”Thank you — I always thought it was just me.”
I hear this over and over again from interns and younger staff members when I share my career journey, describing not only my successes, but also my setbacks, and how I’ve navigated them. As CEO of Advanced Clinical, I have made it a point to ensure there are ample opportunities for storytelling, ever since a similar experience I had back in 2018.
It was the first meeting of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Gender Parity Collaborative. The Collaborative is a group of organizations in the healthcare and life sciences industries who have come together, despite our status as competitors, to hold each other accountable for increasing parity and equity for women, and for accelerating more women — especially those in traditionally underestimated groups — into positions of influence. I was in a room full of fellow executives, and the mood was lively, and full of energy.
At one point, a leader from one of the bigger companies in the room began sharing how they had developed a series of employee videos. In them, employees from different stages of their careers shared their journeys inside the company. As the videos were described, I was struck by the diversity of the experiences depicted, and by all of the intersectionalities that were evident. Most importantly, I could see the powerful impact these stories had on people within the company and on those of us listening in the room. Before, we had been talking about bias; now, people were seeing it. I realized just how much the emotional connection of a story affects people, and how it enables a whole new level of learning to take place.
This was an “aha!” moment, and helped me realize that sharing women’s career stories is an essential part of creating systemic change. This seems obvious in some ways, and yet, I know how easy it is to lose sight of, and to fall into a trap of telling rather than showing. The truth is, without stories, a lot of well-intentioned training and teaching can fail to connect with people and to really stay with them.
At that meeting of the Gender Parity Collaborative, the stories and the energy in the room were inspiring, so much that they fueled me in making changes at my own organization. At Advanced Clinical we had always prioritized having a diverse staff; being able to draw on different perspectives strengthens our legitimacy and relevance with the people we serve and ultimately deliver better outcomes for all. But at the time, we didn’t have many formal structures in place to support our commitment to diversity. Hearing what others were doing allowed us to determine which strategies fit us best, and in what order to implement them. We launched employee resource groups (ERGs); a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) committee; and dedicated personnel, just to name a few examples. Today, thanks to these and other strategies, women hold 50 percent of our executive leadership roles (compared to 35% in 2017), and over 50 percent of our middle management positions are held by women (compared to ~40% female in 2017).
Perhaps the most transformational change we made, inspired by that first Gender Parity Collaborative meeting, is that we started sharing career journeys as a regular part of company life. Today we frequently host fireside chats where we talk openly about the challenges we’ve navigated, the times we’ve experienced bias and what we’ve done about it. These storytelling experiences have driven something home for me: As individuals, we see the world as if it’s just happening to us. But when we hear someone else’s story, our lens shifts. We start to see through other people’s glasses, as well as our own, thus broadening our field of vision and learning.
I’m especially passionate about sharing career stories with interns and employees who are just starting out. No one teaches you how to be a professional, or how to navigate inside organizations. If we want systemic change in our industry, and our world, we really need to help young women understand how to navigate professional spaces. Stories are an essential part of this. When a woman shares a story about her experience, it’s an opportunity to have a conversation about what could or should have gone differently; in this way, stories show us the gaps in best practices, and help us continue to improve. This helps us set a path for our own organization, and as people come and go, we know we’ve shared lessons and best practices that they will take with them to other organizations. There’s a ripple effect.
I’m in the last chapter of my career, and at a point where I’m focused on giving back. Sharing my story is a big part of that as it’s a way to help others understand the need for parity and to see the opportunities that drive systemic change. I hope that I’ve inspired you to share yours as well.
Authored by Julie Ross, President, Advanced Clinical.
Julie Ross currently serves as President of Advanced Clinical a full service, global outsourcing solutions provider to the clinical research industry. She is a tenured executive leader and has been instrumental in the development and success of multiple sales and clinical operations divisions. Julie has over 25 years of clinical research experience, has participated in fundraising, mergers and acquisitions, authored many clinical research articles and is a well-known industry speaker. She is a change management expert who has successfully led multiple company integrations, implemented a variety of cutting edge technologies and platforms, and served six years as board president for a nonprofit community group where she navigated a headquarter change twice and raised money through angel investors. Personally, Julie is a wife, a mom to four grown children and practices servant leadership. Julie is a 2014 and 2016 recipient of PharmaVOICE’s Top 100 Most Inspiring People and is currently serving as a director at large on the HBA board. Julie is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse with a bachelor’s degree in nuclear medicine technology.