Women in leadership

Helene Fehrm, General Manager, Recipharm

After completing her degree, Helene began her career at AstraZeneca as Quality Engineer before later becoming Associate Director of Materials Management. Helene worked her way up over her nine years to become Global Supply Director. Then after a three-year stint at APL Pharma Specials, she joined the Recipharm team as General Manager. She has now been with the company for almost a decade and currently manages the Uppsala facility in Sweden. 

Recipharm is very good at embracing diversity, the management strive to offer support, give individuals a voice and providing equal opportunities.

Throughout the pharmaceutical industry we have become somewhat accustomed to a traditional industry leadership style that demands a highly extroverted and assertive approach. However, as an industry that employs millions of people worldwide, from different backgrounds and cultures, it is essential that we recognise the vast differences across all individuals. We have to be inclusive and open to allow all leaders, especially female leaders, to be authentic to themselves and not feel pressured to personify the accepted or the traditional leadership style.

Embracing different types of leadership and management styles is critical if you want to get the best from your team; each team member is different and requires a different type of communication, so a dynamic approach is essential. When an individual embodies certain qualities, such as assertiveness, adaptiveness, decisiveness, and dynamism, he or she has the ability to progress, regardless of gender. 

When it comes to embracing diversity as a leader, I think this is primarily about getting to know your team and respecting and appreciating what makes people different, in order to empower them. Diversity includes a variety of factors, such as age, race, gender, and religion, but also the diversity of experiences and individual personality traits.

A diverse workforce can only feel empowered if they operate in an inclusive environment, where needs are listened to and feel valued. I currently have responsibility for over 200 employees at Recipharm and you can imagine how many different types of individuals that encompasses. Inclusion is the glue that holds a diverse workplace together and it takes organisational effort to ensure that this culture is present. 

Recipharm is very good at embracing diversity, the management strive to offer support, give individuals a voice and providing equal opportunities. Mutual respect between managers and employees is fundamental to our culture. As a leader, not everyone is going to like you, or your approach and you may not agree with or appeal to everyone. However, if you lead with integrity in a way you are comfortable with then that is what matters. It is important that you set your own leadership style and let it guide you to success. By this I mean, it is essential that you take full responsibility for your own abilities. 

As a leader, I also believe in giving my employees autonomy and full support to fulfil their role, this accountability ultimately enables you to get the best from your team. Essentially if you make your team feel they can make a real impact, and this will inevitably bolster overall team motivation.  

During my own career at Recipharm, I have received continuous support in my role since day one. This has given me a multitude of growth experiences and exemplifies how with the right support in place, there are no barriers to moving to the top. Being a woman in leadership is an extremely positive thing.

I am a woman working in an industry with a lot of men and I have never seen this as a negative thing. I have never felt at a disadvantage. However, I do appreciate that this may not be the case everywhere, and for everyone, which is what makes the type of company you work for such an important part of your career. What people must remember is that as long as you are confident and engaged in your role, you can be a solid and influential leader; you just have to be comfortable in your own skin and assertive in your decision making. Of course, gender discrepancies are present in every role and every industry, but it’s how you approach them that matters. I truly believe that gender equality in the pharmaceutical industry is improving year on year.

I am aware that in the corporate world, a lot of people talk about the ‘glass ceiling’ in leadership. Of course, obstacles exist in every job and there will be obstacles for both men, and women, when reaching leadership positions. For me, I think people aspiring to become a leader must be driven to develop their own skills and start building a network as soon as possible. The ability to network, being visible in your industry and the process of developing trustworthy contacts will not go unnoticed. 

Have confidence in yourself and your abilities. Some statistics show that women don’t apply for roles until they are 100% ready, while men apply at just 60% ready. However, at the end of the day authenticity is key and you need to make the decisions that are right for you. You will hear a lot of advice about leadership, but not all of it will be suited to you. Everyone is different and you must figure out what works for you. 

The one tip I can give you is to be conscious of the softer side of leadership, the behaviours, employer branding and values. At the end of the day, people lead by example and you cannot underestimate the power of being intuitive and showing that you care about your team. You can be a strong and directive leader whilst still taking this approach into account.