Blandine Lacroix is the US Corporate Vice President, BioPharm & Strategy at global pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk. As a single mom, she knows the obstacles and challenges women can face in the workplace—with or without children. Inspired by the women who have gone before her and the female colleagues around her, she embodies the importance of leading from authenticity. Her journey may be unique, but the lessons are universal.
I had the privilege of spending some time with her to talk about how she leads her teams successfully, balances ever-expanding opportunities, and embraces being the mom she always wanted to be.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to this point in your career?
My parents put family first, with education a close second. And while they would have been thrilled if I’d become an engineer, they supported me when I studied business in college and again when I announced that I would pursue an MBA at a top program in the US. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for a living, but I knew I’d need that MBA to do it; I also knew that it would give me a strong career foundation should I decide to stop working for a while to raise a family.
But the MBA program didn’t just give me a foundation; it gave me my career. A six-month internship at Merck & Co in New Jersey introduced me to meaningful work in healthcare. During that internship, I learned about applied marketing, people development, and “mind mapping”—which anyone who’s worked with me knows I still use to this day! I also met the man who would become a professional mentor, and later, my husband. He introduced me to his four amazing kids, who taught me to become the mother I am today.
Following my heart, I landed in Australia, where I joined Eli Lilly and took my first formal steps into the life science career I enjoy to this day. After Lilly, I became a group project manager at Novo Nordisk. After my marriage ended, I took the opportunity to move back to Europe to be closer to friends and family.
I joined the Novo Nordisk global commercial team in Copenhagen, Denmark. There, I learned to drive the development of global strategies and to partner with countries to transform those strategies into superior results! It was fun, insightful, and rewarding. It was also a lot of airports, planes, hotels, and stamps on my passport, and very little time at home. So, after almost five years on the road, I was glad to settle down in the US and to continue my journey with Novo Nordisk. I was grateful for the opportunity to work to improve and change the lives of millions of people living with diabetes, and for the past seven years, obesity.
Before we get to your advice for the next generation of women leaders, can you tell us about your female role models?
The women in my family have all had a strong influence on the person I am and the choices I have made. I would also advance that the men of my family did, too, but for different reasons. Two of my great-grandmothers were very non-traditional for the conservative, French Catholic society of the 1920s. They were both independent and strong; one ran the family farm while also raising a large brood, and the other started her own business after divorcing her husband, which was highly unusual back then.
The next generation of women in my family were also trailblazers. My two grandmothers forged their own paths in choosing husbands, and World War II led them to make some courageous calls; like many, it strongly informed their destinies. My mum, with my dad’s support, fostered a strong “extended” family culture—a community, open to others, where the kids and the family always came first. There was always enough food and an extra bed for one more. The strong women in my family held me up to become the independent person I am today.
What is your view on the challenges and opportunities women face in the workplace today?
So many women hold themselves back with a “self-limiting” narrative. It can be easy to internalize the societal storytelling about what women can and cannot do—how they should act or be. When I started working here in the US, my female colleagues opened my eyes to the many ways that women are still experiencing discrimination in the workplace. They inspired me to become actively committed to supporting other women. As a successful leader, I consider it my duty (and privilege) to be a role model. We never have to accept the stories people tell us about who we are or who we can be. We are far more powerful than we can imagine.
What are the three most important skills you need to have as a woman in leadership today?
Authenticity is the number-one skill for female leaders today—for any leader, for that matter. You need to be yourself. Sometimes that requires some personal work or investment, but it is crucial to know what you believe in, who you truly are, and what matters most to you and to not compromise.
The second skill is the ability to connect and empathize with your stakeholders and your team members. Seek to understand them, meet them where they are, and look for shared value and purpose—knowing that as a team, you are stronger together than apart.
Last, it is essential to invest genuinely and generously in your relationships with people. Even if you’re not a leader, being able to build community within the team, building trust and respect, and investing in those relationships will pay huge dividends.
You made the choice to be a single parent. That’s a tough decision…do you recommend it?
I always knew I wanted to be a mom; it just happened in an unexpected yet beautiful way. The man I married early in my career already had children, so I embraced them as an important part of my life. His family became my family. Then, when we divorced and I moved to Europe, I couldn’t be in their lives day to day. Even though that experience was painful, it reinforced how meaningful being a mom was to me and it motivated me to continue the journey.
While in Denmark and single, I tried IVF, but it proved unsuccessful. Then I investigated adoption, but that didn’t work. When I moved back to the US, I applied to be a foster parent, figuring that if I couldn’t adopt, at least I could provide a good home. That’s when Sophie came into my life.
She was a preemie, born at 32 weeks, and was immediately placed in intensive care. When I got “the call” on a Wednesday evening, a month after she was born, our social workers told me that even though I hadn’t volunteered to foster a baby, they knew that she was meant for me and that adoption could be an option over time. I picked “Baby Sophie” up the next day and she became my daughter a year later. Sophie is the most amazing gift of my life.
I would tell women who are at a crossroads, who are torn, hurt, or afraid, that we always have a choice, even if the options in front of us may not be what we imagined—and to keep focusing on what matters most to you! I wouldn’t have my daughter today if I had stopped when one avenue turned into a dead end. If you keep looking and investing in yourself—and others—something unexpected and wonderful may show up. I believe that is true with most things in life.
How do you balance being a C-Suite executive and a mom?
You can’t do it on your own—especially as a single mom. You need a network. I don’t have family nearby, so I had to create my own system and “buddy” network. It is doable, whether that’s through school or with friends, where you have someone you can talk to or trade duties with. I’ve been so lucky to have the parents—men and women—at work. They have been an amazing source of support for me. I would tell women to find their version of that. Fortunately, there are many resources out there—even if it’s just connecting virtually for the time being. We don’t have to do it alone, and we don’t have to be superwomen. That is overrated.
What advice would you give women coming up in the corporate world now?
Figure out what makes you tick and what excites you. I didn’t set out to be a C-suite executive; following my passions and finding my purpose led me to this position. Do the work to find and believe in yourself and understand what drives you; do the best you can wherever you are. If it feels “off” or wrong, stop and reevaluate, then make a choice. If you want something else, leave. You deserve that.