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Agility and Broad Understanding of Business Drive Success

As part of EPR’s Women in Pharma series, Claudia Geis, Head of Region Europe, Ascensia Diabetes Care, talks to Science Editor Dr Zara Kassam about returning to work after maternity leave, setting expectations within a team and sticking to your values…

Tell me about your career? (A brief summary to date)

I joined Bayer in 1992 as an International Management Trainee after completing my studies at Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft in Berlin. I held various positions in sales, marketing and finance across Bayer Healthcare, based in Germany, including Business Unit Head, Hematology/Cardiology and Business Unit Head, General Medicine. In 2010 I was appointed Country Division Head for Bayer Diabetes Care in Germany and was later promoted to Head EU Mature for Diabetes Care in 2013. Following the sale of Bayer’s diabetes care business to Panasonic Healthcare Holdings to establish Ascensia Diabetes Care, I took the role of Head of Region Europe in the newly formed company.

What does your current role entail?

The biggest barrier I see for women is returning to work after maternity leave

In my current role, I am Head of Region Europe for Ascensia Diabetes Care and member of the Executive Management Board of the company. In this role, I am responsible for all commercial activities and sales performance in this region. It is my team who are the direct interface with our clients in Europe. I work very closely with my colleagues from other support functions to ensure that we meet the needs of our customers in Europe.

Do you think being a woman in the Pharma industry is a challenge?

I have not experienced specific challenges in the pharma and medical device industry related to being a woman. I realise that this may not be what everyone has experienced, and I know that there are still areas that could do better. But I have never felt like I was disadvantaged or faced more challenges as a woman.  

Are there any examples within your company in particular where women have been successful?

We have many successful women within our company in key leadership roles and I am proud to have them as my colleagues. I am also joined on the Ascensia Executive Management Board by two other women who represent critical functions in our organisation. 

What have you experienced as barriers to success on your career path, and what advice would you give to women who come up against these same barriers?

The biggest barrier I see for women is returning to work after maternity leave. Being a working mother can put significant strain on women and requires a different way of working that the individual themselves and their teams may not be used to. In some situations, an individual may want to return part-time, which can lead to feelings of always being on call and unable to switch off. It can also lead to challenges with the expectations of team members, difficulties working late or the need for flexible schedules. My advice to women who are going through this is to be clear with their teams from the start to set expectations about and never feel bad about returning to work. Stick to your values and what is important to you about the job, and continue to deliver your best work in a timetable that works for you.  

In order to enable women to be successful after returning from maternity, companies need to have flexible models that allow them to thrive and find a timetable that works for them, which is something I think we do well at Ascensia.

What can women do to prepare themselves to reach the C-suite in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries?

We all need to act as role models to children and remove any gender stereotyping that may be associated with how we talk about science and mathematics

When you are in a C-suite position, you need to know more than just your own area of expertise. As a member of the Ascensia Executive Management Board, I am required to review topics from other functional teams and help come to a decision about that topic alongside my other board members. I, therefore, need to know about the role of other functions, how they operate, and how they contribute to the success of our business. I would, therefore, advise other women to ensure they build up a broad understanding of all functions within their company, even the ones that seem a little more distant from their day-to-day job. Be open-minded and try to learn about more than just your own job, in order to be able to effectively make decisions about other functions.

Looking more broadly in the industry do you think there is a glass ceiling for women in pharma and is it any worse than in other industries?

These days, I am seeing less evidence of a glass ceiling for women in the pharmaceutical and medical device industry. There is a trend for more women in C-suite positions and I hope that this continues, as there is genuine value in having a mix of men and women in senior leadership roles.

Currently, men outnumber women in science graduate degrees in the UK – how can we better address this imbalance to encourage more women into biology, chemistry, mathematics, and so on?

I have always felt that it is critical to get children, whatever gender, to be interested in exploring science and mathematics. We should not gender type science subjects and should focus on encouraging all children to get involved in science early in school. This may not be something that has always happened in the past, as I think more boys were encouraged to take up science subjects. We all need to act as role models to children and remove any gender stereotyping that may be associated with how we talk about science and mathematics.

How could the Pharma industry benefit if more women were in higher roles?

I think that companies are recognising that in many families, the healthcare decisions are made by the women. That could be the mother looking after her children or the wife who is keeping an eye on the health of her husband. By having more women represented in key strategic roles and in the C-suite, it can help companies think about the needs of their customers and the types of healthcare products and services they want.   

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