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    Welcome to our new “Women In Leadership” series, launched by Business Manager Ethan Cortese who runs our Regulatory Affairs team. 

    This month we’re welcoming Aziza Johnson, who is an Executive Regulatory Affairs leader in the Pharmaceutical space. Aziza has had an incredible career thus far and has been an instrumental female leader in the regulatory space. She is active across many boards and groups for women in Life Sciences, and we were thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to her!

    In this blog, we unpack not only Aziza’s incredible career thus far, but we highlight her advice for other aspiring female leaders within the Regulatory Affairs space.

    “I’m a pharmacist by training, and after finishing university I wanted to go straight into the industry in Pharma. I was curious innately and didn’t want to work as a pharmacist, instead, I wanted to help patients differently. However, getting an industrial placement was difficult at the time and there were a lot of rejection letters, but I still persevered.

    Interestingly, I had a great tutor at uni who I would sit and talk with, who actually opened a lot of doors for me and also opened my eyes to the importance of networking. It wasn’t just about good grades, you need to know a few people to start to break into this space as it’s competitive. 

    Learning that at such a young age was powerful, and it’s what enabled me to get my first placement. During this 1-year placement, we worked on a rotation, enabling us to work in all different departments for a few weeks at a time so you could get a real feel for what you liked. I loved the regulatory department so approached them directly – only to be shot down and told “we don’t take grads”. Obviously, I was not going to take no for an answer!

    I wrote to the head of the MHRA at the time and asked for advice, and he penned me a beautiful letter in fountain pen (which I still have at home) giving me great advice on how to get tangible experience in the regulatory space. This was another lesson on how important it is to network because he gave me all of the information I needed to start carving out my regulatory degree. His advice was to go and get a second degree – which I did in Law. This complemented my degree in Pharmacy and broadened my experience massively.

     

    Another thing I’ve loved about my career so far in Regulatory Affairs is that you get to see a broad scope of things very early on. You can in essence cherry-pick, continuously learn and adapt. 

    I think the challenge I’ve faced is having a voice at the table as a woman. It’s ironic, because there are a lot of women in Regulatory Affairs, but the amount when you get to senior level drops massively which is why there are challenges for women in leadership positions. A lot of us are shy and we don’t want to appear aggressive or overbearing, and that could be a reason why there are less of us at the leadership table. Nowadays, we are told to bring our “authentic selves” to work – but it’s still a challenge I experience even this far into my career. 

    It really depends – because some projects enable you to learn and develop your skill set rapidly, whilst others do take more time. Generally, this is why I’ve stayed for the “long-haul” because you can see the skills you’ll develop in 4 years time, for example. 

    Occasionally, it’s about looking at the bigger picture and also asking why you’re with a particular organisation. Some organisations only want you for 3-5 years because they’re looking for someone to make change quickly, whereas others need longevity. It’s all about what you want out of your career and finding a company that complement that.

    When I first started it was mainly women. Now, I think the balance has shifted. What I see in the senior world is that they tend to be white males – and I always ask myself “why” because there were so many young women years and years ago. It could also be that these women don’t want to be at a senior level, or it could be down to company cultures. 

    During Covid, I was the only woman in the leadership team for a long time, and I do think I was there sometimes to tick a box. But, I know I’m good at what I do! I think it would be nicer to see more women in leadership roles, and it is changing but it’s really really slow. I think women hit Senior Director and that’s it – because to jump further is a lot harder. 

    It isn’t down to competence, I think it boils down to the whole conversation around networking. You also need to evaluate if there’s room for you to progress in the organisation – because if someone says no, are you OK with that?

    Network and speak up!  It’s worth its weight in gold. It doesn’t just have to be in pharma, I work in women’s groups in fintech, all over the place, I get to hear different perspectives and I always wonder how I can use that for myself. Networking enables you to expand your knowledge and learn other ways of dealing with things, you never know everything! You can’t be shy, you have to jump out of your comfort zone, say “hey” and engage in that small talk. 

    I also recommend taking a look at the competency framework. I use it constantly and it’s incredibly helpful for me with my own progression. I also think the good thing about our industry is that career ladders seem to be a lot more fluid – less tick-box based and more fluid, which can also be helpful for women who feel like they’ve hit a glass ceiling in their careers.

    A lot of them are around female empowerment. The main one is Women On Stage. It covers all industries, and the idea is to tap into hidden talent that is around. A lot of countries have Regulatory professionals migrating from all over the world, and a challenge that comes with that is ex-pats finding it difficult to enter the industry in a new location. It’s also geared toward women as we usually have quieter voices. I’m also a member of The Boardroom in Switzerland, which is all about encouraging women into board seats.

    It differs in terms of location as well as company size. Some pharma companies, for example, offer benefits like a menu – childcare vouchers if you’re a parent or if you’re single, you can get more annual leave. This is great because the benefits structure is adapted but it does cost companies more to add variety to their benefits. 

    The UK for example is very favourable to young families so I feel fortunate and lucky that I had my children in the UK over Switzerland. I think companies need to listen to what the majority are saying and adapt their benefit policies to that.

    I do think the gender pay gap is large and continues to be, and that is irrespective of country, unfortunately. In my opinion, it should be role-based where the role gets the same pay – not necessarily just giving the candidates what they want. A lot of women don’t have the tools to negotiate due to the points I mentioned earlier, and until networking becomes more accessible and confidence in women builds, a quicker solution is sorting the pay gap within organisations first.

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