Women in Bio: Career Advice from Industry Leaders at CSL Behring and GSK
June 12, 2020
June 12, 2020

This week’s Women in Bio webinar happened at exactly the right time for career development and advancement despite the backdrop of a disruption driven by a global pandemic and protests for long-overdue social change. But in times of uncertainty, listening to voices of experience is always the best way to reevaluate, reimagine a new path forward and reemerge stronger and more resilient. Elizabeth Walker and Paula Manchester from CSL Behring and Soo Son from GSK were those voices for us on the panel I had the privilege of moderating.

As the CHRO of the world’s third-largest biotech firm with more than 26,000 employees, Elizabeth knows a thing or two about what makes people tick and how to get them working together productively. In her opening remarks, she drove home the need for connection, community and unity—especially in the current climate.

CSL Behring is a company that thinks big, leading the charge on some world-changing initiatives like plasma-driven therapy and tapping into their flu vaccine expertise to push forward the search for a COVID-19 vaccine. So it’s little wonder that Elizabeth had some big thoughts on women in leadership positions. She remarked on how countries led by women have a bias for action, calm in the face of the unknown, and leadership styles built on equal parts strength and empathy.

Wisdom = Experience + Reflection

I really love this equation (and will be adopting it for future use) that Soo and Paula both brought to the forefront in their comments. Soo emphasized that wisdom is earned by taking a pause after an experience to think about what went well and where improvement is needed next time. Diving into specifics around her process for reflection around COVID-19, she questioned whether the pandemic was an opportunity to do something different by slowing down her typically hurried pace. We’ve all had that feeling of the years—and sometimes decades—flying by.

Now, with this additional time and little extra intentionality, she’s started journaling to reflect on the things that she’s grateful for. And Paula has actually been doing that very thing since fourth grade! The notion of journaling and writing has been both cathartic and empowering for her.

Knowing When to Take the Leap

Paula had been at Merck for nearly 25 years before moving to GSK and eventually to her current role at CSL Behring. During those two-and-a-half decades at Merck, her growth was steady and she refined and developed expertise over the course of different roles and under different leaders. When there’s that kind of history and comfort with an employer, it’s easy to stay, which begs the question: How do you know when it’s time to make a big change?

For Paula, it’s about failing—not avoiding it, but embracing it. If you aren’t failing at least 15% of the time, you’re likely not failing enough. Failure and growth go hand-in-hand, so those misses and deltas are an opportunity to maximize your upward momentum. When the failures stop, it’s time to leap.

“Networking” Is Not a Dirty Word

For some like Soo, the term “networking” can have a cringe-inducing effect,  since it can have a bit of a used car salesperson vibe to it. But reframing the definition helped her realize it’s really about building a network of allies who can help. Elizabeth reiterated the point when speaking about career success: It’s not what you know or who you know—it’s both.

What’s Next? Your List (and Mine) of Action Items from the Panel

I walked away from moderating this panel with a few important takeaways and things to work on:

  • Seek guidance from mentors, especially those with different perspectives from your own.
  • Say “yes” to new experiences that will broaden your knowledge base and push you outside of your comfort zone.
  • Check out Brené Brown’s podcast Unlocking Us.  
  • Start a journal and use it for daily reflection.
  • Create a close network and a not-so-close network; most opportunities for advancement come from the latter, and support to get there comes from the former.

And one more I’d suggest—keep an eye on Women in Bio‘s happenings and upcoming events for more opportunities like this one. It’s an organization I’m proud to be aligned with for all of the fantastic work they’re doing to empower women and their career goals.