“As a woman leader, I strive to bring patience, empathy and support to the table”

Dr. Radha Shekar, Vice President of Global Clinical Operations is the first female VP in Teva India. She talks to us about her challenges and achievements and shares career advice for women.

I grew up in suburban Mumbai and my childhood was happy and warm, largely due to the environment my parents fostered at home. My father was a meticulous and detail-oriented man, and my mother had a lively personality with an incredible knack for story-telling.

Because of my upbringing, I developed a curious mind, became an avid reader and practiced discipline in every task I undertook – so it was very clear to me (and to everyone else at home) that I would pursue a career in science and research. I have had a long association with the pharmaceutical industry, where I have had the privilege of working within its diverse subfields and learning from various vantage points.

I graduated with a distinction in Pharmacy and pursued my PhD decades later. Completing my PhD was a longstanding dream, and my biggest message to all women who have had to put off academic aspirations due to family or other obligations is that it is never too late to go back to school.

At the start of my career, it was challenging for women to get a job in manufacturing or research. In the first interview I had in the early 1980s, they confirmed that I was suitable for a role in formulation R&D but they were only willing to offer me a job as a QC analyst. They were not ready to employ women in formulation R&D as the role involved tech transfer to manufacturing. Since I did not get the role I wanted, I did not accept the job.

I started my career as a junior analyst in Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) research, then moved into formulation development. These experiences have been rewarding and have fundamentally shaped who I am, as both a scientist and a leader.

The joy of working in R&D is that it has kept me on a learning path. I tell the younger members of my team, do not let twenty years of work experience be the first year’s experience multiplied twenty times. Focus on maintaining a steep learning curve by building a diversified skill set during the initial years of your career – the payoffs will surely be there.

In 2003, I joined Lotus Labs (subsequently acquired by Teva in 2016), where I started my career in clinical research, and over the years I have taken on various roles within the company. Today, I lead a team of almost 400 people and we run two clinical research centers, in Bangalore and Mumbai.

One of my key successes is the quality and compliance culture which has been established in our clinical operations in India and we have successfully completed over 100 regulatory inspections at our sites.

In my leadership team I have a number of women who are leading various departments, including managing clinics, pathology labs and projects.

I am motivated by challenges and I need to get things done perfectly. Looking at a problem, analysing it and collaborating with other teams to find a solution – this is what motivates me.

Women are underrepresented both in science, and in key leadership roles. As a woman leader, I strive to bring patience, empathy and support to the table and be cognisant of diverse viewpoints. Managing differences is an important asset when collaborating with different functions across the organization and I often tell my team, wait, and let us look at this from the other person's perspective.

Perseverance, integrity and transparent communication are important to achieve success in a career. Success is not a simple end goal, we must enjoy the journey for it to become truly rewarding.

Balancing both career and family responsibilities can often be more difficult for women – so I also request all men to pitch in more at home and balance the burden! Fortunately we have a strong family support system in India and it is because of this support that I could focus on my career while balancing the requirements of managing the home and young children.

Outside of work, I read books and enjoy travelling, gardening and watching TV shows with my children (who are now adults, but insist otherwise). I also play bridge over the weekends with my husband. I keep fit by doing yoga at 6am every morning and would advise all women to dedicate some time to managing their wellbeing.

Post retirement, I would like to bridge the gap between academia and industry. I would like to work in this area and give something back by guiding research students and developing the education curriculum in line with current industry expectations.

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