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Female leaders talk about gender challenges and the dearth of high-ranking women in animal health

During a recent trip to Kansas City, Animal Pharm editor Joseph Harvey took part in a round-table discussion with several women from management positions at leading US animal health companies. The conversation ranged from innovation, advice for women trying to work their way up the employment ladder and why the sector lacks female chief executives.

Female leaders on… Being a woman in the animal health boardroom

Renee Hall, US head of commercial excellence at Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica: "I've found it useful for myself to assume positive intent in almost every interaction that I have. It would be very easy to go around feeling bruised about your gender or whatever other attributes you bring. I found many years ago, that if I assumed people meant well, it took away a lot of the worry around gender issues.

Analysis

Last year, Animal Pharm estimated only 15% of the current top executives at the 10 largest veterinary drug manufacturers are female.

There are currently no female chief executives among leading animal health business. To find the industry's female leaders, one has to look at smaller businesses. For example, US firms such as Advanced Animal Diagnostics, Jaguar Animal Health and Likarda are all headed by women – Joy Parr Drach, Lisa Conte and Lisa Stehno-Bittel, respectively.

Kindred Biosciences' chief operating officer Denise Bevers is one of the firm's co-founders and veterinary generics specialist Putney was led by Jean Hoffman until it was acquired by Dechra Pharmaceuticals.

"My goal has been to not so much think about being a woman in the boardroom but focus on being relevant – so that it doesn't matter. I have a seat at that table and earned it. When you're coaching women when they're younger, that's something they have to get their brain around because it's tough stuff."

Jessica Monachello, assistant general counsel for Bayer Animal Health: "Prove yourself through what you can do. When you have a male-dominated environment you have to prove yourself a little extra. Once the team can see what you can do and you show your expertise, I think they are willing to listen. That just sets aside the female-male relationship."

Caroline Belmont, global head of regulatory affairs, pharmacovigilance and chemistry, manufacturing, and controls at Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica: "Just stick to your guns and don't consider yourself as the female in the room. Consider yourself as a contributing team member."

Angie Miller, zone director for Midwest/west at Merck Animal Health: "I really don't think there's anyone out there with bias against my sex, it really is just those subtleties in the form of the tone of voice. It's got so much better than it ever used to be."

Female leaders on… The lack of women at the top

Dr Karen Padgett, president of animal health advisory Unfenced: "When thinking about some of the issues we face – feeding the world, coming up with solutions for antibiotic resistance and the economics of the veterinary profession – when only a small percentage of the heads of animal health companies are female, then something's not balanced when coming up with solutions for those world problems. I think we need to find ways to get more females in leadership positions to help us solve those issues."

"There's an evolution happening, from the women that were ahead of us that were the only women to us who are the few women to what the future will be, which is far more women."

Tiffany Fairchild, business manager for pet retail at Ceva Animal Health: "How do we propel women into leadership positions? How do we keep women in the workforce? One of the main reasons you start to see fewer women at the top of the ladder is that they are having to opt out a much earlier stage of their career.

"We have to figure out how to create policies in our various organizations to help women to stay engaged in the workforce for the long term. One thing we have to do as women is to create a network invested in helping women succeed. When you hear the term 'the good old boys' network', erase the 'good old boys' part – it's a network. Men are really invested in their friends and business partners' success."

"There is a legitimate challenge women face, which is the concept of: competence or likeability? It's this idea that, as a woman, fairly early on in our career we are told: 'Downplay your femininity but you need to be aggressive and get the same results as your male counterparts but be nice.'

"Women encounter all these situations where they have this choice of: 'Do I charge forward and demonstrate leadership, assertiveness and competence?' You walk into a room and think: 'How am I going to receive feedback when I disagree with anyone? How am I am going to express a contrasting opinion in a way that is heard by all of my counterparts? How do I present new ideas that maybe challenges the status quo and have that well received?"

Renee Hall: "I think there's a change underfoot. There's an evolution happening, from the women that were ahead of us that were the only women, to us who are the few women to what the future will be, which is far more women."

Female leaders on… The connection between industry and the consumer

Susan Robel, consumer innovation manager at Bayer Animal Health: "When you think about this industry, it's long been an industry of science and the next new molecule or the next new scientific breakthrough. More and more, it's about being in touch with your customer."

"There was a time when manufacturers told pet owners what they needed. That's not going to work anymore. It's more of a collaborative journey in the decision-making process."

Karen Padgett: "When I was in practice and when I was at Hill's and at Ceva, we really focused our efforts around the female, who is the primary caretaker for pets. I almost exclusively saw women coming into the practice and very rarely saw men.

"But, male pet ownership is exploding and for cat owners in particular, its 50:50 now for millennials. So that changes the landscape entirely. Animal health companies should really be paying attention to that."

Angie Miller: "If you look at Amazon buying Wholefoods, who in the world would think that would happen? The role for us as manufacturers of products that sell through veterinarian clinics is already changing. This means we have to change and keep up. It's being dictated by the consumers.

"In human health, TV is full of advertising about drugs. 15 years ago you would have never thought you'd be learning about cancer drugs on television. We seem to be a little bit behind that trend."

Tiffany Fairchild: "There was a time when manufacturers went to market and then told pet owners what they needed to keep their pet healthy. That's not going to work anymore. It's more of a collaborative journey in the decision-making process around taking care of our pets."

Female leaders on… Innovation

Dr Ellen Lowry, director of US professional and veterinary affairs at Hill's Pet Nutrition: "I think we should expect constant and continuous rapid change. We're seeing this already. The way companies innovate will change.

"I'll use one example from my company. We've got the new wearable technology because we're looking at new ways to innovate and help the profession and the pet parent, so we can provide the best care for their pet. As members of the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor, we can't pre-judge companies coming because we don't know what the next thing is that pet parents might be looking for."

Jody Donohue, communications manager for Ceva Animal Health: "At some point, the world has got to decide how it's going to feed people. There are conversations we're having in the US about welfare and how we prevent diseases. The rest of the world just needs animals it can put into its food supplies.

"The United Nations has upped the population projection. The population is going to grow by two billion by 2050. China and India are going to jump in on this conversation really soon. I'm glad we're on a more sustainable path and we should continue on this. But, unless we really have dramatic changes to how we up the number of calories coming from animal protein, people are going to die and they are going to die way before 2050."

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