Medtech isn’t the male-dominated field it was decades ago and Karen Flynn, chief commercial officer at West Pharmaceutical Services, is here to tell you about it.
Karen Flynn’s 35-year career in healthcare saw her rise through Cardinal Health and spinoff Catalent Pharma Solutions before joining West Pharmaceutical Services in 2008. Flynn has been West’s chief commercial officer since 2016, in charge of all the commercial aspects of the business.
She has a lot to oversee. West is a global manufacturer of products used to contain and deliver injectable medicines, with 27 manufacturing sites around the world. The company makes everything from syringes, to vials (made from a proprietary polymer material), to hospital administration products, to drug-delivery devices that people use on themselves.
Medical Design & Outsourcing asked Flynn for her insights on how things have changed for women in the industry:
MDO: What is it like for women working in medtech now, versus 10 or 15 years ago?
Flynn: We’re fortunate in that there are many, many more women who choose to study in technical fields. … We are seeing many more women around the table, which is very encouraging. That’s one of the big changes. … In our laboratories, I haven’t done a head count lately, but I know that it’s pretty even, 50/50, if not more women in the lab. In the engineering fields and even IT, we’re starting to see more and more women enter those fields.
What we need to do though, I believe, is to encourage women to stay in those career paths or at least to continue to be encouraged to be challenged on those career paths because too often I think that sometimes women still are choosing to opt out. … It’s difficult, right? … We really have to reach down and help one another out. And it’s our responsibility really as managers and senior leaders to look within the organization and provide those opportunities for the young females to encourage them to continue that technical career path if that’s what they choose to do.
MDO: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned as a leader?
Flynn: I feel like one of the most important things as a leader — as you grow in your management roles and your span of authority becomes wider and wider — is that you could do nothing better than to surround yourself with talent because you move from being maybe a subject matter expert early in your career in a particular area to having broader and broader accountability for things that you know less and less about. So the only way to be really successful is to be sure that you have talent around you and probably even more so that you foster the growth of the people that are on your team. Encourage them to continue to learn and to develop because then as an organization you get better. And as a leader you get better as well. You continue to learn from everyone around you.
MDO: You hold one of the top leadership positions at West. How much does it help when women employees can see that there are already people like them holding top positions?
Flynn: If you can envision yourself in a position that’s already filled with someone who looks like you, it seems like there’s a clearer path forward. It is important that we have diversity that’s visible to everyone for that reason. And of course, it’s also important to have diversity because you get better thinking, and there are many, many, many studies that show that that’s the case. You get better results by having more of a diverse input of thoughts and ideas. So I think it’s critically important not just for the medical device manufacturing industry, but for industry in general.
We are fortunate in our industry that it’s an exciting industry, and I think that more and more people want to work for businesses where you feel like there’s a connection to the work you do and contribution to society at large. There’s so much good work going on in the medical device industry that you can recruit a diversity of talent into the field. It is really incumbent upon all layers of management to encourage the growth of a diverse candidate pool.
MDO: In a field such as engineering, is there still a perception problem that an engineer is a man wearing a short sleeve dress shirt with a pocket protector? Are we getting over that stereotype?
Flynn: I have to say I’m a little bit biased, but my daughter just graduated in May with a chemical engineering degree. So I’ve been around a lot of young female engineers in her friend circle and hearing her talk about her experience. It’s just not as acute as it was once upon a time. It’s not as unusual now for women to be in engineering. She works for a large pharmaceutical company, so she’s fortunate in that there are a lot of resource groups that are aimed for supporting young women engineers in particular. I think that there are companies like the one she’s working for — West is another one— where we are trying to think about what it takes to encourage our female employees, to give them the support that they need so they don’t feel isolated, no matter what role that they’re in within the company.