5 Noteworthy Takeaways from Women in Leadership: LIVE!

10-11 Minutes

 In case the buzz passed you by, earlier this month, we had the pleasure of hosting our...

By Emily Davies

Senior Content Writer

 In case the buzz passed you by, earlier this month, we had the pleasure of hosting our much-anticipated event, Women in Leadership: LIVE!

If you joined us on the day – thank you so much! Your presence and engagement were instrumental in making this important conversation a success. For those who couldn’t make it, don’t worry! We’re here to provide you with five nuggets of wisdom from the event. (You can also catch the full session below!)

But just before we get into our key takeaways, for those fashionably late to the party, let’s rewind for a second and bring you up to speed…

Last year, we published our very first white paper, Women in Leadership in Life Sciences. The incredible response to our report fuelled our determination to keep the conversation alive, leading us to present our first follow-up event, Women in Leadership: LIVE, featuring the remarkable Kerry Randall, Global Head of Site Activation at IQVIA and our very own Hannah Haigh, CEO and Founder of Meet.

Both speakers had much to say on each of our key topics, so let’s dive into the five noteworthy gems we took away from the session…


1.    Balancing approachability and authority comes down to authenticity

As people step into leadership roles, juggling being approachable while still commanding authority becomes a tricky task without a clear guide. This challenge is compounded by the fact that leadership qualities are perceived differently depending on whether you’re a man or a woman.

What’s central to this dynamic is the concept of second-generation bias – a manifestation of invisible barriers that stem from cultural assumptions and organizational frameworks. Unfortunately, these structures, practices and patterns of interaction inadvertently favour men while placing women at a disadvantage. For this reason, women, in particular, often feel like they have to tread carefully when asserting authority.

Of course, it’s not all about gender stereotypes, but they certainly haven’t helped. That’s because the historical dominance of men in those high-powered roles has only reinforced the idea that authority is a masculine trait.

When asked how she handles balancing authority and approachability, Hannah emphasized the importance of authenticity. “I talk about authenticity all the time because I truly believe it is the fundamental value that will create equity and inclusion. Most people, if they’re being truly authentic, are approachable. It’s when we drop that authenticity guard that I think approachability starts to become compromised as well. So, a lot of it for me is about authenticity and genuinely active listening as well. You are much more likely to be approachable and authentic in your response if you are actively listening and surrounding yourself with content and views and opinions that mean you’re getting the information to be able to make the decisions as a leader that you won’t be a subject matter expert in by its nature.”

Similarly, Kerry highlighted the significance of creating an environment where authenticity breeds respect for authority, “I think having that ability to create a culture where you are approachable because it is authentic, where you’re creating a safe space for people to come in and say ‘yep, hands up, I’ve made a mistake, and this is what I’m going to do about it,’ that lends itself to the situations where you need to step up as a leader and be a bit more directive. There’s more receptiveness to that.


2.    Mentorship relationships don’t need to be formalized

Throughout the writing of our white paper, Women in Leadership in Life Sciences, one glaring issue kept cropping up: the lack of mentorship opportunities for women. A key reason for this gap is that mentors often tend to select mentees who remind them of themselves, and given the fact that more men sit in these top leadership positions, women end up missing out.

Yet, for anyone climbing the leadership ladder, you need more than just skills – you need a supportive network to learn from. As Kerry wisely puts it, “Mentors, coaches and people you can lean on are so critical to wherever you’re at in your journey. And she’s completely right. Research even shows that having a mentor increases your chances of landing a promotion.

Expectantly, throughout our Women in Leadership: Live event, advice on finding and acquiring mentorship was the liveliest topic of conversation amongst our audience. As Kerry and Hannah both have heaps of experience as mentors and mentees, they came equipped with advice for our community.

First off, they stressed that mentorship doesn’t have to be this formal, structured, defined relationship it’s so often viewed to be. In fact, from their experience, anyone who’s made a lasting impact on you, challenged your thinking, and presented different perspectives that have helped steer your career in the right direction can be a mentor.

In the same breath, Hannah emphasizes the importance of cultivating these relationships organically rather than waiting for a structured mentorship programme to match you up. Kerry also suggests casting your net wide by looking for mentors outside your immediate circle. She believes that engaging with those from diverse backgrounds and working styles can be incredibly eye-opening and offer rich learning potential that you might not necessarily encounter by staying in your usual domain.

But how do you actually go about finding these mentors if you’re not relying on an official mentorship programme?

Reflecting on her own experiences, Hannah urges you to reach out to those who inspire you. She says, “I encourage women to put down those barriers and get yourself out there. Don’t wait for it to be delivered to you, and absolutely take advantage of the people you can surround yourself with that will just elevate your mind and your career.”

Kerry echoes this sentiment by urging you to connect with people whose stories resonate with you, commenting, “If you find somebody that inspires you, whose path has been really interesting and that you think you can learn from, just jump in, introduce yourself and ask the question. You can reach outside of your organization but also within; just ask the question.”

And what’s so great about the world of Life Sciences is that it’s so interconnected, with plenty of events that bring together people from all different businesses with different therapeutic backgrounds and different skill sets. So, the next time you find yourself rubbing elbows with inspiring individuals, think of Kerry, as she says, “Is someone really going to be offended if you reach out to them and say ‘hey, I was really inspired by your presentation?

In a nutshell, mentorship isn’t about formality – it’s about building real connections and learning from each other. So go ahead, reach out and watch your career flourish.


3.    We need to normalize the truth about balancing careers with parenthood

For many women, the idea of balancing parenthood with a career can feel like trying to juggle too many balls at once. Plus, the prevailing organizational structures assume that mothers will prioritize home life over their careers, and this mindset can leave many feeling overlooked or anxious about their professional futures.  

In fact, our white paper research found that an enormous 42% of women worry about how children will affect their careers, and a staggering 48% of new mothers believe they’re overlooked for career advancement because they’ve had children.

When asked about the pressure of balancing her career and being a mother, Kerry admitted, “For me, I put a lot of pressure on myself. It wasn’t society; it was me. I wanted to be all things. definitely tried to do it all, and it took a little time to realize that something’s got to give.”

Similarly, Hannah reflected on her pre-parenthood mindset, saying “Prior to having children, I thought an inordinate amount about timing, and if it all falls exactly into my plan, that would be the best way of doing it. What I’ve realized is there’s no such thing as a good timeit’s about navigating the seasons of life.

While things are slowly changing to accommodate modern-day parents in the workforce, Hannah notes that true parity remains elusive. She highlights the financial disincentives surrounding shared parental leave, emphasizing the need for systemic change to foster true equality.

Now that both Hannah and Kerry are seasoned mothers with thriving careers, they share their wisdom on striking an equilibrium that works. For Hannah, it’s all about accepting that balance isn’t always achievable and being okay with that. She says, “It ebbs and flows, and there is almost a real acceptance of that in order to be able to get satisfaction in both parts of your life. You have to accept that you can’t aspire to just perfect balance because it simply doesn’t work like that. I say all the time the juggle is real, but I wouldn’t want to be without either. We’ve got to encourage a future where women aren’t expected to just create the perfect balance because the expectation of that is just enormous.”

For Kerry, as a female leader in Life Sciences, her goal is to normalize the challenges of being a working parent. She actively challenges outdated notions of work-life separation by unapologetically prioritizing her family and encouraging others to do the same. She says, “I think before, it’s almost like you’re expected to work like you haven’t got a family and parent like you haven’t got a job and that’s just impossible. The two have to coexist, and for me, that’s being very open about it so others can look and think, ‘Well, if she can do it, so can I.’

It goes without saying that parenthood poses its own set of challenges, but for aspiring, expectant and new mothers feeling the weight of societal pressure, Hannah offers reassurance: “It’s okay to say this is really hard; it’s really tough, but I want to do it. There is a fear that motherhood means you cannot pursue a career in quite the same way, and that’s what I’m dedicated to proving otherwise, I suppose. You can be professionally satisfied and professionally ambitious and have a young family.”


4.    Businesses have a responsibility to create an infrastructure that supports women through the menopause

Menopause is a natural phase of life that all women go through, and as we climb the career ladder into senior leadership roles, it can throw some unexpected curveballs our way. See, many of the symptoms associated with menopause, such as fatigue, brain fog, and mood changes, can have a direct impact on workplace performance.

Yet, for many women, discussing these challenges can feel daunting due to the fear of stigma. However, it’s crucial for businesses to step up and create environments where menopausal women feel supported and understood, allowing them to continue their work confidently and effectively.

Thankfully, as more women assume leadership roles and share their experiences, things are starting to change. Kerry talked about how, at IQVIA, they’ve been holding sessions on menopause to help everyone understand what it’s all about. She said, “It’s great to see the number of men attending. That shift we’re seeing is something we should really harness and encourage. Because we’re able to be more open about it, it’s become less of a taboo, and people can recognize and understand what somebody’s going through and the impact on performance. Then it’s about what you can put into place to support those individuals.

From a CEO’s perspective, Hannah emphasizes the importance of being proactive in acknowledging and understanding the challenges of menopause without prejudice so businesses can better support their employees. She says, “It’s all about making sure we understand the challenge. That we’re asking questions without any notion of bias or discriminatory outcome. Then we’re creating businesses that allow people to navigate these seasons of life in a way where they can get professional satisfaction and also navigate these things, which are just an embedded inevitable part of their future. I think the direct correlation between menopause and the impact on your ability to be a high-performance professional is something that means within a corporate environment, it needs to be much more understood.”

In essence, there’s a direct link between menopause and workplace performance that cannot be ignored. It’s time for businesses to prioritize education, awareness and support systems to ensure that menopausal women can thrive in their careers.


5.    Bridging The Gender Pay Gap in Life Sciences will be better for business performance

Throughout our white paper research, we uncovered an alarming reality: the Gender Pay Gap in Life Sciences doubled from 8% in 2022 to a staggering 16% in 2023, with women earning only 87% of what men earn in full-time roles.

What’s worse, women are also missing out on merit-based rewards, bonuses and equity shares. Despite the equal representation of men and women entering the industry and women holding the majority of Life Sciences degrees, they’re still lagging behind when it comes to recognition and compensation.

Hannah believes the solution lies in leadership commitment and genuine action, going beyond token gestures for ED&I. She comments, “I think it comes back to ownership and the drive to do it. We talk a lot about ED&I, and actually, it’s got to come from the top. It’s got to be seen as more than a box-ticking exercise and actually something that drives business outcomes.”

Highlighting numerous studies linking diversity and inclusivity to business success, Hannah stresses the imperative of reframing the conversation around gender equality. For her, it’s not just about fairness – it’s about unlocking the untapped potential of businesses, and in the context of Life Sciences, it’s a catalyst for driving superior performance and innovation. Speaking on the matter, she continues, “We’ve got to change the view that this isn’t just about equality so we can talk about equality; it’s about equality because it creates high-performing businesses. Then, if you connect that back to Life Sciences and the purpose orientation of what we do, what our partners deliver and execute on, if we can get gender parity and other ED&I subjects actually running alongside a belief infrastructure that it will drive high performance, I think so much more will change.


If you’d like to hear more from Kerry and Hannah about the opportunities and challenges facing Women in Leadership, watch our full session recording below. 

And for those interested in exploring more insights, you can grab the complete Women in Leadership in Life Sciences report – the driving force behind this conversation – by clicking the banner below!

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