The workplace has undoubtedly undergone a fundamental shift towards inclusivity in recent years. We share the experiences of Manuela, Lourdes, Donata, Roberta, and Verena – whose stories clearly demonstrate that a supportive environment can be a gamechanger for professional achievement. At Lilly, we celebrate our differences and understand that a variety of perspectives is critical to continuous innovation.

So, what #BreakTheBias lessons have we learnt along the way?

Figure out your ‘why’

Pharmacy doctorate Lourdes works as a Senior Research Advisor and Scientific leader for Oncology Programmes at Lilly Research Laboratories, Spain. Since 1999, she has held various scientific and managerial roles in the company.

“My daily work is thinking about the current and future needs of patients. We investigate molecules and try to identify the best ones to test our clinical hypothesis using AI or 3D modelling, in order to find new, innovative drugs for patients. The potential to improve people’s lives is what is important to me.”

Similarly, Verena, a Digital Health Business Integrator based in Germany tells us: “I hadn’t planned to work in the pharma industry, but I was attracted to Lilly’s supportive environment and the opportunity to learn and develop through my career. In my current role, I have the opportunity to see the direct impact of my work on patients through digital health solutions, such as health apps – and being part of a team ensuring a good user experience.”

Feeling proud of what you do is key. For Manuela, HR & Site Services Senior Director (Italy), with 25 years at Lilly in various roles, this means seeing people start their journey at Lilly, progressing, and excelling.

“I am proud that I was able to give a chance to those people to enable them to demonstrate their abilities and to grow their competencies.”

Roberta, who is about to start a new role as General Manager for Israel after 10 years at Lilly Italy, is proud to contribute to an environment where people feel empowered to unleash their potential and transform the organisation for the better. She recommends finding your purpose and understanding your “why” as “it will be your life compass and your guide in making strategic career choices, as well as supporting you through those tough times at work”.

Contribute to improving the experience of women in the workplace

With an international business background, Donata, Senior Ethics & Compliance Manager in Germany, first came to Lilly as an intern. After graduating, she came back and took her first leadership role in her 20s. Today, she does not recognise gender bias in the company.
“We have a lot of inspiring female leaders. Our workplace is very diverse. We also have a very supportive culture that allows flexibility.”

However, balancing career and motherhood can be challenging. Naturally, as the workplace becomes more gender balanced, company policies and the working environment have adapted to make it easier for women to excel.

Following a stint as Director at Lilly China, Donata adds:

“After returning to Germany I started a family. I now have two young children, and I’m proud of negotiating a working pattern which has helped me support my family, while continuing to work hard at Lilly.”

HR director Manuela finds that the biggest challenge she has faced, and is still facing, is how to combine work and family. Her family lives in two countries and they have had to be disciplined to carve out time for each other. “Aligning this with my work is not always easy.”

Lourdes, who started working at Lilly in 1999, remembers how she helped change the company policy during her pregnancy. “When I started working in the laboratory 20 years ago, there was no specific safety guidance for pregnant women. When I realised this, I worked with our site management team to review safety advice. As a result, women were offered non-lab work assignments during their pregnancy, which is now standard practice. Laws, rules, and procedures have changed a lot since then, and I have to say our suggestions have always been welcome. It was simply that no one had thought about it before.”

Working in traditionally male-dominated roles can also be a challenge.

Digital expert Verena remembers being the only woman in the local Information and Digital Solutions team when she joined it in 2016, with little experience in IT. Although the team was welcoming and embraced her ideas, it was challenging being the sole female voice, but the broader Lilly community supported her. “There were other women in global teams who encouraged me to drive my communications strengths and bring a new perspective, as well as apply my analytical skills. My career change to work in IT was a big step, but a rewarding one.”

Female mentorship has helped Verena throughout her career:

“Finding a female mentor who I admired, being able to get feedback and ask questions really helped me. I didn’t ever feel unwelcome, or less skilled than male colleagues, but getting peer support was really important.”

Working in a male dominated environment was something General Manager Roberta experienced at the beginning of her career. “I was very young, and not equipped to manage gender biases. I lacked a support system. It was a tough time, but it was also when I learned more about myself. I realised how important it is to surround yourself with people you trust, people you can go to for help, and the importance of being that go to person for other women and men.”

Take control of your future

Manuela encourages speaking out. “Throughout my career, I learned how important it is to say clearly what I want, state what my expectations are, and to ask for feedback. My advice is: speak up, be clear on what your goals are, and do not be afraid to make choices!”

Donata is proud of the successes she achieved early on. “I was promoted to my first leadership role while still in my 20s. I took over from an older, more experienced male leader and had to manage a diverse team with a wide range of ages and backgrounds. It was a big learning curve. I learnt how to find common ground and appreciate the value of different experiences within the team.”

Building networks can be extremely helpful, Verena comments: “Having a network in the company and building your profile is key if you want to advance and be considered for new roles. Don’t think about what others might expect of you. Think about your personal strengths, passion, and values and what motivates you. What do you get excited about? Try to pull those things together to determine your goal.”

Lourdes’ advice is: “Be proactive in making things better or different. If you think there is something that needs to be changed, talk openly about it. Just because things have always been this way doesn’t mean they cannot be changed for the better.”

Final words of advice?

Lourdes encourages her peers to believe in themselves. For her, this is critical. “Never say no to a new opportunity!” While Donata advises to keep calm and trust yourself. “You will find a way to manage it, even when it feels overwhelming. Breathe, take a step back, and invest your time in lifelong learning.”

Roberta also advocates being open to new opportunities. “Do not say ‘no’ even if you haven't done something before or do not feel 100% ready for it. Pick your path and make a difference.”

At Lilly, we are proud to have seen significant improvement in representation for women globally in recent years and as of the end of 2020, women represented 46% of global management, up from 38% at the beginning of 2017. Our long-standing values of integrity, excellence and respect for people foster an environment where all team members are encouraged to speak up, share ideas, and be fully engaged in our work, while bringing their full authentic selves to work every day.

Together we can #BreakTheBias.