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    Welcome back to our Women in Leadership series launched by Business Manager Ethan Cortese who runs our Regulatory Affairs team. 

    This month we are welcoming Neila Benabadji who is the Associate VP of Global Regulatory Affairs, for Reata Pharmaceuticals in Switzerland. Neila has had an incredible career so far, working for some of the biggest players in Life Sciences such as Novartis, Ipsen, Bayer and Pfizer. 

    Her career is something that she is extremely passionate about, and it was incredible to get the opportunity to talk to her about a variety of topics – as well as the ever-changing world of Regulatory Affairs. 

    When studying for my PharmD, I was exposed to multiple areas of drug development from pharmaceutical all the way to clinical and commercialization. I liked all of them and it was hard for me to imagine having to specialize in only one area.

    I was fascinated by how all of these aspects interconnect and impact each other and knew I wanted to work in a space where I have this holistic picture of the entire development process. Doing further research, I came to understand that for a given drug, all of these aspects come together at the time of the regulatory process for marketing authorization and this is how I knew I wanted to work in Regulatory Affairs. Once on the job, not only had I found what I was looking for in terms of drug development, but I also got to discover a variety of other strategic and business areas within Regulatory Affairs which I did not even imagine.

    I feel I’ve been learning since Day 1 of my career and I know I will continue to do so until the end, simply because of the variety covered within Regulatory: pre-approval stage, post-marketing, regional, global, local, CMC, labelling, advertising and promotion, operations etc. All of these areas have their own requirements which keep evolving as the external regulatory environment itself evolves. It keeps us on our toes for sure…

    There is always something to learn in Regulatory. The learning curve is always growing – even for the most senior of us. Yet very little is known by young graduates of all the aspects that Regulatory Affairs has to offer.

    I think there is sometimes this misleading perception that Regulatory Affairs is disconnected from science and that it is mostly “paperwork”. The reality is so far away from that and sometimes I think maybe we should refer to it more as Regulatory “Sciences”. Ideally we should be finding ways to attract even more scientists into the field and even earlier in their careers. Post graduate programs are a good mechanism for this to increase awareness and give exposure to the various options Regulatory Affairs/Sciences has to offer.

    Big picture mindset is in my view a critical skill to develop early on in a career.  Understanding the why is as important as understanding the what and the how. Associates should feel empowered and curious to understand what happens beyond the boundaries of their scope and the interlinks of their work with the bigger purpose. These are the first steps to building strategic thinking.  

    The other skill which is very important is adaptability. The only thing that is constant – especially in this line of work – is change. The environment is and will always be changing. A successful regulatory professional is one that will be able to embrace a change, make it a part of his/her mindset and derive opportunities from the change.

    It’s a popular question these days, it’s almost becoming a “million-dollar” question for a lot of valid reasons. I’d be lying if I told you I had the perfect solution to work-life balance because it’s a constant adjustment.                                    

    My way to deal with it is to organize myself in a way to maximize the quality of the time spent either personally or professionally. For example, I make sure I have a daily, consistent time window dedicated to private/family matters to which I give my full attention without work disruption. This is my time to be mentally present for myself and my family and recharge. The same goes for work time, I try to make sure I have the appropriate setup and support at home such that I can give my full attention to the work and the team with limited disruptions during working time.

    Does it work that smoothly all the time? Of course, not but generally. I think it is important to keep in mind that there is always going to be times when the balance shifts towards work or life and that’s OK, no guilt to have. When this happens, I try to monitor the situation and if it tends to become chronic then I know I need to re-assess that balance again and think of new adjustments either at work or at home. Work-life balance is always a work in progress …

    Again, this is very nuanced. Too many times I hear people – mostly women – thinking to slow down their career or not go after that promotion or that important career boosting project out of fear of compromising their work-life balance. Most of the time this comes from high performers, very skilled individuals and I am always sad to see talented people refraining from unleashing their potential. To these people I say why does it have to be one or the other? Why not both? I strongly believe that the 2 are possible when the right conditions are gathered, and we have a role in making these conditions happen.

    My advice is to spend time thinking about how to best organize that balance between work and life, understanding what is it that recharges you the most and make sure you build a routine for that. As leaders, we also have to create that environment for our teams, allow that flexibility and champion a genuine and collaborative team spirit where associates are there for one another to help and support when life gets in the way of work.

    I think when someone is driven and is committed to the work, he/she will perform regardless of where they are located. Having said that, I don’t deny there is a lot of value in personal interactions to provide this intangible sense of belonging.

    For junior associates though, there is a big value in office interactions to feel the pulse of the company, it’s culture and grasp the trends of the industry they’re in by having these informal discussions with colleagues. Overall, I think a hybrid model in which remote and periodic face-to-face interactions is the most efficient.

    Regulatory is by essence a very diversified area and it is essential to build a diverse team to respond to all the various regulatory needs in a successful way. I see diversity as a multitude of different profiles. Gender is one of them and a very important one but when I think diversity, I think more holistically to cover more broadly e.g. alevel/type of experience, educational background, personality, geographical location, culture, race, skills etc

    Be adaptable, learn as much as you can as early as you can, keep the big picture in mind and be very wise about how you balance your work and your personal life. Network and don’t forget to ask for help, everyone needs help. Work on your relationships and support your co-workers.

    Employers and leaders have also their part to play in fostering an environment that promotes women’s success. Women represent a significant talent pool in Regulatory, yet the time in their lives when they need to learn the job and grow a career coincides with the time they build their families and are faced with increased domestic duties. As leaders recognizing this and supporting our youngest associates during this phase is essential and is beneficial to everyone as it contributes to sustained performance and talent retention.

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