Kate Rumrill’s experience in the medical device and pharmaceutical industries dates back 28 years to her days as a toxicologist with companies such as Sterling Winthrop and Eli Lilly. Now president & CEO of NeoSync, a clinical stage company developing non-invasive neuromodulation devices, Rumrill shifted to clinical research, taking on various roles over the years ranging from clinical research associate to vice president. Before taking over the corner office at NeoSynce, she was VP of global medical affairs with Covidien’s peripheral vascular division.
MDO: What first drew you to medtech? When did you first know you wanted to be in the industry?
Rumrill: I actually fell into this industry somewhat by accident. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I had planned to go to medical school. The summer after graduation, I took a temporary position with a pharmaceutical company in my hometown. It was there that I caught the research bug and the rest is history.
MDO: What are some of the barriers women face in today’s medtech world, if any?
Rumrill: I’d have to say that this industry is actually quite supportive of women in general. It’s when you look at higher levels of leadership that it becomes evident it’s still a very male-dominated field. We’re getting better, but women have to work a lot harder to get the same opportunities for advancement. I myself have been blessed with some really great mentors and advocates throughout my career who helped me identify barriers and overcome them. They encouraged me to pursue opportunities I might not have had the confidence to pursue on my own at the time.
MDO: Describe your biggest leadership challenge. How did you conquer it or resolve it, or what was the outcome?
Rumrill: The first thing that comes to mind is influence. I’d say this is the case no matter what level of an organization or what role you’re in, especially for women. Having to convince someone that you know what you’re talking about and to listen to what you have to say can be daunting. I’ve always been data-driven, so I tackle the discussion/debate with data and facts. It also helps to understand where the other person is coming from and find a common ground on the issue at hand.
MDO: Talk about your leadership skills. What is the most important lesson have you learned that has guided you in your career?
Rumrill: For women especially, the “how” is just as important as the “what.” I’ve learned that my male colleagues’ leadership styles may not be effective coming from a female. To me it has always come down to finding the right balance. I need to drive accountability while still being an authentic leader and not losing sight of everyone’s personal perspectives.
MDO: In your opinion, what more can be done to promote greater participation by young women in the medtech industry today?
Rumrill: I asked my two daughters, who are just starting their careers as young professionals, this question and found their responses intriguing. They both said, “Stop making it such a big deal.” In other words, we need to stop pointing out when women achieve success as if it’s surprising. Until that day comes, when it’s not unusual or abnormal to see a woman named to a key position or to achieve great success, we still need to work towards equality and building up women. We need to help young women by providing them opportunities for growth and learning, breaking down barriers and giving them confidence to pursue higher leadership positions without fear of failure or rejection. I think my generation has cracked the glass ceiling and the younger generation of women is coming close behind to shatter it.
MDO: What career advice would you give to your younger self?
Rumrill: In career and in life, don’t be afraid of change and never underestimate what you are capable of achieving. I never set out to be a CEO of a medical device company, but through an amazing journey, here I am and I have grown with every twist and turn along the way.
MDO: Why is it important for companies to be more inclusive and have more women in charge?
Rumrill: My first response to this question is “WHY NOT!?” Simply put, with diversity comes strength! Whether it’s women, minorities or simply people with differing experiences or backgrounds, we all bring a unique perspective to the table that can bring great insights to a project, program or company.