“The important people in the room care about my message and do not focus on my accent”

Sara Zavaleta, Senior Director of Project/Program Management at Teva, tells us how she is helping build the confidence of the women around her, and how she has coped with many challenges through her career.

My friends don’t really understand what I do, but in a nutshell: the medicines in your medicine cabinet do not appear by magic. We start with the raw materials, transform them into tablets and capsules in manufacturing, and then deliver them to our customers. Teva provides medicines to 200 million patients around the globe. My job involves leading and implementing projects within our Florida sites in the US. 

We have a big responsibility to our patients. In the US, for example, 1 in 10 generic medicine prescriptions are filled with Teva products 01.

I do a Gemba Walk every day. This is a Japanese term linked with the Toyota model of manufacturing and involves physically going to the shop floor and seeing for myself what is happening. I talk with people and they share their ideas and sometimes their problems. I then do my best to help resolve issues and remove roadblocks.

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I have faced many challenges throughout my career, and one of them is speaking with my Puerto Rican accent in very important presentations. I have overcome that by realizing that the very important people in the room care about the message I will be delivering and do not care or focus on my accent.

It can also be a challenge to be the only woman in a conference call, giving a major project update to the executive senior leadership team - all men. I have overcome this by working on my presence in the call and clearly bringing my point across.

I try to help the women in my site become more confident, because I know they can do a great job. A common problem for women is that if we don’t believe that we are 100% capable of doing a job, we sometimes don’t try. If a man thinks they can do 70%, they will often go for it and figure the rest out later.
I thrive on investing time in women in my network to be as – or even more - successful as me, and to join me in leadership roles.

After the age of 12, I believe a woman starts to lose confidence. Between 12 and 20 is the lowest they get. When I see my two girls, aged 16 and 15, I try to highlight the good qualities they have. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it’s what my mother did with me. Don’t concentrate on what you lack, focus on what you’ve got. They need to know you have their back.

I protect patients by protecting our medicines read Ed's story here

I loved music stores when I was young, and I miss spending the day going through racks of cassettes. I’d only have $10 and I’d spend all day deciding which one I could buy. I think the ability to just click and download music is too easy.

No one should ever stop listening. In 1993, I had a bad car accident – my mom, my two cousins and I were all hospitalized. I realized that I should get the best out of every day, because it might be my last. It was tough to come back out of that. My family, classmates and teachers helped me keep up with work and elected me senior year class president when I made it back to school. I’ll never forget that.

Coming from Puerto Rico, with a mixed cultural background including European, Tainos (Caribbean native Indians) and African, gives me the opportunity to interact with different cultures. Growing up with Spanish-speaking parents and attending an English-speaking school broke boundaries. Studying engineering and receiving a scholarship for my master’s degree in transportation gave me the opportunity to travel and learn about new cultures. Now, in the professional world, I continue to be open to learning about new cultures in order to complete successful projects and activities at work.

I was working in Puerto Rico when I was offered a promotion to senior manager - in Florida! I moved to Florida on my own. It was a big decision. But if I’d stayed in Puerto Rico, it would have taken me longer to grow professionally. I could not miss this opportunity. And the best part is that I met my husband in Miami.

I love from my Puerto Rican heritage: the candid happiness of the people, the flavor of our food, the music - not only instrumental but from our “COQUI” (little frog that sings “coqui” at nights and can only survive in Puerto Rico) and the sound of the waves on our beautiful beaches, as well as our ‘always celebrate’ mode. Christmas season starts at Thanksgiving and ends the third weekend of January with Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian.

Challenges are 30% about your own perception of them, and 70% about how you can overcome them. Focus on the 70% and identify the tools that you can use to defeat your challenges. Don’t focus on the 30% that you cannot control - it might be there, but it should not dictate how you move forward.

If a new woman started work in my job, I’d tell her to be confident, to believe that she can do it – because she can. I’d remind her that each of our site's 470 employees has a family, so every decision we make impacts 470 families – not to mention all the people around the world who rely on the medicines we manufacture. It’s essential we feel empathy for everyone.

Find out more

  • At Teva, inclusion and diversity are core values that inform our entire organization. Read more

  • Learn about Teva’s global supply chain and how it delivers 85 billion tablets and capsules and 1 billion doses of sterile injectable drugs each year.
  • We’re hiring! Are you interested in what Sara does, or want to know about other roles at Teva? If so, check out our latest vacancies

  • Meet more of our experts – like Janet Vaughn, who talks about the characteristic that great leaders share


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