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Vivian Xie
23 Apr 2024

Women in Pharma: Diversi‘tea’ at CPHI North America

CPHI North America will unite the pharmaceutical supply chain in Philadelphia from May 7–9, 2024 for 3 days of innovation and connections. As part of the content Agenda, our Diversity Track will bring the industry together to discuss the imperative need to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) - from patients to healthcare providers, manufacturers to suppliers, the Diversity Track will open this important discussion to all at CPHI North America and beyond. 

As part of the Diversity Track, we have gathered a panel of leaders from across the pharmaceutical industry and DE&I experts to shape the conversations around diversity initiatives and patient advocacy. We interviewed speakers Alise Cortez, Chief Ignition Officer at Gusto, Now!, Dr Marielle Weintraub, Director of Scientific Strategy at Eurofins FCT, and Carletta Calahan, Patient Advocate, to explore how they inspire change in their workplaces and beyond every day. 

Can you please give a brief introduction of yourself and what you do? 

Cortez: I’m Dr Alise Cortez, Chief Ignition Officer at Gusto, Now!, a human and organisational transformation consultancy specialising in the activation of meaning and purpose to increase engagement, performance, innovation, and retention. I’m an organisational psychologist and logotherapist, inspirational speaker, researcher, author, and host of the Working on Purpose podcast. I help develop inspirational leaders in companies and help them create cultures that inspire impassioned performance, meaningful engagement and fulfilment, while encouraging retention within the organisation. 

Weintraub: I serve as the Director of Scientific Strategy (OTCs & Contaminants) at Eurofins FCT, located in Madison, WI. In this capacity, I support clients in the development of analytical testing programs for over-the-counter medications, personal care products, and dietary supplements. Additionally, I function as a key resource and subject matter expert for both clientele and internal stakeholders. I actively participate in trade associations pertinent to the OTC, dietary supplement, and natural product industries. I am on the AOAC International Technical Programming Council, actively contributing to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association’s (CHPA) Quality and Manufacturing of Dietary Supplements and OTCs Committee and I participate in technical working groups for the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO). I have a PhD in Behavioural Neuroscience with a specialisation in Psycho-Neuro-Immunology. My research endeavours were focused on investigating the intricate relationship between inflammation and the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Calahan: I am a patient advocate. I am a wife, mom, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend. I am a survivor. In 2013, I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast cancer. My treatment included bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction and sixteen rounds of chemotherapy. Though I've always believed in volunteerism, the cancer diagnosis created a hyper-intense need to give back to the community. I recently concluded a term where I served on Center for Disease Control's Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer in Young Women. I also served as a "Bring Your Brave" spokesperson for CDC. In addition, I was chosen by Ford Motor Company as a Model of Courage. Currently, I serve on two Board of Directors for agencies, Georgia Alliance for Breast Cancer and Loving Arms Cancer Outreach. I am passionate about building awareness and providing support to newly diagnosed patients.  

After my cancer diagnosis, I set some very lofty goals. I wanted to complete my first sprint triathlon. I did. I wanted to do a 3-day trek kayaking and biking from Key Largo to Key West. I did. I wanted to complete three more sprint triathlons. I did. Any opportunity to encourage, support, and educate is a privilege that I don’t take lightly. In order for there to be positive momentum and change to close inequity and disparity gaps, patient engagement and inclusion is necessary.  

To be heard is step one. 

What does it mean for you to be at CPHI North America this year speaking on the Diversity discussions? 

Cortez: Our world is divided everywhere. We’re divided by politics, by culture, by nationality, by creed, gender, generation, and all manner of aspects of what it is to be a human being. Yet, the one thing that unites us our shared humanity and that each of us desperately wants our lives to count, knowing one day we will take our turn and depart. It is critical that we continue to consciously work to elevate consciousness by stewarding conversations around diversity and the import of embracing, celebrating, and nurturing it. I dare say in many ways, our very existence as a species depends on our loving cooperation.   

Weintraub: Speaking on Diversity at CPHI North America is a significant opportunity for me. It signifies a commitment to fostering inclusivity and representation within the healthcare industry and gives us all a chance to contribute to meaningful conversations about embracing diversity in all its forms. My goal is to inspire positive change and create an inclusive environment for all industry stakeholders. 

Calahan: When given the opportunity to amplify the voices of those who are underrepresented, I am always honoured.    

The pharmaceutical industry is a global industry. How can initiatives for diversity and gender equity translate across regions? 

Cortez: Precisely because pharma is so big, it has the capacity to greatly cascade diversity and gender equity initiatives into the regions in which it operates, which then allows them to percolate into the respective communities where they team members live. Business can be such a force for good in the world, especially when done through conscious leadership and a stakeholder orientation.  

Calahan: I think the best way to impact equity regardless of region is to ensure that the make-up of those empowered to create, make decisions, and implement change reflect the diverse population needing to be served.  This means, the employees of pharmaceutical companies should be a diverse and inclusive workforce.   

What do you hope for the future of gender equity in pharma? 

Cortez: That it becomes a non-topic in the near term, something that just isn’t mentioned or discussed because it does not have to be. I believe that time should be now, though we still have work to do.  

Weintraub: In the future of gender equity in pharma, I envision a landscape where diversity and inclusion are not just buzzwords but integral components of our industry's DNA. I hope to see equal representation of women at all levels of leadership, from the boardroom to research labs, and a culture that values, nurtures, and supports their contributions.   

Calahan: My hope is that in the future we won’t need to address equity gaps because the people, places, and things that are working toward ending inequities will have been successful at addressing and achieving these diversity and inclusivity goals. 

Who are some of your Heroines of Pharma (women in the pharmaceutical industry you admire)? 

Cortez: I admire Elyse Dickerson, who founded Eosera, an ear care products biotech. She is a conscious leader employing conscious capitalist principles and prioritises people over profits.

Weintraub:  The woman I most admire in the pharma industry is Frances Kelsey (1914-2015), a pharmacologist and reviewer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In her first year at FDA, she was tasked with reviewing thalidomide. The drug had become popular in both Canada and around Europe for alleviating pregnancy-related morning sickness. Kelsey was worried about the lack of safety data and refused to approve this pharmaceutical.  In the long run, her refusal to allow this drug to be sold in the US market, served to prevent thalidomide-related birth deformities that tragically affected newborns in other countries.    

Calahan: Dr Jones-Burton who raised the bar for gender and racial inclusion in phama.  Dr Jones-Burton co-founded Women of Color in Pharma (WOCIP) to empower women of colour to excel in the pharma industry.

Do you have a story to tell about diversity? If you’d be interested in being featured in our Women in Pharma series, please reach out to [email protected]       

Vivian Xie
Editor - Custom Content

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