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“Build ways to listen for every voice; I have an open door for all levels” with Dr. Ann Taylor

Build ways to listen for every voice; I have an open door for all levels. I have learned through the years that many people will not speak up in a large group. I encourage breakout sessions and impromptu small group meetings so there are multiple formats for individuals to be heard. I also make sure […]

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Build ways to listen for every voice; I have an open door for all levels. I have learned through the years that many people will not speak up in a large group. I encourage breakout sessions and impromptu small group meetings so there are multiple formats for individuals to be heard. I also make sure I go around a room, or Zoom call, to get input from every single person-especially if I haven’t heard from them.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ann Taylor.

Dr. Ann Taylor is the Chief Medical Officer, R&D at AstraZeneca. Ann is a motivated leader with more than 35 years of experience in exploratory research and early clinical development. She is a skilled physician and has worked for MedImmune as Vice President of Clinical Biologics and held senior roles at Novartis and Pfizer in translational medicine. Ann received her M.D. from Harvard Medical School and has published over 45 journal articles. As part of Ann’s current role, she is accountable for patient safety, R&D quality assurance, and global regulatory systems across the entire AstraZeneca portfolio.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have always been fascinated by the idea that molecules fit together and react in the body to make a complex person that can run, think, sleep, and everything else. It is amazing that everything the human body can do is driven by combinations of atoms like oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen. I ended up pursuing this curiosity to bring medicines to people who need them. This path has allowed me to use my knowledge of science in lots of different ways and have options for where to use my talents and passions.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

There are so many interesting stories and I hear of inspiring new data every day. But I think the most inspiring one of all has been the speed of our company in responding to the COVID pandemic. We not only committed to help develop a vaccine with Oxford University, but we also started a monoclonal antibody program. Scientists throughout the company quickly reviewed our portfolio and selected several products for additional new studies to treat more severe COVID19. We adjusted our ways of doing trials to minimize clinic visits for patients. On top of all that, we initiated a global testing program for employees at our major sites. It was a huge effort and shows what urgency and imagination can do!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I worked for many years seeing patients as a physician. I was used to “giving orders” to those around me. When I started in this industry, I was not prepared for the humility that is required to work on a team with many people who each bring a specific expertise that I cannot provide. I learned quickly the need to respect the different perspectives and that leaving space for others to influence your work is in the best interest of everyone’s goals.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

One of AstraZeneca’s core values is “we are entrepreneurial”. To me, that means finding solutions to problems yourself not waiting for permission to act. This drives novel and fast problem solving. Having the permission to act on that entrepreneurial spirit means I spend more time encouraging people than discouraging them or asking them to wait.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I have led the COVID-19 Global Issues Management Team at AstraZeneca since March, focused on protecting our employees and ensuring our essential activities, such as medicine manufacturing and distribution and COVID-19 research, can continue. It has been very satisfying to see our success in maintaining safety and productivity. It has also been a great learning experience for someone based in the U.S. to understand the different environmental, governmental, and cultural needs at all our sites around the world. Leading this team with a truly global perspective, and seeking new perspectives, has meant that we’ve been able to keep our employees safe and keep delivering medicines to people that need them.

The other project is an initiative to develop a strategy to increase the diversity of our clinical trial participants. As a global company, we recruit patients all around the world, but in general, people in underserved populations tend to participate less in trials of new medicines. We are excited by the interest in this initiative across the whole company, which we hope will enable us to collect data that better reflects the actual patient population.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

When I look around our company, I see a lot of women at all levels. However, I still worry about different communication styles and the ability to be “heard”. It is certainly a positive step to have parity in leadership but it’s another step to truly listen to make space for all sorts of perspectives and styles. I am more worried about the broader environment for young women interested in STEM. STEM industries are missing out on potential talent because girls are told STEM just isn’t for them, or they aren’t good at math, or that being a scientist takes a long time and they might have to sacrifice having kids. These are all small comments that can deter a generation of female talent before they even get started.

There are several key changes I’d like to see:

Active Support: We need to actively support women, and underserved populations, in their desire to advance in STEM fields. We can be sponsors and propose women and minorities for roles. Everyone deserves to have someone tell her “yes, you can” and should seek out that kind of support, even if those closest to them are unable to do so. This means opportunities like the SciFest, to see various women excelling in those jobs, as well as other educational support and internships, as well as personal advice.

Address Unconscious Bias: Organizations need to continue to break down barriers of unconscious bias. If we hire more women and individuals of different backgrounds, we experience what they bring to the table and we are more likely to hire more. If we have more diversity in our work force, younger students can be inspired that they can do it.

Showcase the Benefits of Diverse Thinking: We need to celebrate how diversity in thinking makes better products because we think of different approaches to a problem and develop broader solutions.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

The classroom can be one of the first challenges faced by women in STEM, especially if you’re one of the few women in a male-dominated class. When this happens, I think it is important to have a peer group to lean on and call out behaviors that make you feel alienated or seem unfair. Also, reminding yourself that you are competent and belong in the class, and your voice matters. Find someone you can talk to who will support you!

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

I find it difficult to pinpoint myths because that’s really a euphemism for stereotypes. We know that one of the barriers that women face in STEM and in advancing in their careers is that they must overcome unfair stereotypes and assumptions. I would like to offer a different perspective which is that we should all be checking our stereotypes and biases every day to not put the burden on an underrepresented group to correct biases.

There are persistent stereotypes about women in the workplace that I feel discouraged by. One is that women won’t work as hard because they are taking care of children. This is a holdover bias that is more than untrue it’s hurtful to all women and men as men are parents too. The other is that women aren’t aggressive enough or ambitious enough and that’s an explanation for a lack of women at the top of organizations. This is a skirting tactic that doesn’t push organizations to create pathways for everyone who wants to reach their potential.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Sponsorship Matters: Sponsorship has been a huge influence in my career and I’m determined to feed it forward to others. I have been lucky enough to have several situations when a leader sought me out for a new opportunity that I would never have been brave enough to apply for. It has helped me remember to apply, and to tell others to apply.

Put People First: Relationships matter for getting work done at every level. Respecting everyone in the office sets a tone of collaboration and equality and enables professional courtesies, both directions, when in a pinch.

Be Self-Aware: Notice if you have a habit that seems passive and change it. Look in someone’s eyes. Shake hands firmly (in another era). Be brave.

Respect Your Own Boundaries: Spend the time to identify your boundaries ahead of time so you know when you have to say no. You will be respected as a strong person if you can do so. There are several times when I have had to tell my boss that I disagreed with him or her. It is challenging but it brings a lot of respect if others know you will speak your mind on important issues.

Have A Vision: No one wants to follow someone who is boring and can’t describe a positive future. We all want a story why what we are doing is important and how we can make it even better.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Find the individual and collective motivators for your team. Teams that are working because they are motivated to do so will find ways to reach a goal. Secondly, take risks! If you explain to others that you are doing an experiment to try something, you give permission to see if the experiment worked.

What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Build ways to listen for every voice; I have an open door for all levels. I have learned through the years that many people will not speak up in a large group. I encourage breakout sessions and impromptu small group meetings so there are multiple formats for individuals to be heard. I also make sure I go around a room, or Zoom call, to get input from every single person-especially if I haven’t heard from them.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am grateful to have had active support from many men along the way, who not only encouraged me in one on one advice sessions, but also did things for me, making introductions, or nominating me for new roles. Men have an active and important role in supporting women in STEM. I’m grateful to those who used their position and influence to help me, so I can help others.

I remember a diversity consultant who recommended engaging fathers of daughters in all efforts to advance women, and I have to give my father a ton of credit. He always supported me, and multiple times reminded me that I didn’t need to get married until I wanted to. He also taught me at an early age that relationships matter. I fought with him about it for years, saying I could do it myself and didn’t need his help. It has taken me many years to realize that building strong relationships are valuable for doing a better job and to better understand how to approach someone with a question if I have a connection to them.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Thank you for this question! It’s nice to reflect on the good that I try to bring. I do a significant amount of mentoring, in and outside the company, give to organizations that provide basic needs assistance, clean water, and open, health land. I serve on the Board of a migraine association to support a friend and lend my expertise to a worthy organization. The most rewarding work I do is to, every day, encourage people to be curious and try new things. It’s the thing that’s served be most and that teaches so many invaluable lessons.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

In the US, walking. Walking would improve health and drive people outside, and maybe encourage appreciation of the beauty of our open spaces and the need to protect them. Take a walk!

Globally, I think coordinated action to protect our environment is where so much expertise and action is needed. I would encourage people to do small things they can in their life to help, like I bought an electric car this year and am conscious of the footprint I’m leaving behind.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have a postcard from San Francisco with the saying “Be balance” and a balanced pile of beautiful loose stones. My mother reminded me I couldn’t work all the time and to appreciate people and nature. I’ve made it a habit to take meaningful breaks and it’s proved beneficial to me personally but also to the teams I work with. I remember at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I think I shocked some colleagues because I took two hours off in the middle of the day to take a hike. This type of meaningful break always pays back in clarity and focus on the task at hand.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I recently saw a new movie about Marie Curie. I was so impressed by her unmatched level of perseverance and admirable dedication to her science. She never let herself be deterred by the thoughts of other people. However, if I’m having a private breakfast or lunch with someone today, it would be Bill Gates. I would love to understand how he picked his causes and how he has made so many good decisions.

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