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    Welcome back to the final installment of our Women in Leadership series, launched by Business Manager Ethan Cortese who leads our Regulatory Affairs team. 

    This month we welcomed Martine Zimmermann who is the SVP, Head of Global Regulatory Affairs and R&D Quality at Ipsen. Martine has had a notable career, starting her journey in Japan at Daiichi Sankyo as a Research Scientist, and then working her way through the ranks within Regulatory Affairs. She has successfully built out high-performing teams globally and has been involved in multiple regulatory approvals throughout her impressive career.

    In this blog, we discussed Martine’s experience within Regulatory affairs, how she approached raising a family alongside building a successful career, and also what she has learned during her time in leadership. She offers some insightful advice for those aiming to expand their career and work on a global scale, as well as guidance on finding the right balance within a leadership role.

    I have the attitude of “I can do it”, even though there are some people out there who would say that I “want it all”, I’ve always seen it as something I could do. When I started my career and saw successful women, it was women without children. For me, I didn’t want to compromise on raising a family so that I could have a career, I wanted to do both and I decided to have kids as young as possible. Let me tell you, having that first child is a huge learning curve! I’ve now got three incredible daughters now who challenge me to be better every day.

    A big part of balancing things is ensuring that you surround yourself with the right support, because having children isn’t always going to be a smooth ride. In our case, we didn’t have grandparents around due to where we were located at the time, so we had to look into childcare and other methods to support having a career. We also had to make compromises, for example – everybody wants to buy their first apartment or their first house, but you can’t have it all (in that respect) and to be successful at work you have to find a way of freeing some time in your personal life. I’ve learned a lot as a parent such as the importance of delegation, and I’ve taken a lot of practice from motherhood into work.

    A lot of people who work within Regulatory Affairs aren’t native English. Despite being someone who has spoken English for 25+ years, language has been a barrier for me in the past and even played a part in me turning down a bigger role in the past. I know how to express myself in English, but there are still times when I know what I want to say but it doesn’t come to be as immediately or eloquently as I would like, especially when trying to make an impact.

    I’ve had experiences in the past where people have explained my ideas or suggestions in “better” English – and the response wouldn’t be “great point, Martine” – they’d get the credit instead. It’s frustrating, but it’s something that I’ve dealt with and also haven’t allowed it to deter me. In fact, I’ve been able to use it to support those within companies I’ve worked for who also aren’t native English speakers.

    Overcoming a language barrier is all about daring to say something. It’s about having self-confidence and also gaining experience. I also think I was lucky in instances – I had some great successes in my career that have helped me to build that confidence, something I like to call my “confidence muscle” – even with my strong French accent! However, it’s important to be self-aware and understand your strengths and weaknesses – If you fail, you fail! There is no success without failure.

    It is not my intention to sound too binary when I say this as I don’t think it’s that clear-cut, but I do think it’s harder for women to build self-confidence in comparison. But, regardless, man or woman, you need to surround yourself with supportive bosses, the right community and people who say “OK, you can do it!”. 

    So firstly, you need to understand the power of difference, the power of diversity, and what it means to be different. For me, diversity is important for the everyday! We learn from each other and we challenge each other because we all see life differently. I can’t imagine going back to the village I grew up in, in France. I love big cities like London, Paris etc. because it’s so diverse – from the people you meet to the food you eat.

    When looking at diversity through a leadership lens, I think it’s one of the best tools to connect your teams. I think it also helps you to stop making assumptions. I’ve got a great example of this:

    I had a girl in my team with blonde hair and blue eyes, and she started talking to me about the diversity within the team, specifically Ramadan. My first assumption was that she wasn’t Muslim, and I was completely wrong. This is the first step with diversity – you’re constantly being surprised and learning. She continued to tell me that for the first time at work and in this team, she had found Ramadan easy, and having that conversation with her taught me two things: don’t assume, and that diversity within teams makes a huge difference to people being incredibly happy. You gain so many different perspectives with a diverse team and it’s down to us as leaders to encourage this to happen.

    Retention is a big topic. I think people stay within an organisation because they feel supported by their leader, or inspired by them. I’ve seen so many leaders who can manage, but they don’t necessarily lead by example. It’s extremely important to be available for people, to be completely aware of what is going on in your team, and be genuine when finding out.

    This is still something I’m working hard on doing, as I also believe in setting boundaries! But it’s essential to note that this doesn’t mean you micromanage people, I am always of the view that people are more important than projects. However, being aware of what’s going on in people’s lives in order to support them most definitely helps with retention.

    You also need to understand that people are motivated by different things – which ties into the comments I made earlier about diversity. In some cultures, money isn’t a core motivation, it can be praise or recognition. For some, it’s a promotion and for others, a promotion that feels premature isn’t going to work for them – you have to learn to identify cultural differences and adapt to them.

    I would say to any woman looking to step into leadership, if you want to do it, then do it! Be courageous, but also be aware of what it means to become a leader. What compromises are you going to have to make? What are your aspirations? Do you have the right network and support around you? Are you and your spouse on the same page? This  advice could also apply to men, but for women – we do have different choices that we need to make. Finally, it’s key to understand that your journey doesn’t need to be perfect. You will make mistakes, but accepting them, and learning from them will be the key to your success.

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