1. October 2006 05:00
does sex matter in the world of pharma sales?
Samantha Pearce started her career as a medical sales representative with DuPont Pharma in 1992, remaining with the company in a wide variety of domestic and international marketing and sales management roles until 2002. Towards the end of her career at DuPont she was appointed European Director of business development and strategic planning and then marketing & business development director for the UK and Eire.
IN 2002 Samantha joined AstraZeneca, initially as head of strategic planning, a newly created role, requiring strategic, sales and marketing experience. In 2005, she moved back into an operational role – initially as brand leader for AZ’s breast oncology brands and more recently as sales and marketing leader for this business unit. Pf talked to Samantha about her career, to determine whether gender had played any part, positive or otherwise, in her career development.
Do you feel that your experiences are representative of women throughout the industry?
I believe that each experience is unique to the individual and is not necessarily related to whether they are a man or a woman. Having said that I can think of plenty of examples of successful women within the industry who are considered to be the best at what they do and their success will be as a result of a variety of qualities they possess and experiences that they have had. For me, probably the most important milestone in my career was the MBA that I completed relatively early in my career. I gained a lot from that experience not just in the skills that I learnt, but also in the confidence I gained to seek out new roles and experiences and apply the skills I had learnt in different situations.
Our survey data indicated that there are more men in sales management than women. Have you ever felt overlooked for promotions in favour of male colleagues?
No, I have never felt that being a woman has had a negative effect on my career. I think on the whole, the industry strives to exist as a meritocracy and in general, those with the aspiration to progress and with the ability to do so are the ones that are ultimately successful in their chosen careers.
Data from the survey also implied that the women in sales management had been in the industry for a shorter amount of time, and must therefore have gained promotion earlier. Have you ever felt at an advantage as a woman?
I have never been aware of any differences in the rate at which men or women progress within sales management in the industry. I think perhaps the survey results could be a result of a number of factors, but ultimately success will be down to the desire of the individual and their strengths in motivating and leading teams. The qualities required to do this well exist in both men and women and each individual will achieve this with their own personal style and clearly this will be flavoured to a large degree by their gender. The ability of a sales manager to adapt their style in order to tap into the differing emotional drivers within their team is crucial. Some say that women have well developed emotional intelligence that enables them to do this more easily, but that’s a gross generalisation and I know plenty of male sales managers who would quite rightly dispute that claim!
What are the challenges you face in your current role? Do you think you face different challenges to those a man would face in a similar role?
Of course there will be differences between individuals, but I don’t believe you can generalise the challenges individuals face based on if they are a man or a woman.
My personal challenge, particularly since having children has been balancing my role as a manager and my role as a mother. I know I don’t always get that balance right and that can sometimes lead to feelings of guilt that I am never able to do any one thing quite as well or as completely as I might like. I am a lot more pragmatic about that now than I used to be. Perfection isn’t really an option for any of us and I am much more able now to make pragmatic decisions rather than look to gold plate everything I do. I think I have also become a lot more ruthless with how I spend my time. Time is the one thing that I never seem to have enough of and I am very careful about how I invest my time at work and at home. I think this is a positive thing though, as it has helped me achieve a better work-life balance.
However, it is not just women who face these challenges, many men are also parents and feel the same pressure to get home and spend time with their family and I think it’s really important that people recognise this.
Do you feel the demands are higher for ambitious women to compete with their male colleagues? Or do you feel it is the other way around?
I can’t think of any occasion where I have felt gender-related pressure. The industry has changed a lot and in my experience I haven’t found gender to be a relevant issue in this industry.
What qualities do you think women bring to a medical sales role, that men are perhaps, not so good at?
I think each individual brings diverse qualities, qualities that are not particularly related to their gender. From personal experience, the best sales team is always made up of a mix of women and men. I would always seek to build a team that is multi-dimensional. You have to have a mix of genders, skills and personalities to bring the best out of everybody in the team. Sometimes in a team environment men can bring dynamic ideas to a discussion, whereas women can be more reflective and help shape ideas. However, I’ve also seen women bring the dynamic ideas and men be more reflective, so I think gender-based qualities are a generalisation; every individual brings different qualities to the table.
What do you think are the qualities that, as a woman, you bring to your current role?
People say that women are better at spinning plates than men and perhaps this is because women in business are used to having to carry other nonbusiness responsibilities as well, such as organising the childcare etc. This is certainly true for me and I think I am now pretty adept at dealing effectively with lots of different related and unrelated issues at the same time. I also think it helps you put potentially big business ‘problems’ in perspec
tive so that you are less likely to be fazed by seemingly significant issues.
All of this helps to achieve a healthy work-life balance, which I believe is crucial to develop and maintain a happy and motivated team. It should be and I believe is possible to achieve your career ambitions without jeopardising your family life, you just need to manage it and not let a business manage you. I think having role models throughout the business and the industry is important.
As a mother, do you feel the industry as a whole is sympathetic to the demands of balancing a work and home life?
Yes, I think it is improving and I think we all have a role to play in that. We can look to the company, but I think it is important that employees are clear to employers about how they want to work. And this goes for men as well. At AstraZeneca, senior members of staff set a great example of work-life balance and I think this is a healthy step towards setting a good example in the industry as a whole.
Do you feel that people have to sacrifice their career ambition, to some extent, in order to have a happy family life? Do you think this is truer for women?
I think this depends on an individual’s career ambition. If your ambition, be you man or woman, is to become a CEO of a multi-billion pound organisation, then to some extent it is expected that you would have to make some serious sacrifices. However, this is a choice, not an obligation. The extent that it will impact on your family life will depend on the individual’s view of what is an acceptable work-life balance. This will be different for each individual and will also depend on the views and needs of their family and friends as well.
In general, I feel there is a healthy gender balance in the industry. I have worked with successful male and female sales managers in this industry. In my opinion if you were to look for commonalities between these successful managers you would find that it is primarily their attitude and their ability to lead and motivate teams that are the biggest drivers of success.