-awareness—understanding strengths and areas you can develop—and agility. Opportunities may be a little different, and you need to be comfortable in taking on the challenge to something a little different. Kantardjieff looks for this trait in new team members.

Setting an Example

Kutney also is a chemical engineer who has moved into biotech. She wants her three children “to understand there are no constraints to them or their careers.” She was asked if she could go back in time and give herself advice, what would she say about women leaders in technical roles, and she replied that balance is key. “There is a way to manage everything. Understand your priorities, based on what is most important to you. Especially as a manager, someone else’s emergencies do not necessarily need to be your emergencies.”

“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” she emphasized. “Learn from them, this is most important. Escalate at the right time as needed. Ask for help.” Encouraging other team members is also very important, as is finding a manager or mentor who is interested in discussing your career and your advancement. Start to identify and train your replacement early in a job, so that you are able to move on to your next position when you are ready.

Ideas from Breakout Discussions

  • Help your team to identify opportunities that are good fits for their goals, things they are good at—individual plans are important.
  • It’s not what you know, it’s who knows you. In other words, become known so you will be asked to participate in projects.
  • Be a mentor; have a mentor.
  • Speak up: This gets easier as you become more established in your career.
  • Work-life balance is for everyone (not just parents). Don’t apologize for needing this balance.
  • Better communication makes life easier.
  • Educate kids at an early age, even in single-digit ages, to get them involved with STEM.
  • Your core values remain the same no matter where you are in your life or career. Trying to find a work-life balance is key to achieving your goals, whatever they are, at different stages of life. Rely on strong support systems to help get you there; also, rely on who you are and what’s important to you.
  • Set boundaries. Let people know how you expect to be treated, so people can treat you that way.
  • Stay calm under pressure.
  • Take responsibility—volunteer for tasks, and then deliver. People see what you are doing and make judgments.
  • People have weaknesses; be honest about yours.
  • Companies need a family-friendly human resources policy, with equal family leave and maternity/paternity leave opportunities for women and men.
  • Senior leaders need to set a standard. Leaders who take time off for vacations, to attend their kids’ soccer games, or for a doctor’s appointment show the people they manage that they can do the same.
  • Leadership needs to support change, and put structure around it, through initiatives such as diversity weeks and women’s career networks. These efforts make diversity a part of the workplace.

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