Hello – From Women in Pharma
The Women in Pharma network aims to inspire, empower and shape the pharma industry to better serve women. Meet the minds behind the mission.
Miriam Kenrick, Sarah Sowerby | | 10 min read | Opinion
The idea for Women in Pharma (WiP) came about as the world was reawakening from COVID-19 lockdowns. We had planned a brunch in the spring London sunshine to catch up on the last two years.
Home alone with her two teenagers whilst leading her business through COVID-19, Kenrick had reinvented herself from stressed-out perimenopausal superwoman to yogi empowerment coach (a major overhaul to say the least!).
In parallel, Sowerby had transformed her wellbeing habits through an app called Second Nature, whilst running Wordbird with her husband (executive creative director, Andrew Nicholson) and being the best possible mother to a young son living with severe mental health issues.
There was a lot to catch up on. Amongst other topics, Sowerby talked about an exclusive female entrepreneur evening she had attended called Diamonds. The aim of the event was to create opportunities for female entrepreneurs and to provide a safe space for mentoring and encouragement. Initially, Sowerby had a large dose of imposter syndrome amongst the CBEs and OBEs, but when she heard the human stories of kitchen table businesses she realized that these people were just like her. Walking away inspired, she felt that this kind of networking event was needed in the pharmaceutical industry. If you can’t see it, you can’t be it. And we just don’t see enough of the incredible women in our industry and the stories behind them.
Meanwhile, Kenrick had never thought about gender at work. She considered herself ‘just a person,’ and admits that she had always found it easier to be one of the lads, enjoying the banter and relative simplicity of male relationships. Sowerby had a similar mindset.
Though Sowerby had always valued strong female support networks, Kenrick admits that groups of women filled her with dread. She avoids hen-dos like the plague and has noted that the few women in leadership she does have experience with seem to always be sending emails late and on weekends, and traveling like crazy. Many are childless or have stay-at-home partners. Not everyone can relate to these types of women so more role models are needed, particularly for working mothers.
S&M or M&S?
M is for Miriam Kenrick. With 25 years in commercial roles in companies including GSK, Roche, Allergan, and now Santen, as VP marketing EMEA, I am on a mission to unleash potential in the pharma industry, particularly for women who hold themselves back, burn themselves out, or beat themselves up (or all three).
S is for agency entrepreneur, Sarah Sowerby. After years as a copy chief in agencies such as Paling Walters (now known as TBWA) and consulting with over 30 agencies, I set up my own boutique creative agency, WordBird, which has enjoyed 11 years of partnering with many different brands looking to make an impact in the healthcare world.
Together, we launched Women in Pharma, an industry-agency partnership seeking to activate positive change in the pharma/healthcare world.
Empowering to unleash potential
We both feel we love working with “masculine energy.” So if anyone thinks we’re out to man bash – rest assured we love you!
However, we often feel as if many senior roles are announced out of the blue, with decisions made behind the scenes at the golf course, the bar, or a rugby match. This is something we have seen with our own eyes. For example, Kenrick was clueless how to navigate upwards after making it to director level. We need more stories that can inspire women so that we can learn how to break into the highest levels of leadership – and somehow do it without burning out.
As we ordered our second mimosa, the plan for WiP was already taking shape. Women need to do more than just inspire each other. There is significant evidence showing that we women tend to undervalue our achievements – focusing on what we could, or should, have done better. We often don’t apply for jobs because we don’t tick all the boxes. There are a catalogue of ways we hold ourselves back.
We need more than online modules of unconscious bias training to get more women into leadership. We need to let go of the disempowering beliefs and habits that we’ve unconsciously allowed to dictate our lives and stop trying to be “Superwomen.” We need to learn how to prioritise our own wellbeing, create and manage boundaries, ask for and receive help, and start saying no.
We have a lifetime of cultural and societal expectations infused into our brains to be perfectionist people pleasers, helpers, carers, and, increasingly now, breadwinners. We need to help our women learn how to break the habits of a lifetime so that they can empower themselves, lead by example, and coach the next generation, so that they can learn to do this before they are in their 50s.
Shaking things up
The day after the mimosa brunch, Kenrick went to a bookshop (another post-COVID-19 thrill). By chance, she purchased “Invisible Women” by Caroline Criado-Perez. The book analyzes publicly available data through a female lens. From product and service design, such as cars and public transport planning (women are the majority of public transport users and they 'trip-chain' to the variety of places they need to go. Timetables and routes are designed by men for the work commuter), to the financial and legal worlds, to healthcare and medicine; the world is designed for – and in the interests of – men.
Since Aristotle, medicine has assumed all bodies are the same (except for reproductive parts), with females assumed to be just smaller males. In reality, every cell of our body is biologically gendered. The way our bodies work, what can go wrong, the diseases we get, the symptoms we experience, and the way treatments actually work (or not) can differ based on our biological gender, but the pharma industry has not focused on this.
Sowerby initially couldn’t believe it. A lifetime of pharmaceutical grade evidence-based work made her very skeptical, but then the Women’s Health Strategy for England was published. Over 100,000 women contributed evidence to the government review on the health challenges faced by conditions that only affect women, and those that affect men and women equally. The findings were sad and deeply shocking.
Women are not taught about menstrual wellbeing. We are told that pain, erratic emotions, and heavy periods are just something we need to live with. We don’t understand our own bodies and cycles. We might struggle to get pregnant, go through IVF, and lose babies – all of which is hidden from view. As we approach the peak of our careers, we go through perimenopause, which can be accompanied by brain fog, overheating, itching, becoming more anxious, not sleeping – the list goes on. And again everything is done in secret with partners unsure how to offer support.
We soldier on, until we are literally collapsing and are seen by a doctor. However, doctors are not taught about women’s health either, and we are treated by a system often designed by (and for) men. Women are passed from pillar to post, struggling with health whilst keeping up all responsibilities in life. The treatments we are given often started out based on male rodents. Even when there is a split of genders in clinical studies, do we disaggregate it to look for differences? Do we always ask if a drug works differently in male and female bodies? Do we ask what the effect of the menstrual cycle is? Or the effect of hormonal contraception? Or the menopause?
#workinprogress #weignitepotential #weinspirepossibilities
Let us reiterate; none of this is about bashing men. It’s about recognizing that we all need to ask more questions. When we care for women’s health, everyone in society benefits.
The challenge is to change the system. This is something that WIP wants to do. To help companies ask more questions. To understand both male and females biologically and develop treatments accordingly. To encourage different conversations in areas such as R&D and regulation. To educate and empower everyone (whatever their gender) in the industry to make the necessary changes for the sake of our whole society.
Of course, neither of us know exactly what to do with some of the biggest challenges, which is why we are building a community. A sisterhood perhaps; however, sisters have brothers too. All supporters of our mission are welcome! It’s only together that we can solve these huge issues, and do it fast enough to help daughters, wives, if not grandmothers.
WiP has been going for over 12 months and we have almost 700 supporters in our LinkedIn group. We’ve run webinars, launched a podcast and run a couple of events in London (INSPIRE! and EMPOWER!). We have also launched some empowerment programs.
We are doing this alongside our day jobs, so we need other people to get involved to help run events and to expand our reach; people who can bring their own ideas of how we can inspire, empower, and shake up healthcare for women.
People ask us how we do all of the things we do. But the funny thing is how much energy it gives us. Having a bigger purpose and making a bigger positive impact is very energizing.
We hope you’ve enjoyed getting to meet us. We hope even more you want to get involved. Most importantly we hope we’ve shaken you up a little and inspired you to make a bigger impact.
Democratizing Healthcare (in the UK)
By Jamie Irvine, Associate Editor of The Medicine Maker
The disparities between women’s healthcare, comparative to men, are clear. The “male as default” approach is seen in research, clinical trials, policies, and services that consistently prioritize male health. Today, we lack a clear understanding about conditions that only affect women (consider the menopause or postpartum depression) or how shared conditions affect men and women in different ways (1).
In March 2021, the UK government announced a call for evidence, which received nearly 100,000 responses, about female experiences within the healthcare system – from first appointments, discussion of treatment options, and follow up care. Common narratives from the report included difficulty accessing information on gender-specific health issues, extensive diagnosis periods, and, ultimately, 84 percent of respondents felt they weren’t being listened to (2).
In response to the growing recognition of health needs and challenges faced by women, The Women’s Health Strategy for England 2022 was developed. The aim? To address long standing gaps in women’s healthcare and promote better health outcomes across the country within the next 10 years. The strategy covers a range of factors: increasing awareness of gender disparities in healthcare; addressing issues such as reproductive health, mental health, violence towards women; and a commitment to promoting women's rights and equality. It also builds on the UK’s previous vision for the Women’s Health Strategy for England, published in December 2021, which sought to establish new principles that could improve the health of women and reset how the health and care system listens to women.
But what is a plan without investment to back it? To date, the UK government has invested £127 million to increase and support the maternity and neonatal care capacity. Other improvements include banning virginity testing and hymenoplasty, and providing protections to domestic abuse victims through the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.
The government has also announced additional measures aimed towards boosting the health and wellbeing of women and girls. One of the top priorities is “one-stop shops” where women will be able to access everyday healthcare, such as family-planning services (such as coil fittings), prescriptions for HRT, or seeing a specialist about pelvic pain. Additional priorities include introducing compulsory women’s health training for doctors and more cancer check-ups.
Let’s hope this intersectional and equitable approach represents a new frontier for women’s health worldwide.