Diverse pharma and biotech pros mirror the world they serve
High stakes and strict regulations make this a complex industry
"I feel connected to the people who need these medicines." – Tracy Y. Morris, Boehringer Ingelheim
By Laurel A. McKee Ranger
'The pharmaceutical/biotech industry is committed to diversity and to connecting minority, women, and multilingual candidates with hiring managers. It's also shown a strong commitment to promoting women and minorities in the industry," says Lisa Alexander, founder and president of PharmaDiversity Job Board (www.pharmadiversityjobboard.com). "There are hundreds of IT and engineering jobs on the site," says Alexander, who describes the industry as a growing sector of the economy, particularly in the biotech area.
Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) data backs Alexander's view. The 2008 National Aggregate Report on the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry shows strong participation by women and minorities. In 2008, nearly half of those employed were women and 28 percent were minorities. But when minority participation was broken down further, the figures for African Americans and Hispanics showed a need for significant improvement. Only about 8 percent of industry employees were African American and 7 percent Hispanic, and their numbers in management positions were low. Asian Americans fared better, with 11 percent of the total industry workforce coming from this group, and higher numbers in management positions.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK, Research Triangle Park, NC) reflects the prevailing view of industry leaders on the benefits of a diverse workforce. CEO Andrew Witty explains, "We are trying to interact with a very diverse world. We are trying to sell medicines and consumer products to people in nearly every country in the world. There is a real business reason for diversity inside an organization. And different perspectives spark off each other to create something exciting."
Marlon Doles, global talent leader of inclusion and diversity at GSK, says technical hiring at the company is currently flat. But when the company does hire, Doles notes, "we hire IT professionals and engineers in all areas, from electrical, mechanical, chemical and biomedical engineers to data architects and software professionals and helpdesk employees."
Employees of GSK are encouraged to join its employee resource groups (ERGs). "ERGs are an integral part of achieving our strategic priorities: global talent management, individual empowerment and inclusion, and building trust and reputation," says Rick Schroder, manager of inclusion and diversity.
VP Kimberly Gooden strives for excellence at GSK
As a vice president in real estate and facilities at GSK, Kimberly J. Gooden is responsible for the company's Center of Excellence, Engineering and Compliance, and for corporate R&D sites.
Gooden's group of seventeen includes four direct reports. They ensure that facilities are maintained in a compliant manner, making sure that technicians who calibrate scientific equipment are properly trained, that procedures are followed, and that calibration data is inspection-ready.
They are also responsible for the lifecycle asset management for all site infrastructure. "We develop the strategy for maintenance and replacement for everything 'behind the walls,' like boilers, chillers and air handlers. We're also responsible for developing an energy strategy. We look for ways to reduce carbon emissions, water usage, and waste. Here at our North Carolina facility, we have two roofs with solar installations," says Gooden.
Gooden has a 1984 BS in engineering management with a mechanical engineering preference from the University of Missouri-Rolla, and a 1997 MBA from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She is also a certified Lean Six Sigma expert.
Evolution into her industry of choice
Gooden worked for General Motors Corporation (Flint, MI) from 1984 to 1990, starting out as a manufacturing and industrial engineer, then moving to maintenance supervisor. In 1990, she was hired by GSK as a supervisor in maintenance planning. Between 1994 and 2002, Gooden held a variety of positions, including project manager. In 2002 she became a Lean Six Sigma expert, and in 2003 was promoted to director of process improvement and operations support for U.S. site operations. She was named director of compliance policy and strategy in 2010, then was appointed to her current position in 2011.
Gooden grew up in Kansas City, MO, and originally wanted to be a pharmacy major. "But I found out it would take more than five years, so I went to my college advisor and he suggested engineering. He told me that the world would be opened up to me with an engineering degree."
She found that the skills she had developed in the auto industry were highly transferable, so when she saw an opportunity to work in the pharma industry, she grabbed it. "I'm now an engineer in the pharmaceutical industry," says Gooden.
Her start in the automobile industry was a challenge. "Imagine being a young African American woman in the 1980s, right out of college, working on a manufacturing floor in the auto industry. My success has been due to four key things: I strive for excellence in everything I do. I listen, learn and apply new skills to my job. I treat others with respect. And I have had great coaching and management support throughout my career.
"At GSK, our values of transparency, respect, integrity, and being patient-focused, have helped me a lot," says Gooden.
Today, Gooden's biggest challenges include the fast pace and frequent change within the regulatory environment. Because her group supports R&D, it must be agile and innovative in delivering efficient, cost-effective solutions without compromising quality. Compliance with regulations means more than just working with the FDA; there are international regulatory agencies involved as well. "We have to stay current with all the changes," she explains.
"But knowing that what I do is helping patients to do more, feel better and live longer is very satisfying and worth all the hard work," she says.
IT director Parul Doshi works for a bigger cause at MPI
Parul Doshi is the associate director of IT at Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Inc (MPI, Cambridge, MA), a company that focuses on oncology treatments.
Doshi's group consists of nine IT professionals, three of whom are direct reports. The group manages the business intelligence and integration platforms, which consolidate data for sales, human resources and financial analytics, including information about where each drug is sold. "Much of our work is in commercial analytics, and we support the data needs of the entire organization," Doshi says.
Sales in the pharmaceutical industry follow a very different model from most other industries. "Ours is not a direct sales force. Our sales reps go out and talk to physicians about the benefits of our products, and then the physicians may or may not prescribe or order the product. We have information sessions for physicians, lunch-and-learns, and advisory boards as well," Doshi explains.
Because it is highly regulated, the pharma industry also poses unique challenges for IT professionals. "We have to report to federal and state agencies. The whole regulatory environment is different. My group is responsible for ensuring that all spending data for Millennium is available for compliance reporting," she says.
Doshi's group also provides the integration infrastructure for areas like R&D, medical, and the pharmacovigilance group.
Doshi received a BA in economics and statistics from Maharanis College at the University of Rajasthan (Jaipur, India) in 1996 and an MBA in IT and finance from the Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India (Pune, India) in 1999. After graduating, she took a job with Patni Computers, a software company in Mumbai. A year later she was transferred to Boston where she worked on a number of projects for Patni. She began working for MPI as a contractor in 2004 and was offered a fulltime position as a senior software engineer in 2005. In 2007, Doshi was promoted to lead software engineer, but by the following year she had decided to move from the technical career track into management. She was promoted to associate director in 2010.
Doshi was drawn to IT by its logical nature and picked up most of her skills on the job. But she has always been good at analyzing data. She enjoys working in the pharmaceutical industry because she feels as if she is working for a bigger cause. "All of us have been touched by disease in one way or another," she says.
A diverse workplace
Although IT can be a male-dominated world, Doshi observes, "at MPI, the majority of the workforce is female. At times, eighty percent in a conference room will be female. The population here is also very diverse. I never feel like a minority here. And as a woman, I have had opportunities to participate in programs and organizations that men can't join. I have been a member of the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association, and this year I was nominated for a leadership program at Women Unlimited."
Doshi, who grew up in Jaipur, India, has an infant daughter, and when she has a chance, enjoys working for Saheli, an organization dedicated to preventing violence against women in India.
Stephen Gansler, senior VP of human resources at MPI, says, "Just as we emphasize the value and strength of a diverse pipeline of drug candidates, we also value diversity among our colleagues. Millennium believes that a diverse workforce enhances the performance and success of an organization. We take pride in our commitment to cultivating an environment where each of us can excel."
McKesson's Shivani Sharma: constant learning in a quickly evolving environment
Shivani Sharma is the director of accounts receivable for McKesson Corporation (San Francisco, CA), a distributor of pharmaceuticals, healthcare products, equipment and technology to pharmacies and healthcare providers. Sharma provides support for the company's biggest unit, U.S. Pharma, and leads a team of forty managers and analysts.
"My job is to lead AR and bring in the technology to solve business problems and support reporting, analytics, and recently, an SAP platform upgrade. Most recently we were involved in a financial supply chain management project, implementing and upgrading technology to streamline payments from collections and dispute management. The system helps manage the workflow of the disputes across the organization. We also manage the web portal that customers use to make payments," Sharma says.
Accounts receivable in the pharmaceutical industry is complex. McKesson deals with national retail chains that may use multiple customer accounts or may operate on a corporate level. Every retail customer operates differently. "The bill-to-ship-to structure of the account has to accommmodate that. There are cross-reference issues; customers need proper DEA certification for certain types of medication. This is unique to pharma, and it is why the technology aspect is so important," says Sharma.
An early career
When she graduated from high school in 2000, Sharma's parents were considering going back to her native India, so she put off college and started working full time at McKesson as a contracts specialist. In 2004, she became a business analyst in contract administration, then in 2005, a manager.
She earned a BS in finance from the University of Texas-Dallas in 2006. McKesson provided educational assistance, and she completed the degree in four years. She picked up her technical skills while working and through professional training.
In 2007, Sharma was promoted to senior business analyst and project manager for customer rebates and in 2010, to senior manager of AR, then to her current director position. In 2011, she received an MBA from the University of Texas-Dallas, and she became ITIL Foundation-certified this August. She received her PMP certification from the Project Management Institute in 2010.
Today Sharma speaks flawless English, but initially she found it difficult to adjust to life in the U.S. "I grew up in Bhopal. After eighth grade, we moved here to the Dallas area. Although I had learned English in India, it was British English and the language here was very different. I would turn on the TV and I couldn't understand a word," she remembers.
Her challenges today are more technical. "The large size of our company and the quickly evolving nature of technology make keeping up with everything difficult. It takes time to get the business case communicated; by the time everything gets approved, the technology may have evolved further. We attend technical and professional conferences to keep up," Sharma says. "But I get satisfaction from providing value and efficiency and bridging the gap between business and IT."
Sharma is a member of the company's women's leadership support group, which provides support for career development and does community outreach.
Tracy Y. Morris helps R&D do its best work at Boehringer Ingelheim
Tracy Y. Morris works for Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals (Ridgefield, CT), which develops and markets a broad range of medications. Morris' equally broad title: "associate director, IS service development and delivery, chemical and biological services, and data management and process support services," means that she helps support the systems used to develop many therapies, working with her team of six direct reports.
"I ensure that the people working in research, development and medicine (RD&M) have the technology and infrastructure required to do their jobs, and that it is functioning at its best," says Morris. "We provide and maintain the systems and backend support. Although we use many off-the-shelf programs, we often customize the software to meet our end-user needs."
Morris manages and identifies solutions, and promotes services such as software and hardware solutions to her client community in RD&M. Accuracy is critical in this area, and validation essential. "Even our processes have to be validated, and everyone must have the appropriate training. When the FDA is involved, the validation of systems and processes can take up to six months," Morris explains.
One of Morris' current projects is sourcing cost-effective chemicals and compounds from around the world.
This year Morris' department began transitioning from an IT focus to an IS focus, which places greater emphasis on the overall service aspect of the work. "Developing applications from end to end is pricey. So understanding the business partners and their needs is increasingly important," she explains.
Making her way to pharma
Morris began her career in IT in 1996 working with News America Marketing (New York, NY). She picked up her technical skills on the job and through certifications. In her last role at News America, she worked as a Siebel administrator. In 2003, she came to Boehringer Ingelheim as a Siebel admin supporting as many as 3,000 salesforce users. She began taking courses, with Boehringer Ingelheim covering the cost of tuition. In 2009, she received a BS in business administration from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT. Morris is now pursuing an MBA from Fordham University (White Plains, NY).
Morris was a Siebel administrator for four years before an opportunity opened up on the science side. She was happy to make the switch. "It's a big change supporting a science-focused organization. Initially I supported the chemical development group, doing project management and software support. I had to go into the labs to install software and troubleshoot issues. I wore a lab coat and goggles; that made me feel more connected to the pharma industry," says Morris.
Morris, who is African American and grew up in Stamford, CT, was drawn to IT from the start. "I was fascinated with troubleshooting software and hardware problems. In many ways it felt like solving a mystery," she says. "My IT support of the scientists who continue to find new and improved treatments allows me to feel connected to those who need these medicines to provide them with a better quality of life."
Being a woman in a male-dominated field has posed a few challenges. "Often societal or family conditioning makes it difficult; 'girls are polite,' 'girls don't act too aggressively.' But when you're dealing with male counterparts, you have to break out of that. Early in my career, when I used to lug hardware around, I had to be just as able as my male counterparts, if not more, just to prove I was able to handle myself."
Pooja Mehta creates tools for colleagues at Life Technologies
Pooja Mehta is director of IT and global human resources technology for Life Technologies (Carlsbad, CA), a biotechnology company that provides reagents and instruments for biological research.
"I support the HR function: all the systems and processes, employee benefits, pay, social media platforms, and tools that increase productivity and help our employees collaborate at work. We also support the company learning and development programs that allow employees to get proper training worldwide. In a heavily regulated environment, this is an extremely important function," Mehta says.
Collaboration tools are also vital in a company with R&D sites around the world where employees speak different languages. "We use an internal Facebook-like system that allows collaboration." Mehta's team is also putting in a YouTube-like system that will facilitate video sharing and collaboration. For example, R&D groups could record experiments and share them with peers. Salespeople could record how products are being used by customers to help with product design and development.
"We've been revamping our entire technology stack and providing a roadmap for all our employees for the next two to three years. We've redone the HR technology suite," she reports.
Mehta has a 1997 BS in microbiology from the University of Mumbai and a 1998 post-graduate diploma in medical technology from that university as well. She has held six other roles in her nine years at Life Technologies.
"I started in mergers and acquisitions, which was a lot of fun! Then I had a business excellence role where I got my Six Sigma black belt. After that I became a senior manager for ERP systems and worked my way up to ERP director. I went on to become director of software quality for IT," says Mehta. She has been in her current role for two years.
Mehta grew up in Mumbai and came to the U.S. in 1998. She got an internship with AT&T working on installing cable modems, then worked for IBM as a network engineer for a year. From there she went to GE Healthcare in Milwaukee, WI to manage IT applications. This was followed by a role in project management.
"When I first came to the U.S., my passion was medicine, but there was a huge push around Y2K. IT seemed so exciting, and my husband was in the field and encouraged me to look into it," she says.
In 2003, Mehta joined Life Technologies, in part for its California location, but also because it was a smaller company. "I wanted to gain more entrepreneurial skills. I've seen this company grow from 4,000 employees to more than 10,000."
Mehta has seen a lot of change in the IT industry. "Engineering and technology are still dominated by males, but at Life Technologies we have a very inclusive environment. Every day I see more women entering this field without fear, and it feels good," she says.
Mehta received an MVP award in her Six Sigma class and a CIO impact award in 2006.
Sanofi's Valerie Francis: moving through with success in mind
"I am on a team of eight people, and I'm the only African American and the only woman," says Valerie A. Francis.
Her confidence and skills were noticed by a colleague, and after shifting career gears, Francis is now the director of commercial operations in information solutions (IS) for Sanofi Pasteur (Swiftwater, PA), a division of the Sanofi Group (Bridgewater, NJ).
Although the overall company develops, produces and markets a variety of pharmaceuticals, the division Francis works for is involved in developing, marketing and selling vaccines for children and adults.
"We work to prevent diseases like influenza, meningitis, pertussis and rabies. We are working toward eradicating disease, and we save millions of lives each year. But there are still millions who die because of lack of access to vaccines. Our vision is a world in which no one dies of a vaccine-preventable disease," says Francis.
As director of commercial operations IS, Francis supports sales and marketing functions and manages the CRM platform, a tool that handles information on the company's customers in the U.S. and Canadian markets. She is also responsible for the data analytics used across the Americas region.
Francis' team develops technical solutions that help the sales force capitalize on sales opportunities and serve their customers. Using analytics to make key business decisions has become essential for the marketing and sales organization, she notes. "Automation, mobile capabilities, and ease of use are key requirements when developing solutions. We design applications that allow the sales reps to perform any task and receive information no matter where they are, in a doctor's office or in their cars," explains Francis.
Francis has a team of five direct reports and twelve contractors who support both CRM and data analytics. "It's a fast-paced group. Change is constant, driven by both internal and external pressures. We have to be prepared for the 'what ifs' and we need to be aware of what's going on so we can design systems that are flexible enough to handle change to support the company's future needs," she says.
A career shift by chance
Francis grew up in Mount Vernon, NY, and received her bachelors in fine arts from Hunter College (New York, NY). During college, she interned at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and interior design firms. After graduating, she worked as an account exec for a contract furniture dealer in New York City.
In 2000, Francis moved to Pennsylvania, where an opportunity opened up at Aventis Pasteur for a contract facilities manager. She was responsible for designing office space, procuring furniture and coordinating the installation. The company later became Sanofi Pasteur when it joined the Sanofi Group.
The vice president of IS was impressed by her ability as a facilities manager and convinced her that her skills could be translated into the IS department.
"I picked up the technical skills and built on my project management skills in the new role. Technology became the paint brush I used to turn business processes into system processes,"
In 2006, she was promoted to project leader for commercial operations IS, and in 2009, she became deputy director for the department. Francis took her present position in 2010, and is also pursuing an executive MBA from the Rutgers Business School (Newark, NJ).
Francis is happy with her move into the pharmaceutical industry and IT. She savors the opportunity to expand her knowledge and is fascinated by the world of vaccines. "I would like to make a difference, and here you can do that."
As a woman and an African American, Francis is "aware of who I am. That's the way I was raised. I have confidence and I'm optimistic. I approach challenges by looking for solutions," she says.
She hopes that her professional achievements will inspire other women and people of diverse ethnicities to succeed in IT. "I want to be a conduit," she says.
DIVERSITY-MINDED COMPANIES IN PHARMA & BIOTECH
Check websites for current listings.
|Company and location
|Baxter International (Deerfield, IL)
|Biotechnology, medical devices and specialty pharmaceuticals
|Biogen Idec (Weston, MA)
|Biological products for serious diseases
|Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals (Ridgefield, CT)
|Bristol-Myers Squibb (New York, NY)
|GlaxoSmithKline (Research Triangle Park, NC)
|Pharmaceuticals and consumer healthcare
|Life Technologies (Carlsbad, CA)
|Biotech reagents and instruments
|McKesson Corp (San Francisco, CA)
|Distribution of pharmaceuticals, healthcare products, equipment and technology
|Millennium Pharmaceuticals (Cambridge, MA)
|Pharmaceuticals for oncology
|Sanofi Group (Bridgewater, NJ)
|Pharmaceuticals, animal health (Sanofi Group), vaccines (Sanofi Pasteur)
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