Catalina Driscoll is a commercial launch leader with 15+ years of experience in the Life Sciences industry, which includes leading teams through product launches as well as growing responsibility within supportive functions such as strategic planning, market research, CI, and consulting. She is passionate about seeing how science translates into the real world and ultimately produces better outcomes for patients.
I recently had the good fortune to sit down and interview Catalina about her personal career journey and how she’s got to where she is today.
Tell us about your career progression and how you ended up in your current role.
I started my career in the lab doing research and I realized I wanted to talk to people about science too, so I went on to do pharmaceutical sales. I enjoyed that business side of healthcare, but I had a technical background so I got an MBA from MIT Sloan to get more exposure to business, which led me to Novartis, where I had a number of roles, from Strategy to Market Research, eventually launching a vaccine, which was my first time launching a product. I later moved to Biogen where I leveraged what I’d learned in vaccines in the haemophilia space and continued to launch brands there. Then they decided to spin off the haemophilia franchise and after working closely with the new CEO, I became the Chief of Staff for the new company, which involved everything from building a corporate strategy & executing it, conducting BD, and even helping to define the company’s culture. Then a year ago, we were acquired by Sanofi and I now combine my commercial expertise with my love of research and development in my current role, which is great.
As a young woman, why was science so interesting to you?
My father had a health concern and I wanted to understand that. Even before that, I was always a science nerd. I wanted a microscope over a Barbie! I think some people just want to explore the world around them a bit deeper. I now try to make sure my kids also have the tools around them to find their passion too.
What are some of the challenges you've had to overcome along the way?
I was raised to be quiet and polite and I learned that that doesn’t work well in this career setting, so speaking up and public speaking was something I had to work on. I was also always the one taking notes or minutes, probably as the only young woman in the room, which never gave me the chance to speak out on strategy, so I stopped doing that and let someone else handle it. I am very hands-on and organized, so it was partly my own fault, but I realized I was seen as the orchestrator of these meetings rather than the content expert. A lot of mentors along the way helped me do it, managers who always assured me I was the expert and encouraged me to speak up and give my opinion. Having enough people say that made a big difference; and I make sure to do the same when there is someone who needs to hear it.
Tell us more about your experience of mentorship?
I’ve been lucky enough to have a few who I can just call any time to talk through stuff, and so I pay it forward today and prioritize mentoring meetings over others because they’re so important. Sharing your perspective with others is how we all help each other out. I’m not part of any formal programs for mentoring but am always happy to help, and sometimes it’s better when it is more informal.
Can you identify which personal attributes have helped you progress in your career?
One is taking risks. When I was doing haemophilia marketing and we heard we were being spun-off from Biogen to a form a new company, I went up to the newly named CEO and told him everything that was wrong with the business and how to fix it. I felt like that that point I had nothing to lose. He later told me that moment was pivotal in me getting the job as his chief of staff. I took a risk and spoke up and that has helped me a lot. I get a gut feeling of when taking risks might work, maybe from my passionate Latin side, I don’t know. Another attribute would be intellectual curiosity, finding an answer for something, from my scientific mindset. In my current role, you have to have that. You can’t be complacent with the answer, you always have to dig deeper.
What are your thoughts on diversity in the Pharmaceutical industry?
We’re making big leaps in making sure women are in executive positions, but there isn’t enough conversation around different minorities. The African American and Latino communities are not well represented in Biotech, which is a shame, because how will we understand these communities’ needs in the future? For example, I work on a sickle cell program, and sickle cell disease unfortunately effects people of African descent, and currently there is no one on the program with that profile. How are we supposed to understand this community if it is not even closely represented at the table during these discussions?. Also, diversity of experiences needs to be represented. We need to make sure we have the right people at the table to bring a diversity of opinion and to advocate for various communities. We need people at the table fighting for these patients. If the right people aren’t round the table, will their medicines even get developed?
What value have you seen from taking an active approach to diversity and inclusion?
I have seen it from a personal point of view – when I was Chief of Staff, people used to assume I was an admin rather than a strategic partner. So, my boss always made sure I was at the table. For example, there was a big M&A meeting in NYC that we were having, and there was a room of 40 men around a huge marble table and I was intimidated to go inside so I waited outside. I was actually seven months pregnant at the time too! Luckily, my boss texted me and told me to come in. I was very nervous, but I’m so glad he did that, as it turned out to be important that I was in that meeting.
I take that approach with me now and do that with my team, taking new men or women to meetings with senior leadership during their onboarding, so that they become comfortable in that environment. I also make everyone in meetings introduce themselves, purely to make everyone get a voice and feel confident, then at the end, if someone hasn’t spoken much, I always ask them for their opinion. Making sure every voice is heard is important. Another active approach I take is that when I hired my team, I made sure that I fought for everyone in terms of salary and what they were worth, regardless of gender or their salary expectations, particularly when well qualified women low-ball themselves in terms of their value.
What advice do you have for Life Science professionals who want to improve D&I within their organizations?
Understanding the background of your people is very important and encouraging them to have a voice will help you retain your current talent. Outside, it needs to start early, and we have to make sure our schools are diverse, with STEM programs in minority communities to bring talent through. At the moment, interview quotas are filled by checking boxes, but that’s not enough, there has to be more outreach so that these communities feel comfortable and don’t feel that their opportunities are limited. Pharma companies have to find and develop talent from minority communities better and show that it’s a genuine career option, by investing in colleges or running programs. I should go back to my college and community more and do the same because starting early develops the pool of diverse talent, but the onus shouldn’t really be on me – pharmaceutical companies should do it. I can only speak for the Latin community, but in our community, not many girls leave home, so cultural differences are a factor. This is why I, and others like myself, have to go back to our communities, and encourage young women to break the cultural cycle and take a risk.
What are some practical steps companies can take to improve the numbers of women of color in the corporate pipeline?
It has to be a proactive approach. For open roles, I’m noticing a lot of hiring of women, almost as if women are getting a bias, which is a huge necessary change, so maybe that approach will in turn lead to women of color. The optics of having a woman of color at the top will motivate those more junior, that visual will do a lot of good; but these opportunities have to also come with support and internal advocates along the way to make sure we are all successful. I also think that the hiring companies’ mentality has to change – whenever I interview for a role, just because I speak Spanish, I feel like they’re thinking I should be automatically considered for a role to run Latin America, whereas I may actually want to run the US. There’s an assumption that I would want to go back to that part of the world to sell a product, when in actual fact, with the changing demographic of the US, I may be able to understand the customers better here. Stopping that attitude would be a great practical step!
A big thank you to Catalina for taking the time to share your insights and experiences with us!
Do you know an inspiring business woman, and/or a leader in Life Sciences who is challenging the status quo? I want to meet them! Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.Posted about 4 years ago