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I'm Melissa — The Career Coach for pharma/biotech professionals. I'm here to help you get happy at work.

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Grow Your Career in Biotech with Chris Frew

June 23, 2021

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In this episode, my special guest, Chris Frew, and I are talking about how to grow your career in biotech, particularly related to challenges related to inclusion.

Chris is CEO of Workforce Genetics, a life science talent solutions company. The company operates a recruiting division, along with BioBuzz, which provides a community for the network within pharma biotech to become more connected.

Chris and I dive into the barriers that you may face if you’re shifting your focus within the industry (moving from academia into big pharma, for example) and the challenges you may have both as an outsider and as an insider once you’re already within the company.

Women in particular, can face additional challenges around inclusion in this male dominated industry. So we are talking about all of the ways that you can get noticed, get a seat at the table and grow you career.

Get ready for a really candid conversation. We’re holding nothing back!


What You’ll Learn

How to enter and move between academia, biotech and big pharma

Tips for advancing your career internally, even in the most competitive environments

How to discover your zone of genius and things to consider when trying to identify your next career move

Your personal brand, why it matters, and how to get noticed

The culture of the industry, including progress made in diversity, equity, and inclusion but also challenges of working in an industry that lacks leadership diversity. We have a candid conversation on the barriers to leadership and how to make progress toward a truly inclusive and equitable industry.


Featured in This Episode

Ready to advance your career in life sciences? Start at www.workforcegenetics.com

Get connected with BioBuzz at https://biobuzz.io/

Apply for 1-1 coaching at www.melissamlawrence.com/apply

Take the free quiz: Are you in the right career? and get a free bonus guide by going to www.melissamlawrence.com/quiz.


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Transcript

Transcript

Melissa

Welcome to Navigating Your Career, the only podcast that blends personal development, professional skills and psychology to help you get happy at work and live the life you want if you want to stop feeling stuck and start feeling better. This is the place for you. I’m your host, Melissa.

Melissa

Let’s get started.

Melissa

Welcome to this week’s episode of the podcast this week, I have a special treat, I am being joined by Chris Crew. Chris is the CEO of Workforce Genetics, which is a life science talent solutions company. They provide talent solutions for biotech. And there are two divisions. They have a recruiting division. And then they also have BioBuzz, which some of you may have heard of, which provides a community for the network within pharma biotech to become more connected.

Melissa

He has 17 years of experience. He is a leader in this space and he has some wonderful insights. And so we are going to talk about how to grow your career in biotech, including some of those topics that you are likely not hearing elsewhere, which is really a candid conversation on the challenges that many of you experience, challenges around inclusion, around this being a male dominated industry. We are talking about barriers that you may run into if you’re going from academia to biotech to big pharma and those challenges you may have both as an outsider and as an insider into a company once you’re already there.

Melissa

So we are talking about all of the ways that you can grow your career. So you are not going to want to miss a minute of this. And I’m also going to include Chris’s contact information for workforce genetics in the show notes that if you want to get in contact with him, you will have that information. Let’s get to it. Hi, Chris, how are you?

Chris

I’m doing fantastic, thank you for having me today.

Melissa

I’m so happy to have you here. So can you tell the audience a little bit about you, who you are and what you do?

Chris

Yes, absolutely. So my name is Chris Frew. I’m the CEO of Workforce Genetics. I get this question a lot because I also run an organization called Bio Buzz, which a lot of people know me from. So to demystify that a little bit, Workforce Genetics is a company that focuses on talent solutions for the life science industry. And I have this, I guess, big vision to help influence, you know, really the candid journey from the moment that they think about joining the biotech industry in life, science and industry all the way through their career advancement.

Chris

And so that’s why it’s a little hard for people to say, what do you do? Because I’m just excited. I want to work with kids across the whole spectrum. So Workforce has one division that’s a recruiting firm. So we have six recruiters that help candidates grow their careers in the industry. And then we have bio buzz, which actually started 11 years ago this month, if you can believe that, which is crazy to me. And we are really an online community and media platform for job seekers to help them gain awareness of employers and opportunities in local markets.

Melissa

That is so fun that I’m so excited to talk to you about growing your career in biotech, because there are so many people, a lot of the listeners are in biotech already and they’re not sure if it’s something that they want to stay with long term. And then we also have people that want to kind of break the ground and getting into biotech. And it can seem like kind of an exclusive community. So I’m excited to dig into all of that with you today.

Melissa

So how do you think you can get into the pharma biotech industry when you are just kind of getting into your career and you want to maybe pivot from another industry or you’re starting more entry level?

Chris

That’s a great question, Melissa, and that’s a question that’s being asked by a lot of people these days. You know, the biotech market, first of all, is just booming. You know, there’s there’s just so many advancements and technologies that are converging into this industry right now. And, of course, coming after coming out of the pandemic, which the industry saw explosive growth. And so there’s a lot of people in and out of the industry saying, how do we get more people interested in joining this this journey and this really fun, exciting industry that we know we’re in.

Chris

But to your point, there’s some barriers to entry, right? That’s it. You know, and when you’re outside the industry, you feel that it’s almost like kind of trying to get into a fraternity. You’re like, right. You know, how do I pledge to this this this industry? So I think networking is so important, first of all, like that. I think that’s important. And I think education, a lot of people don’t like they know about biotech, but they don’t really know where life sciences, they don’t know what they still think.

Chris

Medical or health care. I don’t know if you get that often, but they they think doctors and MDs and they think hospitals and they’re not necessarily thinking laboratories and manufacture like by manufacturing, like manufacturing is a big part of this industry. And I don’t think that kind of always, always kind of connects when you’re not in it. Yeah. So if you’re early in your career, there’s a lot of resources being developed right now across Maryland and elsewhere.

Chris

But there’s bootcamps that are being put together right now to get people in a few weeks up to speed on what’s drug development and what’s GMP or good manufacturing practices and and what’s cool about the boot camps. And it’s through workshops, Montgomery and Montgomery College, that they’re doing some of this. But it’s a great starting point for people that are looking to transition. I mean, there’s been success out of this. You know, they’ve only had a few of these boot camps so far, but project managers coming from one industry to another is a good example.

Chris

They can go through this boot camp and suddenly like, oh, I get it now. So when you go to interview, you know, you’re coming more educated, more prepared. So I think, you know, not making a long question longer. I think those boot camps and those resources around here are a great way to just help educate yourself before you just start applying.

Melissa

Yeah. And I think for me, I, I talk to you kind of three different buckets of people and one would be kind of academia, one would be small biotech or kind of research startups and then big pharma. And depending on who you’re talking to, they have different challenges in trying to break through stuff there in academia. They find that they kind of run into some barriers when they’re trying to show that their skills apply in biotech or pharma. And then same with biotech.

Melissa

When they’re trying to go into Big Pharma, they can run into some barriers because they’ve only done kind of small startups or companies with maybe 50 or 100 people where they maybe don’t even have any licensed products. And then they’re trying to break into big pharma and they’re getting feedback like, well, you don’t have GMP experience or, you know, your lab experience isn’t working with this specific piece of equipment. And they’re kind of getting the door shut on them.

Melissa

And I think that’s a challenge that people are having when they’re trying to really advance in this industry is even though the industry is so inclusive and tight knit, it also it’s kind of elite, I feel like stage to stage. Have you?

Chris

That’s a good word for. Yeah, I have, and that’s a really good kind of description, I think those buckets are accurate, you know, very accurate and and there is this kind of elitist ism or and I think that is changing honestly, from a recruiter standpoint, I can tell you that I’ve seen some some of that changing but large corporate commercial biotech’s. I mean, there’s definitely a few in the in the county. And you’ll often hear that, you know, some people trying to get in there have this really kind of negative experience because they feel that elitism or they feel that, you know, it’s I’ve heard I’ve heard a couple referred to as like, you know, like a high castle that they can’t get across the moat, you know, so that’s a real experience that people have.

Chris

So so I guess that that could be honestly an hour conversation, what you just said there. But let me start with let me start with the beginning. Let me start with academia. That’s and or maybe postdocs, that kind of academic, basic research scientist looking to kind of get their foot in the door and figure out how to get in the industry. That I mean, academic industry, if you Google that, you’re going to see lots of stuff because that’s a real problem that people, you know, have to figure out.

Chris

It’s just two different cultures, like very different cultures. Mm hmm. So we work with a lot of postdocs and trying to get their first research jobs or trying to move off the bench and get a project management job. And and. You know, some of the advice we we come down to, and this is for everybody, but I think it really relates to them, is that this industry is complex. You just described it a little bit of it, but it’s really complex.

Chris

So I think that in this field, you really need to know your compass and you need to know the map. And that’s hard when you spend eight years focused on one aspect of RNA or what one element of science to pick your head up and really learn this this landscape. But it’s really important because there are so many moving parts and different niches and and they speak different languages. I mean, chemists don’t speak the same language as molecular biologist and bioinformatics and someone in business.

Chris

So for when you’re coming out of that that academic element or basic research element, I think it’s really important that you get yourself out there and then you start talking to a lot of people. Look at your alumni who’s who have been there. People come out of your lab before and just to understand what the landscape is. And but I mean, I think even before that, one of the things I always ask people is like, do you know yourself like like what do you want to do?

Chris

And often people say, oh, I want a job in industry. And I could be anything like, you know, like, you know, what is it you want to do? And I think some of it, you know, some of it starts there. And I mean, in your work, you probably can relate that to a lot of people at any stage of their career. But I think that’s a question that when you’re first getting an answer, you got to figure that out pretty, pretty strongly.

Melissa

Yeah. And I think also looking at your lifestyle, like what kind of lifestyle you want to have, because I see people also they’re just so focused on that goal of getting into the elusive industry that they take a position where their say in the lab all the time and they don’t want to do bench work all the time or they’re working shift work and they’re working at night. And they didn’t really realize the impact that would have because they’re only focused on that end goal.

Melissa

So I think it’s really looking at what like you say, like your strength and what you love and your interests. But then also what is the life that you want to have and what is the impact of this job are going to have on your life?

Chris

Yeah, absolutely. You know, you may want that industry job so much that you take a job in manufacturing and then also you realize it’s very process oriented and you don’t get that creative discovery element that you loved that got you into science in the first place. I mean, there’s and we’ve seen that. We’ve seen people make those decisions. You know, there’s a process that that you can go through. And I think one of the people that does it really well and is a career adviser, Kayla McKinney, he’s fantastic.

Chris

And all her students like no one. I haven’t talked to anybody that doesn’t rave about him. And he he talks about three elements is like, what do you what do you love? What are you good at and what do people pay you for? Mm hmm. And you figure that out first. Yeah. You know, and then and sometimes to figure out what do people pay for you for it, you just have to put yourself out there and start talking and start networking and and I mean, shameless plug, come to a Biota’s event, come out to Vivus and meet some people.

Chris

But you got to figure those things out, because if you just start randomly applying, I mean, you’re not you’re going to be miserable. One, going through the job application process when you sent one hundred resumes out and nobody gets back to you, you’d be a lot happier if you said ten and five people got back to you.

Melissa

Yeah, absolutely. And I call that kind of process you mentioned like your zone of genius. So I love that. Like, I personally, though, think that you have to take it a little bit farther than that to know who you are as a person, because we get really caught up in doing like Clifton strength finders, which is like your workplace strengths, and then just going to find what you like to do and kind of those three main areas.

Melissa

But a lot of people don’t know themselves very well until they find themselves getting in jobs that they thought that they would like because it was that next mile marker. It was what they thought that they should do because are, you know, just tracking their milestones and then they get there and they’re like, this isn’t really what I thought it was going to be, or they worked so hard for it and think they’re going to feel a certain way. And then they get there and they’re like, oh, this is it, I’m still not happy.

Melissa

And then they just move the mile marker. So I think it’s really important that, you know yourself in addition to those things. But do you think there’s any unique requirements for advancing your career specific to biotech?

Chris

Well, I mean. A lot of it is, like you said, is this personal discovery when you need to figure out, like, what’s that map or what’s that where does that journey to take you? So I think that’s pretty transcendent across a couple of industries. But what I think that does make biotech unique is that there is this kind of fraternity mindset in here and there are some some kind of industry barriers that exist that you don’t even know about like that.

Chris

That’s part of you don’t even know that there’s a perception of someone who’s, you know, in GOP preclinical company that, you know, that doesn’t fit with a commercial stage. Biotech like those are just things that you just you don’t even know. So I think it’s important to, you know, to figure that out and understand that and and understand how to fill in those gaps. If you don’t if you have a gap, how do you how do you feel that in.

Chris

So like when you know this industry, it you know, it’s an amazing industry. And I think that once you connect with people like you, there’s these bonds that that are that become strong in that field. That’s one of the things I love about it. Like people are mission oriented. They’re here for a purpose and I love that. But sometimes it’s just you got to get to that point where you can get yourself out there and establish those relationships.

Chris

Now. How you establish those relationships is important, and I think it’s important in biotech that you are educated like, you know, I have people that network with me. This goes back to all the time and they can’t talk the talk or they can’t. So they don’t I don’t immediately see that they understand what they’re looking for and know what they want. So I think networking and biotech, you are among a lot of people who are all well-educated and they want to hear that you’ve you’ve done your research, you’ve done some preliminary stuff.

Chris

And and and honestly, Melissa, I’ve been in this field for 17 years. So, you know, I kind of forget a little bit what it’s like out in the world or some of the other industries. But I know that’s a fact here. Like there’s a high barrier, a high bar that people have when you’re networking with them, when you’re you know, when you come with your ask, there’s a high bar. They’re kind of they’re looking for.

Melissa

Mm hmm. Yeah, I agree. I did a whole podcast episode on networking because I share that with you. And it’s so important in this industry specifically because everyone seems to know someone who knows someone. And when it comes to applying for roles in this industry, I mean, I think the statistic is 85 percent of roles are filled through relationships or through networking, knowing someone. And so if you don’t know someone, especially if you’re trying to get into a company that is maybe far more from biotech or biotech, from academia, you’re not going to be at the same advantage as someone that does.

Melissa

So I think that you can also use the network for what we talked about earlier with when you want to make those jumps between those different kind of silos. If you have a network that you can lean on, then you can talk about your experience with someone that says where you want to be and get some ideas and how you can phrase your experience in a way that’s going to translate well to that industry or that type of company that you want to go into.

Chris

Yeah, I love that, and and I think that’s that’s brilliant. You said I mean, it’s it’s all about understanding where you want to go and being able to talk about what you’ve done in that context. Right. And I think if you can do that, you start to get up to that bar that people are looking for. But if you come in, you’re talking a different language. You’re talking pharma. Does someone in biotech right now or you’re talking basic research to someone in GMP?

Chris

You’re not going to be able to leverage that network as much, and if want someone on your network made that introduction, it might not go as far. Yeah, but if you if you can understand how to speak the language, then, you know, then it makes it easier to make those transitions. And we’re forced to there’s just so many great resources. I mean, just LinkedIn alone is you want to learn about a certain industry. There’s some very easy stuff you can do.

Chris

Just go search on LinkedIn and search that industry and start following all those people that you want, you know, that you want to be or that you want to be around and see what they post and see what they share and see what they comment on. Join the associations that are part of it. Suddenly you can start to speak the language and talk the talk. You don’t have to walk the walk yet, but at least you’re talking the talk.

Chris

So when that network contact you had from the press company does give you that introduction, you know, you’re you start off that relationship with that first impression again. Eighty five percent of hires get made through networking. And but again, the ones that get that jobs are the ones that make that first impression. Good.

Melissa

Yeah. That is such a good point around surrounding yourself with the people that you admire and that you want to aspire to be like as opposed to staying around people that are stuck and maybe having some of the same challenges because it’s harder to see what’s possible for yourself if you are around people that are elevated beyond where you are. I’ve seen that in so many contexts, whether it’s earning potential or career potential. If you say kind of in your same network with the same people that aren’t doing those big things, then those big things are going to seem impossible for you to do.

Chris

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, I wanted to be an entrepreneur and and it seemed like I wanted to run my own business. And for many years, it seemed like this giant leap was really scary. And but I wasn’t hanging around anyone that did it except for the owner of my company. And he wasn’t he wasn’t the right person because he wanted me to stay and see them. Right. So, I mean, from a personal experience, I mean, I can absolutely attest to that.

Chris

And I lived through it. And it took me a couple of years before I learned that lesson that she just gave and started building by networks and hanging around the people that I wanted to be. And I think you can do that at work, too, right. So this doesn’t have to be you know, we’ve talked a lot about moving from industry to industry or from different parts of the industry to different parts of industry. But and I’m sure you’ve seen this in a corporate setting, but it’s within your company as well.

Chris

Like, you know, if you’re, you know, a line level employee, like, you know, are you asking the manager or your director lunch? Are you intentionally, you know, putting yourself out there or are you intentionally, you know, asking for time with them? Are you asking what they do on the week and asking what they read, asking what they you know, how they got to be in their role? Or if you want to be a project manager, are you hanging out the team and doing the same thing?

Chris

I think that intentionality is really important. And and I guess an easy way to say is like an old mentor of mine said, never waste a lunch and is it never waistlines, never eat alone like the lunch time everyone eats it. It’s an opportunity for you to go knock on your door, say, hey, what? You go for lunch, you know, or whoever you want to learn from. And and that was one of the ways that I that I applied that I just started.

Chris

Well, let me go just eat lunch with people. I want to be like, yeah, that’s such good advice. I love that. I’m glad that you brought up internal career development, because I have this sense just from experience and just from the people that I talk to you, that it’s almost more competitive once you’re in, you’re outside because everyone that’s in is really talented. It’s the best of the best. Everyone is really well qualified. And it’s not uncommon for leadership to kind of pin some favorites, even though you’re not supposed to get used to just human nature.

Chris

You get used to relying on the same people for things and certain people, probably, maybe those ones having lunch with directors or with other people doing really well with their networking, they’re more visible. And so they’re top of mind. And so they get pulled on for more opportunities. And so it can be sometimes hard to kind of stand out among all of that talent. So is there anything that you can think of that you would advise people to do other than networking or building relationships across kind of their reporting lines?

Chris

Yeah, absolutely, and and I hear that because I talked to a lot of candidates who come to me and say, well, I’m ready to leave because I can’t advance or so. And so I got promoted and I didn’t like my team talks a lot of it. So and I don’t think bias is always intentional. And I think that, you know you know, there’s a perception we all have like someone said, we’ve got the promotion. I didn’t.

Chris

But, you know, so-and-so might have been doing those lunches, right? They might have been very vocal that they wanted that job. They might have been, you know, taking some of those steps. So so I think a couple piece of advice that I have and that that I look for as a as a as a leader in my company and that I tried to do when I was growing my career. One know, make it easy to be managed.

Chris

You know, that’s that’s a very simple, you know, concept that for me was make it easy for my manager. Right. Like if so, part of that is understanding what’s important to your manager. Right. Which you can get those lunches or whatever else. But but also in general, just do your job. Well, no. If you’re good, if you ask for reports on a certain time, make sure they’re in on time, you know, due to some of the things that, you know, are going to be beneficial for the people that are overseeing, it shows responsibility.

Chris

It shows you know, it shows you’re being thoughtful beyond just checking the boxes of your role. Right. And and that’s just a that’s just an easy an easy approach. But it is a mindset you have to think about. So that was one that I just personally in my career, it is helpful. And I know my team, when people are proactive, when they make it easy for me to you know, they know what questions I’m going to ask.

Chris

And they come to the table and say, all right, here’s what I have for you. And they bring those questions are they bring those answers sometime before I even have to ask them. And those are things you can do in your career that are just going to just naturally put you. You know, as someone who has promotion potential or as development potential, another part of it is just talking about what you want. Like I learned that the hard way also a lot of a lot of my lesson was because I learned and I didn’t do them for a long time, but I wasn’t talking about the things that I wanted to do at first.

Chris

And I realized that if I’m not talking about it, no one knows. So, like, there’s a lot of people that don’t want a promotion. They want to just come into work every day and they’re happy. They want to do that job. And for companies who are set up like systems, those those people are important to everyone, every role is important to the company. So if you’re not vocal, how does anybody know you want something other than what you got?

Chris

And so I don’t know, those are two very simple things I think people can apply, and I’m not saying you scream it out all the time like I want a promotion. Yeah.

Melissa

Nobody proactively manage your development. And I think you’re spot on with saying making your career development goals visible is really important. I think a lot of people get caught and working really hard and then expecting that their management is just going to promote them because they’re going to let their work speak for themselves. Or I’ve also seen because a lot of companies and industry are really working hard to focus on employee development. Sometimes employees get kind of forced to grow beyond where they want to.

Melissa

So I’ve also had conversations with people that are experts in their industry, in their field, and they want to stay an expert at that level. They don’t have any desire to go any higher, but their management pushes them to say, well, you should shadow this other department or you should work towards this promotion. And it’s kind of like you’re stuck in the middle. No matter what you want, depending on who you are, can be kind of difficult.

Melissa

The other thing I was going to add to what you said is I think if you can make yourself indispensable to your company by solving some sort of problem, I found that really helpful with my own career when I was having a challenge kind of going beyond middle management and really going to a higher level, I had to find a problem that I was interested in solving, but also that the business needed to have solved, even if they didn’t know it at the time, and then create that business case for it, show the value in it, and then do something that no one else is doing so that you do stand out and become relevant that way because you’re being innovative in how you’re solving a problem for the business.

Chris

Yeah, I love that as a as a. Innovative company like Workforce Genetics, and I mean, we’re tackling a lot of really interesting things in the talent space right now and and I’m looking for that. I mean, we ask all the time, like ideas like how would you solve this? What else would you do? What are we not thinking about? But I wonder, like, you know, I guess maybe to turn this question on, you know, like what’s that like in a corporate in a corporate setting?

Chris

Like because I know that sometimes the larger the company, you know, the more you have to really understand what the company’s priorities are. I assume, because, you know, it’s it’s you know, there’s a lot of good ideas that people bring to the table. And they could also get disheartened if they’re not bringing the ideas that they want to solve, that the company wants to solve.

Melissa

Yeah, it definitely has to be something that is a priority for the business. So going back to what we talked about earlier around, you know, that zone of genius, there’s a lot of things that were interested in that the company doesn’t care about. And that’s just the way it’s like going have a lot of interest, good at a lot of things. But if it’s not hitting what the company wants to hit as far as their goals, then they’re unlikely to really invest time or resources to allow you to pursue that.

Melissa

So what I always find helpful is to go to that strategy even beyond if you’re like a site, go to a global strategy and then drill down to see where the opportunities even beyond your site. So what I’ve seen be successful for myself and others is really looking beyond the silo of the site that you’re at. And look at what are the company objectives and how can you solve a problem. Maybe there’s a gap between a process. So if you’re in like operations, like a global operations and you’re in a manufacturing facility, then there’s probably a gap in the way things are being done that’s inconsistent between global operations and what they want to see be done versus some issues that your site is having and implementing some of those objectives.

Melissa

And so maybe there’s something you can come up with that will help bridge that gap. So I think that can help you really with a lot of good ideas. If you look beyond kind of your immediate area or your immediate team or department and look as big as you can and find something the company really cares about. For me, I looked to like employee engagement scores. So when we did culture surveys, I would use that. I would find where the areas were really hurting and then I would come up with something that I wanted to do to fix it.

Melissa

And so that’s really how I got myself in the talent space from the training space. So I was more on the training side and then I got into talent and development because I started looking at those metrics that the company cared about and developing solutions for those.

Chris

That awareness is helpful, and I think that’s a great story about transitioning from training into into the more HRR because you are aware of like that, how to kind of bridge that with solving a problem. Mm hmm. I know in my experience, I’ve done it before. I’d solve a problem for my manager and just made sure it was also aware that I was solving it, not the person solving. Yeah. So I didn’t I didn’t look so broadly.

Chris

I looked I didn’t look so broadly, but I knew there was a problem that I was solving just for that for our department that, you know, that I knew how to solve. And I was very vocal about how I was doing it and made sure that other people were as well.

Melissa

Yeah. So it’s become that a little bit because that does come up pretty often that people try to be visible by solving a problem for their manager, but maybe their manager doesn’t give them credit for solving the problem. So how do you create that visibility and also keep a positive relationship with your manager?

Chris

Yeah, that’s that’s a great point. And I think every company and dynamics are very different. Right. Just like any relationship or any any start of any problem or project. I think some of it starts to do with like establishing some of the some of the elements of that in the very beginning. So I think maybe one one thing not to do would be just kind of come with a solution without engaging your manager and and be like here I want to do this, like you’re going to hit resistance in it.

Chris

But if you can engage in the process of what I did was gauge my manager in some of the the the things that I saw, what he was trying to achieve and was metrics of productivity based. It was you know, and I saw that some of the issues were within within the systems we were using and the tracking mechanisms and stuff like that. So we we went to him and together I said, hey, I think we should bring this up.

Chris

And I try to encourage it to be brought up at a larger leadership meeting. And I was the expert. I became the expert at it. So I got brought in to talk about it and to to present on it. So for me, that’s how I got more visibility on it is you know, I engaged early on in solving the problem together and ensured ahead of time that I was like, again, I was an expert at ah, it’s like, ah, that was something that I just dug in and became the expert on and it helped.

Chris

And I got I got a lot more visibility through it and it helped me, you know, become seen a little bit more than what I was.

Melissa

Yeah. And I think if you have a manager that maybe isn’t as supportive, that’s where our mentors are. Having other allies can be really helpful. I found a lot of success in that. Personally, I know a lot of my clients do as well as they find someone that’s not in their reporting structure, that’s not in their department, but has a leadership position or at least the leadership voice that can advocate for you. So if you have things that you’re doing that maybe aren’t being made as visible as you’d like, you can share those things with your mentor and then you at least have someone around that leadership table that knows what you’re contributing and can speak up for you.

Chris

Yeah, that’s a great point. Mentors at work are I mean, that’s another topic of growing, growing your career. Right. Having a mentor or work is really important. And someone that you don’t report to is really important. Having mentors or a coach or someone outside of work also is important because there’s a lot that someone internally won’t won’t be able to tell you or won’t be able to guide you on. And a lot of companies have established, like larger companies have established mentorship programs.

Chris

But, you know, what I’ve seen is that a lot of smaller companies don’t. And I think that’s a that’s a struggle for people. And I wonder if you may experience that and in some of your clients. But I know that’s a challenge we’ve heard is like there’s no one in the company I can talk to. They like that is a real thing that that people, while they’re advancing their career, they have. And and because of the way that biotech works.

Chris

It’s a very there’s very clear departments and there’s very clear stepping stones to a career, right. So so it does create some friction there. And so so, yeah, I think that finding that mentor to help guide around that is important. But I know that’s a challenge for a lot of people in their career.

Melissa

Yeah. I mean, my stance on it is you can just ask and when I say ask it, it comes from like an organic relationship. So I think sometimes we have the expectation that we will just go and make this formal request or there has to be a formal program to say, will you be my mentor, I’ll be your mentee, you will guide me. But but that’s not I don’t think those are the best mentor mentee relationships. I think they approved by the Jedi Council.

Melissa

Yeah, that’s what I was channeling there.

Melissa

So I think it’s more you have to like invite someone to a coffee chat or something and have an informal conversation. And if there’s something that you think you can learn from that person and they can probably learn from you too, then you can bring that up as a point of conversation and say, I’m really enjoying talking to you. I think there’s a lot I can learn from you. You know, what do you think about maybe getting together on a monthly basis and just touching base?

Melissa

And I can run some things by you and I’m happy to answer questions you have about what I do. And then when you do it like that and have those lunches like you talked about before, then you really, I think, become more invested in each other’s success and growth as opposed to finding someone that you just want to get something from and saying, well, they’re in a really high position and they’re where I want to be. I’m just going to make them my mentor.

Melissa

And then you’re kind of forcing it and then the energy gets all off and then it just it can end up hurting you because you don’t end up having them. That ally, you have someone that’s like, oh, I was that person’s mentor. They were a little strange.

Chris

So, yeah, that’s a that’s a great point. And it you know, I guess a lot of people think of mentors like this very formal thing, like you’re talking about, like there’s like this, you know, it’s it’s established, you know, but I’ve had a lot of mentors over the years and, you know, and I had one guy I mean, you’ve been a really good mentor. He was leaving the company. You were really good mentor brands like your mentor, like you’ve been you’ve given me a lot of advice over the years.

Chris

We meet on a regular basis. And yeah, I mean, we’ve never formally said, you know, from this day forward we will. But but I remember that conversation because he was like to him, it was like this thing. But our relationship had organically grown and he became a confidant and somebody that I could trust and somebody that I could rely on. And and and what I do now is I am constantly evaluating myself and looking for my gaps.

Chris

And I talk to my team about this as well. And and and where I’m networking right now is always to fill a gap. And it’s easy to network around and stuff you love and you’re passionate about. And you know really well because you can talk about it like, you know, you and I can talk talent all day long. The problem with this conversation for the next couple hours. But but ultimately, like the value is when you’re learning something and you’re filling that gap.

Chris

And so right now, as I’m growing the company, there’s several gaps that I have that I don’t need to know that I know I’m going to need in the next six to 12 months. And that’s where I’m actively building relationships and I’m actively asking for for those lunches and actively engaging. And, you know, we had a meeting with my team just yesterday. I said, hey, everybody, we are moving in a lot of different directions. You know, you’re great at that.

Chris

But every time you send me an article, it’s about the stuff that I know you’re already great at. Like you need to spend the rest of the summer and just put that aside and fill your gaps. Go meet people. I want to hear it. I want to know who you’re meeting, who you’re talking to, what you’re listening to. They’re filling your gaps. And and again, those relationships that you’re finding, like you said, if you if you click and that and that’s what my hope is like.

Chris

I’ve got a couple that recently started over the past year and then opened that door where I’m trying to go. I’m going to have a couple other mentors that come into the picture that that fill those gaps for me. And I can build that relationship and have that those people that I can trust and rely on.

Melissa

Yeah, but it’s all fun. I love that. That’s actually why I really liked working in this industry. Why I chose to move into it when I did was because I’m not a science person and I really like to learn. So I liked being around all of these scientists and PhD people. And I’m someone that will say, talk to me about science. I’m like, what are you talking about? Like, what is better now than I was, you know, like twelve years ago, Humalog, when I entered the industry one the time I just was like, I don’t know, I could tell you how.

Melissa

So that was actually really hard not to like I drank too much, but to be someone that’s an expert and like development and training and learning to come into an industry with these people that were like, how are you going to teach me anything? How are you going to know how I learn when you don’t know anything about science and then to just like blow their minds with that, like they’re like, oh, so we don’t just have to attend lectures, we just have to watch webinars, read S.O.P.

Melissa

So that’s always so fun. I love being around people that like are just geniuses in their own right. And I’m a genius kind of in my own and we can all just work together. It’s so fun.

Chris

I mean, that’s that is one of the cool things about this. I love that that that that element. And there’s so many brilliant people. But there’s also because this industry is so regulated, there’s so much investment that goes into, you know, some of the market. It’s very complex. You have experts that get into this industry that are at the top of their field from, like you said, and talent and training. And it I mean, there’s some really complex problems in biotech.

Chris

I mean, so across the across the board, you’re talking a really brilliant people. And I love that. I love and and again, it speaks to why diversity is so important to you. You get these people that, like you said, you get this scientist who is just, you know, an expert in this field, comes and talks to you and an expert in your field. And suddenly, you know, this collision happens and the sparks are flying.

Chris

Everyone’s like, wow, that’s really amazing. Wow, that’s really amazing. And and and again, that’s where that’s where the good stuff comes as the innovation. And that’s where the really the and the, you know, the enjoyment out of where it comes from when you’re when you’re in those environments.

Melissa

Mm hmm. I’m glad that you brought up diversity because I didn’t want to talk a little bit about that kind of call the elephant out of the room. What does that thing is? I call the elephant out of the room. Right? I think it’s called that.

Chris

I think of this, you know, I’m not ignoring the elephant in the room. There you go. There’s a room and there’s an elephant and we’re in the room. Talk about it.

Melissa

So it’s no secret that the industry is known for being more male dominated and specifically somewhat limited when it comes to diversity. So how do you think the industry is changing to become more equitable? Because I know there’s a lot of strides in this area, but there’s still a lot of work to do. So what are your thoughts?

Chris

Yeah, absolutely, I think there’s a lot of work to be done, but there’s, you know, in comparison to some other industries, like one of the things I love about this industry is you meet people from all over the world and from all different types of backgrounds. I think there’s a there is a really in my opinion, there is a diverse workforce. Now, what I see is that as careers grow, maybe that’s where I see that there’s some very clear room for improvement.

Chris

I also see that in that early pipeline, there’s a lot of room for improvement. And, you know, so, again, it kind of comes to that elitism, right, that you do you have a degree from in biochemistry, you know, that you can’t how can you be in this field? So I see those two elements that that that play a lot in this industry. The earlier stage one is something I’m very passionate about. So BioBuzz is working on something that you’ll see in the near future, that we have this vision of democratizing access to biotech careers.

Chris

And we’ve got really some really cool stuff. We’re working on some processes and some technology and really what what you know, at a high level, what we’re doing is where we’re reaching out to nontraditional populations that you don’t see here as much and identifying people that are, you know, predisposition to work in a GMP environment because GMP workers have a DNA about them. So for me, like, that’s an area I’m passionate about. And I think the industry can’t grow unless the industry grows its mindset and it grows.

Chris

It’s, you know, who it’s who it’s targeting to come into the industry. So that that earlier area is one that I’m very passionate about the at the later stage, I mean, I think there’s just a tremendous amount of improvement that is needed. I mean, you look at I mean, how many times you go to a website and look at the executive team and, you know, it’s evident or the board, there’s some great organizations, Women in Bio has a boardroom readiness program.

Chris

And I think that that’s great to see. And needs there needs to be more right. Than is. And I think that’s part of it. There’s programs out there, but there needs to be more.

Melissa

Yeah. So like I that. I have kind of a conflicting view on that, because I don’t know if the problem so much is women needing training to be boardroom ready as it is for the men making those decisions to be more inclusive, to hire people that don’t look or talk or think like them. Because if you think about it, there’s a big gap when it comes to leadership development programs and a lot of companies, because they’re trying to fix this issue, they’re creating women leadership development programs where they’re met.

Melissa

There’s a lot of men in leadership development program. It’s just for women where they’re kind of being shaped to be less themselves, be less emotional, dress a certain way, have a certain presence. And I don’t think that that’s really the right way to go. And I I’ve worked with a lot of brilliant male leaders, but I’ve also worked with ones that don’t dress well and don’t have great presidents and aren’t great leaders. And they’re not being shipped off to a boardroom readiness training.

Chris

So that might be a suggestion for people.

Melissa

But that’s my view on it, is I think that’s where I think there needs to be more work to really. Get I mean, the industry is very good at having this quality mindset and doing root cause analysis, and it’s a why don’t we apply some of that to why women are and people of color are not being accelerated beyond middle management. Because when you look at organizations, there’s a ton of diverse talent, like you said, at a certain level.

Melissa

And breaking through to that, I think part of that barrier is the people making those decisions are the people that are already having the privilege or advantage. And they’re maybe not seeing. That they’re only choosing people that they find acceptable based on their own bias. Yeah, well, I admit there I’m just putting it off.

Chris

Well, I think yeah. I mean, again, you know, part three of our series, right? You’re like, let’s let’s just wrap this up. There’s a dog enjoying it. But I think that’s what you’re seeing, is you are seeing that this there’s more awareness of there’s this bias that people have. And and I mean, I’ve talked to and I know CEOs in this industry and others who talk about diversity and talk about, you know, you know, trying to eliminate bias from the workforce.

Chris

But then you look at their leadership team and you’re like in your head tilts and you’re like, are you where are you doing this exactly? So I think a lot of times people do need to be called to to charge on on on on it and. Again, I don’t know. I don’t have the answer to it, but there’s there’s definitely a clear opportunity that a lot a lot isn’t. And and let me let me take a step back further in the earlier stage.

Chris

You know who gets the investment, right? There’s a lot of brilliant scientists, you know, in and, you know, in academia that are inventing new discoveries. But still, a lot of companies are still started by men. And there’s a you know, and there’s a disparity there in the earlier stage. So one might also think if you could fix that again, you know, 10 years from now, those companies know a lot more of those companies are going to be commercial and larger and suddenly have a larger population where they just the culture has been changed.

Chris

And I know like there’s a lot of effort going towards increasing investment and and eliminating that kind of bias and around it. But but I see that that’s an opportunity as well for the industry. Like, let’s get more entrepreneurs out there. Let’s get more innovators. Let’s get more, you know, women and diverse populations that are that are out there starting companies and and let’s get more investors that look like them so that they’re they’re getting the funding that they need.

Chris

So, yeah, I mean, this is definitely one you could keep feeling.

Melissa

I know. Yeah. I think we could apply some of what we talked about with development and learning about people and systems and processes different than your own. I think that will really open the window a little bit to. Just the history around women in marginalized communities and how there’s been all this oppression and. A lot of. Rules around how to be right, like if you my mom sent me these like old magazines from the 50s for fun. She actually sent them to, like, wrap something.

Melissa

But I really like the magazines more than what she sent. She doesn’t listen to my podcast. That’s OK.

Chris

So she loved it. I love you, Mom, but like but she said these magazines and it was really interesting to see how people were portrayed and like just the messaging in those magazines. And I see. Then we’re kind of I maybe I’m too jaded on this, but the way that I see it is now when we have these programs to develop women, it’s doing more of the same. It’s developing by telling them to be a certain way. And to me, that’s.

Chris

Counterproductive to being inclusive, if you’re inclusive and you embrace people for who they are. Yeah, the same way that we don’t ask other people to change who they are or to stop apologizing or to, you know, do or be a certain way, we shouldn’t be asking other people do that in order to have a seat at the table.

Chris

Yeah, no, I agree. I think and to your point, I mean, there’s there’s it’s a complex problem where there’s a balanced solution. You’ve got to have solutions that address both elements of it. I mean, I look at some of the statistics that I read, like, you know, you know how men often apply for positions that are like, you know, like 15 or 20 percent of the requirements are they can’t do. But women will usually apply for things that they can do.

Chris

One hundred and one hundred percent they that feed all the exceeded. So I think that is that is something that can be like a behavior or something that you can, you know, help J.P. like, you know, not training, but help educate people like, hey, listen, apply for that. And that’s where your mentor comes in handy. Right. So I think programs like like that help in those type of be learned situations, putting yourself out there, kind of achieving your best like those elements.

Chris

But then the other has to be true to. Right. You know, the system, the past, you know, you can’t fit in. The system has to change, not the you know, not not those that that aren’t getting the opportunity to change. So there is a change to a friend of mine who I’m hoping we’re having a webinar with soon and told me that Thermo Fisher, they have a this initiative to hire 500 people with zero biotech experience coming into the industry.

Chris

Oh, and she has this new role. And she’s been in my position a long time. She’s been a recruiter of mine and she’s now in this diversity and inclusion role. And she told me something really interesting. She’s kind of just developing this role myself. And one of the things she’s like part of what I’m trying to do right now is just. Help people understand the cultures at historically black universities. So he’s like recruiters, like in how we recruit in our system that we have right now does not match.

Chris

So, again, to your point, like, we don’t have to change those people to get in and we need to change how we operate to, you know, to identify the right people, you know? And so it’s like she’s like, I’m trying to teach people why certain things are important or what we need to how we need to recruit differently. And so that I love that about I mean, we talk for like forty five minutes. I’m like, God, I love that.

Chris

That’s so great that she got help to get her own promotion because she was vocal about it and now she’s because of that she is impacting a large organization in biotech by helping to again change processes, change systems, change things to again, you know, make the organization better.

Melissa

Yeah, I think that is actually a really good way to sum it up, because we’re not going to solve equity and inclusion issues in the industry right now, although I really appreciate your candor and being open to that conversation with me about it. But I think that’s where we can see some progress is if there are more people that can speak up at work around their experiences, it’s a little bit of a catch 22, because you have to feel safe to do that and you have to feel comfortable to do that.

Melissa

But if you can feel comfortable to do that, I think the more that we talk about our experiences and maybe call out some of the things that if you see your company instituting some sort of inclusion and diversity program or cultural initiative that has well meaning, but it’s kind of falling flat. You know, you have the opportunity to provide that feedback to your mentor, to your manager, to someone that you trust, and that can help move the needle in the right direction.

Chris

Yeah, that’s a great it’s it’s everything we talked about that first 20, 20 minutes, half an hour, it can be applied here as well, right. It’s about, you know, as you were talking about it, it’s like, yeah, you find the big problem that the organization needs solved and be vocal about it and have the courage to step out and try to solve it. And that’s definitely that’s there’s something that’s definitely a big problem that that there’s a lot of people we need to step up to solve it.

Chris

Yes, exactly. Yeah. Well, and from BioBuzz, from for BioBuzz, I mean, this is a topic we cover from a journalistic perspective quite a bit. And and I think it’s it’s important. It’s something for the past three years that we’ve we’ve really tried to be very vocal about and and we’ve tried not to take a stand just to help raise awareness as a as a media partner for the region. But and we will continue to do so.

Chris

So I encourage everyone listening to this. Like, if there’s a story you want to tell, I’m opening the door for BioBuzz to be a platform. You can tell it. And, you know, we’re happy to do whatever we can to continue to, you know, help our industry evolve to the to the ideal that we think it can be. And and I mean, we’re creating and solve and, you know, solving problems and saving lives as an industry.

Chris

Now, imagine how much more we can do for even more diverse and we have a more equitable workforce.

Melissa

Yeah, that’s so true. So I want to share where people can get in contact with you, with BioBuzz, with workforce genetics before doing that. Do you have any other parting words of wisdom that you want to offer?

Chris

Well, I will. I’ll drop my shameless plug here, if that’s OK. Yeah. So if you are in the industry and you’re looking to advance your career, one place you can go is workforcegenetics.com or just search out on LinkedIn. You’ll see any of my recruiters out there and reach out. We’ve got six recruiters who are that’s all they do is talk to candidates looking to advance their career. So if you if you’re hitting that roadblock at your current company and your mentor is not able to help you out and, you know, maybe look to us and if you’re just not at that point yet, then that’s why BioBuzz exists, to build a more connected workforce, to help you build your network and find those other mentors and find fill those gaps of knowledge and plug into the industry.

Chris

So I know it’s been it’s been hard for me. We haven’t had the in-person events. We did it we used to do every month. I haven’t had one for going a long time now, but yeah. Come find us, BioBuzz, sign up on our website for our newsletter at BioBuzz.io. Again, just search for us on LinkedIn and you can you can connect with any of us but but use us as a resource for your career.

Chris

We have a lot of articles you’ve written some Mellissa to to help to help people in this industry navigate their career growth. And that’s a big part of what we want to do.

Melissa

All right. Well, thank you so much for joining me on the show. It was so great talking to you. With me is the best way to guarantee you get happy at work and achieve your career and life goals. Getting started is easy, head over to www.melissamlawrence.com to learn more and apply. It is the first step to get you from feeling stuck to knowing exactly what you want and have the tools to make it a reality. I will be by your side the entire way.

Melissa

I will put a link in the show notes.


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