by Martha Sklavos, PhD
How better to celebrate my year as an HBA-MA WIScience scholarship recipient than to rub elbows with the who’s who of elite leaders in industry, healthcare, and science at HBA’s silver anniversary of the Woman of the Year event, which for the first time, is “women” of the year, honoring three stand-outs from three sectors of the healthcare industry? Every WOTY veteran I spoke with prior to the event shared rave reviews, but I still was not entirely sure what to expect.
I began WOTY day with my fabulous mentor, Gina Wilkerson. We met for breakfast and then descended on WOTY together. As we were changing out of our “sensible” NYC walking shoes into our “unsensible” shoes in the hotel lobby, a fellow HBA member took notice and joined us as she had the same task in mind. Instantly conversation ensued, connections were made and business cards were exchanged. Wow, was it really going to be this effortless to connect with other attendees? The answer was a resounding yes!I felt like I could have approached anyone at WOTY and been given a warm reception. Everyone was there to connect, share knowledge, and help one another grow.
During the networking sessions I spoke with executive recruiters, healthcare mavens, industry consultants, entrepreneurs, nurses, scientists, and the CEO of the HBA, Laurie Cooke. At scientific conferences, networking can be difficult and awkward. The WOTY experience was the polar opposite. Networking was the spirit of the event and I found that all attendees, regardless of their career stage, were happy to share their experiences, encouragement, connections and insider tips. I found that the more senior leaders has a desire to speak with and advise those in the early stages of their careers, because they felt they benefited from guidance they received at a similar stage during their pursuit of the C-suite. My grandmother often said: “I was where you are and you’ll be where I am.” This could have been the WOTY motto except I would add “but I’ll help you get there faster and less-painfully.”
The award ceremony at WOTY was not just that, it was a seminar on how to succeed and was filled with inspiration. Annalisa Jenkins was one of the three 2014 HBA “Women of the Year” award winners and her message was especially impactful for me because she had also considered herself “only a scientist” earlier in her career. For a scientist preparing to forge a career in industry her advice was to take time every week to learn about the business side of science, read the Economist, pick up the New York Times and keep up with what is changing in the business of healthcare. WOTY really instilled that I must gain business acumen to align my thought process with the driving force of the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry.
My year as a Women in Science scholarship recipient culminated with WOTY and my defining moment was when I realized I have to focus on selling my brand. Self-branding is not taught in grad school, but will likely be the most important thing I do as I embark on my job hunt this fall as it will shape my career, just as it has for the WOTY awardees. The HBA has been a guiding light that keeps getting brighter through HBA volunteerism, connecting with individual members, and attending virtual and live events within the organization. It scares me to think how in the dark I was before the HBA scholarship. What a difference a year makes!