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On 15th May, at the Macdonald Compleat Angler hotel, the Women in Biopharma Leadership network came together for an evening with Jenny Rossiter and Nadia Whittley as the keynote speakers.

Jenny and Nadia shared with us their career stories and lessons learned from a tapestry of experiences across roles, industries, countries and life-events, all of which inspired a rich conversation amongst our network around one common goal uniting us all – How to Futureproof your Career. The stories shared were as humbling as they were inspirational, securing the understanding that regardless of your unique journey, challenges faced and aspirations; we can learn so much from each other. A key factor that was explored throughout the session was the generational impact on our stories and how we must value these differences in age and, therefore, perspective, in order to succeed.

Jenny’s story:

“I’m a high achieving perfectionist – it got me where I am, but it also broke me. I drove myself into the ground, I burnt out. Stress is a silent epidemic – it took me by surprise.

I realised that I was lonely. I didn’t look after myself. It effected my mental health – I was exhausted and lost my purpose. I realised I’m human, not super-human. You need to notice and listen to signs [of burnout]. This effects high performing leaders. Don’t be ashamed and don’t be lonely. I got a puppy, then soon after got a boyfriend!
I realised I needed to trust my instinct more, don’t wait for the event to happen;
create the event. Future proofing is about future proofing ‘me’ – being me, keeping myself healthy and resilient.”

Nadia’s story:

“There are two different times that come to mind for me when thinking about future proofing my career – early and later-on in my career. Early on, my partner got offered a job in Paris when I was pregnant (we lived in Australia). Getting to Paris, having a child and then getting a job was a big curve ball. In Paris I had no network and didn’t speak the language. I’m extremely driven and have a plan for everything – I have always had a plan. I wanted to be a commercial exec in life science company. Having a plan works. My key learning here, however, was that the plan would not have happened without a network, because later-on in my career, I was made redundant. It made me re-think my plan. I needed a network, I had to be honest about my capability, and acutely aware that I’m a woman – which brings its own curve balls. I’m under no illusions that as a woman you are more likely to have to be involved in
caring for parents, children, etc. I also thought I was super-human and resilient and it never occurred to look after
myself. Be honest with what flexibility do you need and what skills can you offer. As women we have a whole set of skills that are unique to us.”

The discussion which followed shaped 4 key lessons for Futureproofing your career:

1.      Use your network

There is a real value to networking. At points of change, there is not necessarily a network around you. Making connections is so important, especially before you make big career choices. In fact, networking isn’t a great word for it – it’s more about connections – how do we stay connected. You tend to find that women don’t network as easily as men do, but everyone has something to offer, irrespective of your gender, generation or any other demographic factor- it is important to understand mindsets and that must work both ways. Don’t forget who you are, it’s an asset. Don’t shy away from your skills that make you different as a woman. Use them. Sell them. It’s who you are.
Network with men as well as women – they make up a big percentage of the work population!

 Audience comment:
“I was recently talking to friends about how women find it more difficult to ask for favours. Men don’t seem to find it difficult as much.”

Audience comment:
“I’ve had no issues with generational differences. In our company we have coaching to see how each of the group tick. We understand each of the groups’ needs.”

2.      Know the value you add to others and business

We have to value ourselves first, then show it to others. I [Nadia] had a career coach who helped with my CV, but more importantly, made me believe in my self-worth, and uncovered ways to sell myself. If we’re not seen for who we really are – then maybe that particular organisation is not the right place to be.

Audience comment:
“How do you deal with experience. Being confident with your level of experience and that your experience is valued.”

The work force is aging. More young people are coming through. Companies will be forced to value skills from an older workforce. For the young person who knows all about social media – who’s going to give them the right content/the right strategy? The person with experience will. There is no substitute for experience.

I [Nadia] have to remind myself that the company would not be here without the network, strategy and money I brought it. But I can’t do it on my own either. I have never seen any teamwork well where one over-riding sentiment rules the others.

Audience comment:
“A colleague I recruited as a young candidate, has done really well and is now a vice president. He reached out to me recently. I feel really valued by him, it’s a good relationship.

Audience comment:
“I recruited a young digital marketer (millennial) with lots of great ideas. They’re great but there’s a lot they don’t know or understand yet – and it could go either way”.

Audience comment:
“I’ve got experience but was seen as too young. My experience was not valued because of my age.”

Audience comment:
“I moved quickly though my career in the first 10 years. I told someone my age and was told ‘never tell anyone you age, ever again.’ I don’t accept age prejudice – I shut it down.”

It is important to reiterate here that with age comes experience and understanding. This is something that’s not possible to have at the start of your career. Value your experience and own it. Be respectful of those at the start of their careers with new ideas and enthusiasm – there is room for us all and there is a definite strength in respectful appreciation of this.

3.      Know what you really want

We don’t give ourselves the time. We need to prioritise it. Give yourself permission to take time for yourself, to work out what it is that you want and look at all your options when making a plan. Company culture is really important to me [Jenny]. Recognise also that you can affect a company’s culture so don’t just go on what you think it is. This will help you to understand when to stay and when to walk away from a job. You’ll always have your career and you won’t lose that by proactively leaving a job, believe you’ll always find another job. Create a network in order that you can reach out and ask your connections about things such as this.

4.       Expect the unexpected

If you think you’ve got [your career] sorted – you probably haven’t. There is a lot of change in the environment whether we like it or not. That means people who want to survive will have to develop different skills set. We will have to adapt. Get yourself mentally into a good position to accept any changes that might come your way. Take a look towards the future and scope out companies you might wish to work for, extend your network and protect your mental and physical health. Don’t think your life is set. Things will force you to change your plan, so set yourself up as best you can to embrace that curveball!

Thanks to Jenny and Nadia for sharing their thoughts with us. If this subject is something you want to talk more about, get in touch with us today

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