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For Women Climbing the Ladder

Get four career-boosting insights from our Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer in honor of International Women’s Day.

A screenshot of Elizabeth Walker and other attendees of a panel on women's advancement
In recognition of International Women’s Day, CSL’s Chief Human Resources Officer Elizabeth Walker shared key takeaways from a recent Women in Leadership Panel hosted at CSL as part of the company’s Development Days, a weeklong series of keynote speakers, networking opportunities and interactive experiences.

As we recognize International Women’s Day, observed every year on March 8, I’m reminded of all the inspiring women who work throughout CSL and the incredible contributions they make every day to help serve our patients and protect public health.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day, led by the United Nations, shines a light on how well women are leading through the COVID-19 pandemic – from front line workers to heads of state.

“Today there is more acceptance than ever before that women bring different experiences, perspectives and skills to the table, and make irreplaceable contributions to decisions, policies and laws that work better for all,” according to a UN Women report.

I couldn’t agree more that women bring an invaluable perspective to the table in business, especially the business of health care. But we need to ensure there are more seats for women, particularly when it comes to leadership roles. We know from years of data and academic research that when women in business succeed, businesses succeed too. In our industry, success translates to scientific innovation and promising outcomes for patients and public health. 

I recently had the honor of sitting (virtually, of course) with five CSL leaders during our company’s first-ever Women In Leadership panel discussion to talk about our respective professional paths, share lessons learned along the way, and offer advice and tips to aspiring leaders on growing one’s career.

Whether you are on the first rung of your own career ladder, halfway through the climb or nearing the top, I hope the following highlights from our conversation will inspire you to keep going.

1. Never underestimate the importance of soft skills.

Adrienne Ford, a Senior Director and Finance Business Partner for our R&D organization, learned early on that her ability to communicate effectively and build relationships, along with a willingness to learn, were just as important as her business degree from the University of Delaware.

“Those softer skills became my foundational strength,” she shared.

The same held true for Laura O’Brien, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Quality, who was often one of only a few women in her male-dominated field. As a working mother of three children, O’Brien said her leadership roles earlier in her career allowed other women to feel comfortable balancing work and life.

“I was able to empathize with female staff when they had to leave at 5 o’clock sharp and collect their kids from child care.”

2. Don’t be afraid to drive on the wrong side of the road.

When Karen Netherton, Global Head of Quality Assurance for our Seqirus business, was asked to take a temporary assignment in our Holly Springs, North Carolina, manufacturing site, it would mean leaving her family behind for several months in the United Kingdom. Another concern she thought about was whether she would be able to adapt to American rules of the road. After an initial hesitation about living abroad, Netherton knew the experience would be worthwhile professionally.

“I’m so happy I took the opportunity,” she said. “Sometimes people see things in you that you don’t see in yourself, but you have to come out of your comfort zone.”

3. Say yes to the mess (but ask for help when needed).
This has been my own personal career mantra. It’s human nature to see a challenge and be inclined to shy away from it at first. But I’ve found that embracing those messy challenges as an opportunity can lead you to stretch in ways that allow you to grow. Having said that, enlisting the support of a talented team and asking for help along the way if you need it, are critical. As women, we don’t always feel like we have permission to ask for help or we feel like we must take everything on ourselves.

4. Career paths can be winding roads.

It might seem unlikely that someone who started their career working in the hotel industry would end up in biotech, but that’s exactly the path that Vicky Pirzas, Vice President of Recombinant Product Development, took.

“I’m not afraid to try something new,” said Pirzas, who uses the word “winding” to describe her unconventional path. “Careers are not always straight forward.”