Marie Caroline Strok Of The Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA): “Be bold and follow your passion”

Be bold and follow your passion. It’s important to be passionate about what you do and to do something that will have a positive impact. If what you are doing is meaningful and contributes to something larger than yourself, you will find the work fulfilling and avoid just going through the motions in life. Marie-Caroline Strok […]

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Be bold and follow your passion. It’s important to be passionate about what you do and to do something that will have a positive impact. If what you are doing is meaningful and contributes to something larger than yourself, you will find the work fulfilling and avoid just going through the motions in life.

Marie-Caroline Strok is the Director, Growth Initiatives Lead for the Gender Parity Collaborative, Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA).

After serving as both a volunteer and then subsequently being hired by the HBA to develop and grow the European footprint, she focused on creating the first European office and leading membership growth and engagement in the region. Along with Liz Coyle, Executive Vice President of HBA, and seeing the need to focus on closing the gender gap in healthcare and life sciences, The Gender Parity Collaborative was formed. To date, they have created a cohort of senior executives from over 15 global healthcare organizations to accelerate gender parity and diversity and celebrate the business outcomes that result from this commitment.

Strok joined the HBA as an employee after eight years in volunteer capacities; from committee leader to board member to executive committee member. Her professional experience started in Operations at Groupe M6 in Paris, where she was responsible for governance and operational models for the French broadcast media giant. She continued her results driven career at management consulting firm StratX. Strok was offered a relocation from Paris to their Boston office, where she still resides.

She holds a degree from ESLSCA Paris, a renowned business school, a certificate from Cornell University in Diversity and Inclusion, and speaks English fluently, in addition to her native French. Raised in the South of France, and having extensively traveled around the globe, Strok’s commitment to creating workplaces that work for all, and showcase the power of diversity. The leaders that influenced and sponsored her growth, are now the beacons that remind her to support the next generation of leaders in her work. When she is not at work, you can find her on long runs, or enjoying time with her family.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I started my career in Paris, in a consulting and management development firm supporting global talent strategies in Fortune 500 companies. After 10 years with the organization and when I had my first child, it felt like a good time and go on leave to care for my new family. During this period, I knew I wanted to keep a foot in the professional world, so I began volunteering as part of the Boston Board of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association. Volunteering has always been an important part of my value system and it was great to stay active and involved in an organization making a huge difference for women across the country. My experience as a volunteer leader with the HBA led me to find my voice/calling to help advance gender equity. When the time came to re-engage in the workforce, I approached the HBA with a role I had crafted to help expand their European operations due to my experience and background growing up in France. My vision resonated with the association, and I’ve been working for the HBA for 5 years now.

Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?

Manage your day according to your energy level, slow down, and drink water!

First, I have learned throughout my career — and even more so as a working mom of 2 kids — that it is vital to manage your day according to your energy. I’m the most productive in the morning and late in the evening — therefore, as much as I can, I plan most of my work accordingly and try to focus on the most demanding or important task during these times. It could take me twice as much time on a deliverable when I’m tired; optimizing my time according to my level of energy is crucial my productivity and well-being.

Additionally, even if it is hard or even seems impossible some days, it is imperative to slow down and build moments into your day to be quiet and reflect with a few mindful minutes. Research has shown that mentally we’re at our best when a lot of dopamine is released in our brains. Triggers like meditating, exercising, listening to music, or taking a warm shower for example, contribute to increased dopamine flow. When we have a relaxed state of mind, we’re more likely to make insightful connections by disconnecting to reconnect! This is important for your mental health and productivity.

My last lifestyle tweak is to always remember to drink water! Hydration is fundamental to wellbeing both physical and mental and it’s a simple thing that many of us forget especially when facing busy moments and juggling priorities. Drink a glass of water when you wake up in the morning, keep a bottle of water near you throughout the day, set reminders and get your H2O in — the benefits are amazing!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I have 2 stories to share. The first was moving to the US for work 13+ years ago. Even though the Western world seems the same to many people, I experienced a real cultural shift in my way of thinking about my work, career and overall wellness. It was at this point in my life that I became intentional — intentional in owning my career and in owning my health and wellness. In the US, the system is less forgiving than in Europe making people be more intentional. I have discovered that my French almost carefree “joie de vivre” has been replaced here by more purposeful moves and decisions.

This became an incredible learning curve for me not only with my career but with my overall health as well.

My second interesting moment in my career was meeting Sheryl Sandberg, yes, that Sheryl Sandberg. It was incredible moment for me in my career and happened at the beginning of the HBA Collaborative. We had just announced this incredible partnership with McKinsey and our women in the workplace study. McKinsey hosted an event and our team met with Sheryl before the event to discuss the progress and data. Can you imagine being able to share this information with her? Two very pinnacle moments in my career!

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

One of my biggest mistakes at the beginning of my career was to undervalue the power of networking — connecting in and out of your organization and creating your own “Board of Advisors” so to speak.

At the time, I did not seek external connections, nor look for mentors even less so sponsors. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, I had assumed that hard work (and hard work alone) would build out my career.

Fast forward and thanks to my years with the HBA as a volunteer leader and now as Director of the Gender Parity Collaborative, I have a completely different outlook. I am very proud to be surrounded by some of the most amazing leaders in our industry and as I have developed a strong network around me. It is critical to be proactive and to create connections in your field and beyond. It is important to be intentional as these relationships are likely to support you in finding and growing your voice and to help you define your career path.

When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

As Director and Growth Initiatives lead for the HBA Gender Parity Collaborative, Marie has made a huge impact advocating for gender parity and diversity since the Collaborative was founded in November 2018. The Collaborative focuses on systemic changes — primarily within organizations in the healthcare and life-science industry — to enable and accelerate gender parity and diversity. Currently, the HBA Collaborative cohort of companies has a better representation of women in the talent pipeline across all levels, continuing to outperform the broader pharmaceutical and medical product industry. Marie continues to lead the Collaborative and is determined to continue working towards gender parity and diversity, an achievement that is on the horizon thanks to the success from 2020.

I’m so proud of the work we do because for the first time at the HBA we are focusing on the systemic changes necessary to unlock progress. We are finally focusing on fixing companies’ vs “fixing women”. This is an important shift of mindset and I look forward to continuing to go further faster with our current and future Collaborative member organizations.

At the broader level, having more women sitting at the table means a much stronger chance to advance health equity. Finally, supporting gender parity and diversity in the workplace is essential for women’s wellness and financial health which translates into a positive impact on the world. Data shows that there is a strong correlation between gender inequity and poverty around the world: the greater the gender inequity, the greater the poverty. Income transfers to women have a larger positive effect on children than income transfers to men. So maximizing women’s income around the world not only helps women and their children but entire households as well. And these data matter as they may help determine which kinds of behaviors are rewarded by governments and how organizations field their leadership teams.

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?

There are two people, who have drastically impacted my career. Funny enough, they are both named Liz! As women, we always look for equity and parity across the boards, no matter what field or career path goes down. Being empowered, encouraged, and mentored by these two very different women has been incredible for me as a professional, as a leader, and as a human being who wanted to impact the world positively.

Let’s start with Liz #1 — not only has she been a truly great friend, but she has been a mentor along the way. She empowered me with her trust, opened doors for me, and helped position me for my first role within the HBA team. She’s encouraged me to continue to walk through those open doors; her friendship and mentorship have been the springboard for where I am today.

Liz #2 is a former boss, colleague, and another strong mentor. I wouldn’t the leader I am today without her — full stop. Liz #2 was able to challenge me in ways that have helped me transform as a professional. She never thought twice about pushing me beyond the limits I had set for myself. She encouraged me to develop and find my voice and led me on the path that I am now as a leader in my field. It can be easy to shy away from the challenges, but Liz has always made sure that I would always continue to grow and say to myself, what next.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would advocate for the implementation of the 4-day workweek. This concept has gained momentum and is groundbreaking for mental health and wellness. In the US particularly, the culture praises little to no vacation, but the consequences on mental health are staggering. More time off has been proven to lead to greater productivity and better job satisfaction. No one on his deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more working.’ The future of work should be based on output (when appropriate of course) and not necessarily on the amount spent in front of a computer. As we’re slowly heading out of the pandemic, the upcoming months and years should be interesting when it comes to hopefully new ways of working which could benefit well-being.

What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  • Own your career. It’s up to you to take care of yourself and your career. It’s important to be intentional and create opportunities for yourself because nobody else will. If you advocate for yourself and take matters into your own hands there is nothing you can’t accomplish.
  • Surround yourself with good people who are willing to help you if you ask them and continue to create connections and expand your network. Networking and building relationships throughout your career are so important and I wish I understood the significance of this earlier.
  • Be bold and follow your passion. It’s important to be passionate about what you do and to do something that will have a positive impact. If what you are doing is meaningful and contributes to something larger than yourself, you will find the work fulfilling and avoid just going through the motions in life.

Do you have a “girl-crush” in this industry? If you could take one person to brunch, who would it be? (Let another “woman in wellness” know that you respect her as a teacher and guide!)

I have two! If you happened to notice my pattern of twos! I couldn’t choose just one as each person has contributed so differently in the fields that they are in. If I could have both at the same brunch, just imagine how fantastic that conversation would be.

My first guest would be Kathrine Switzer, who was the very first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1967. Despite the race director who physically assaulted her to remove her from the face, she persevered and finished the race. She broke the gender barrier and 5 years later the iconic Boston marathon was finally accepting women into the race for the very first time. Switzer had such an iconic career and never stopped advocating for gender parity.

My second guest would be Roz Brewer, who is the new CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance and the third black woman currently serving as CEO of a Fortune 500. She is incredibly talented, a mother of 2, humble, self-developed, and a champion for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging. She has been a fierce advocate, speaking freely about biases in the workplace as well as the C-suite. She shows how to balance motherhood while bringing your whole self to work and advocating for those whose voices may not be heard.

What a brunch this would be with these two incredible women who have broken many barriers.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Without hesitation: mental health. Mental health is incredibly important to me because it is the key to everything else in your life. If you feel good, you are likely to make better decisions, help and influence others the right way and change the world for the better. One of the many reasons I joined the HBA was due to their focus on mental health for women in the healthcare industry. The HBA platform truly allows you to be your whole self as a professional and a woman, wife, mother, sister, aunt, caregiver, you name it. Back in 2009 when I first joined, HBA was the only professional network I knew where it was ok to talk business AND to talk about your children or caring for your older parents, about your recent engagement, or about the challenges of being a working mom.

According to the World Health Organization, “Mental health is a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.

It is near impossible to be fully happy and mentally healthy if you cannot bring your whole self to work and still be included.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

LinkedIn is my primary social media account:

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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