Engaging and Inspiring the Next Generation of Biopharma Leaders

Alise Cortez, Ph.D., is an Engagement and Purpose Catalyst based in Dallas. She designs and delivers professional development, leadership, and engagement workshops. She is a speaker, consultant, author, industry thought-leader, and host of VoiceAmerica’s “Working on Purpose” radio show.

Alise will be moderating CPhI’s Women in Leadership Forum 2019 — marking her third year of involvement. Below, she discusses how and why executives should recognize and foster meaning within their biopharma companies, trends on gender equality in the workforce, and what the forum brings to CPhI.

  • Could you tell me a little bit about your role as a purpose and engagement catalyst? What does that mean?
    Alise: First, it may be easiest to consider I’m a management consultant. The work that I do with organizations is largely around leadership
    development and employee engagement. What we discover in the world today is that most people are really hungry for meaning, passion, inspiration, and purpose. So my work as a purpose and engagement catalyst is to help individual leaders and teams discern and discover their purpose and align it with that of the organization because in so doing, it raises the engagement of the team and
    increases their performance, their tenacity, and their desire to stay in the organization. So it's very much about leadership development, team dynamics, organizational development, all rolled up into one that really drives the engine of the organization.
  • You work with many companies one-on-one, across many industries including pharma and biotech. How would you characterize the culture and level of engagement in the latter organizations?
    My impression of the biotech and pharma space is that these are a group of wicked smart people who are up to really important things in the world and they're making a difference in how we live, how long we live, and the quality in which we get to live those lives. Many of them are madly passionate and committed to that and I can't help but respect that. So, getting to be part of their world and helping them more deeply engage their talents with their work and be fueled by it and make a difference in the team that they lead — I'm very much behind that. I've done lots of employee engagement work with organizations like that and it’s an amazing crowd to get to work with. And to be inspired by.
  • So, even if they're working in a really important scientific area, that doesn’t automatically mean that they are fully engaged and that they're getting meaning from their job?
    No, it’s not a given. People get demoralized. Something happens in the way the organization starts to change, evolve and grow. They no longer get that feeling that they're serving the heartbeat of what the organization initially stood for — the reason why they signed up in the first place. They no longer can see the impact of their day-to-day work on a patient or somebody who's actually going to benefit from the drug. And it takes the juice right out of them. So, finding a way to realign that, whether that’s through new leadership practices or changes to the processes they work with, or organizational redesign. There are so many ways that we can bring humanity and meaning back into the workplace, so it’s that beautiful nurturing part of our lives, that it should be.
  • What industry trends do you think we’ll see play out at the conference broadly and during the Women in Leadership Forum? Are there specific things that you deal with, in terms of women in the workplace and women in pharma, that need to be discussed?
    For me, it’s a bit paradoxical. I really think that there is a push — there is an ongoing awareness by organizations that recognize that the workplace is a better place when women are in leadership. They induce collaboration, people feel connected to them as leaders, and there is a recognition that companies, organizations are better when more women are at the helm. And then you also add in the whole "Me Too" movement, where there are more and more women speaking up about their overall experiences and what it has been like for them to come up through the ranks. That contributes to the conversation. Where it gets paradoxical though, is that the workplace is still a little bit hostile to working moms. You've got to somewhat choose between having a career and also being a mom and unfortunately what happens all too often is that women start to get into their 40's and their life is too much, “I call uncle, I'm out!” And they leave. Which is terrible for organizations. So that's a little bit of the trends that I've seen, not just over the last 12 months, but certainly over the last several years. Women have spent this time cultivating a fantastic career and making connections, but if you want to also have a family, it seems to be a hard choice for a lot of women. There is work to be done out there for sure in organizations to address this and make the workplace more hospitable to women.