The female force behind healthcare innovation

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female leader

Passionate, effective, and forward-thinking female leaders are critical to driving innovation within the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry. These hard-to-find advisors invigorate their teams to look beyond the status quo and carve out unconventional paths that propel the industry forward. These women are reinvigorating the life sciences market, in a time when the industry is beginning to welcome more female leaders into executive seats.

External factors and circumstances also assist in bringing about innovation and new ways of thinking, whether it is due to a global response to a worldwide pandemic or the introduction of new technologies that streamline how a team interacts and operates. It is both the innovative ideas and effectively implemented technology advancements that result in newly paved paths of innovation for the market, an organization, or team members. This can only be achieved when the right female leaders are in place to allow these concepts to germinate and flourish.

Secrets to success, shared

Recently, two women leading innovative advancements in the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors shared their secrets to success. Dr Christina Mack, chief scientific officer for IQVIA Real World Solutions (RWS), and Dr Harietta Eleftherochorinou, vice president of IQVIA Innovation Ventures, both got their start in computer science and electrical computer engineering, then used this technical foundation to extend to how innovative technologies alongside smart science can be used to drive innovations that improve patient care and patient outcomes.

Innovation is essential for driving personal career growth and bringing our industry forward. Yet, it can be a struggle to get novel ideas across to others. How have you overcome this challenge?

Harietta: I love to engage early with the people on my teams – and across our organisation – to paint a vision almost at the time of inception and welcome their feedback. It is like planting a seed and then encouraging your trusted community of partners to water and care for the plant as it grows. Driving innovation and transformational change requires several disciplines and a community of people to bring to life. Listening to everybody, understanding how they are thinking, welcoming diverse viewpoints, and blending perspectives into the implementation plan, is key to my approach. As a result, within months of an idea, we have an army of partners enthusiastic to work together and drive innovation forward.

Christina: Conceptualising a vision and then building a team that can make that vision a reality is a challenge, but also the best part of the adventure. It takes a lot of creativity and problem solving across an entire team to make the impossible, possible. I try to communicate the excitement and empower people to bend or break the status and rebuild. We talk about the need to navigate, the need to debate with each other to get to the right answer and letting go of the expectation that it will be clear on how to get from here to there. One of the greatest rewards for the team is when the vision not only crystalises, but improves once the team starts to work on it and put their unique stamp on the initial idea. Navigating this new course is where we have the greatest adventures, that push us and help us grow as a team and as a place where we can look to our collective experiences to find the right path forward.

How do you build creativity amongst your team to think outside the box or come together to meld ideas and drive forth a new round of innovation?

Harietta: It comes down to the mental agility of the team and a strong team culture. As a previous volleyball player, I push to build a culture of teamwork and collaboration more than anything else. It is critical that everyone has fun, grows through learning, and feels always supported. Successful innovation starts with a strong, enthusiastic, and inspired team. Creativity flows when the focus is on the team – building a passion amongst the members to seek innovative solutions to the challenge. It is about empowering the right team member to be in the right place to do what they love doing that creates magic in the workplace and drives transformational change.

Christina: This starts with a strong team and bringing in partners from across your organisation to build a brilliant group. I try to dig deeper with each person I meet and learn what makes them passionate about their career, what they like to do, and where they want to go. I look to see how their creativity and excitement can be brought into the team, and where we can work together and do something great. It is about pushing them to go outside the box and instilling confidence in them so that they feel free to express these ideas.

Working within a larger organisation and even in a more traditional industry, it can be hard for change to be adopted. How do you ensure that the innovations are adopted and provide that level of transformation?

Harietta: It is about painting a vision and anchoring it to impact, while rolling out the processes to measure the value created and address any pain points throughout adoption. Innovation is at the core of our corporate strategy and as such, it is tightly linked to tangible strategic, operational, financial, and people results. We view innovation as the backbone that underpins the outcomes that we strive to achieve whether it is the launch of a new medical solution or AI technology advancement. Conviction in the vision and commitment to the value creation drives adoption. Adoption at scale drives transformation. This is also achieved through finding the balance of being creative and pragmatic; innovating not for the sake of marketing purposes, but rather with the goal to deliver novel, truly better solutions, making a positive impact to patients and healthcare.

Christina: This is knowing about what motivates people individually and organisationally. People like to be creative, and they like the idea of innovation. While it’s true that change can be hard in large organisations or traditional industries, these are also the areas where evolution is most needed and most impactful. The vision must be colourful, but the steps forwards must be done in a focused, strategic manner to be successful. We need to know how the change will advance a company or change a market before we partner across the organisation to tackle the challenge. As leaders, we want our teams to be successful, so it is about finding the skillsets, communicating across disciplines, inspiring the teams, solving problems, and building efficient processes to tackle the challenge.

In navigating your own career path from a junior team member to now being a prominent leader within your organisation and in the industry, what are some of the lessons you learned? What advice would you give the next generation?

Harietta: Innovation starts with challenging the status quo, so dare to do so! It is healthy to challenge the state of the art with advanced, forward thinking on faster, better, or simply different ways. Be bold! And execute with a focus on tangible proof points. Deliver real impact, strive to make a difference, and aim for excellence. An African proverb suggests, “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together” – and one’s long-term career progression is a community matter. It requires diversity to develop broad experience, learn from, and co-create, therefore embrace collaboration and connectivity at the core. Find the partners to create together something extraordinary and enjoy the journey during the hardships of adoption and transformation. 

Christina: Well, first, have fun!  Be open to evolving your plan based on a drive to innovate and new opportunities that arise. Jumping on unexpected opportunities and applying skills learned in one setting to a new space is where the magic happens – we discover our passions and stretch our minds. One thing I have always done and continue to this day is placing a high value on honest feedback – getting it and giving it. Through this, we learn how to go from good to great, improve in areas where we are not yet strong, and understand the perspectives of others. That is how we as a team can find excellence. 

In Closing

Female leadership has changed dramatically in the last decade with an increasing number of women rising to the executive level. The current generation of women leaders have made significant strides forward and opened new pathways for the next generation of women to carve out novel paths and further advance healthcare. Successful teams are those built with the next generation of women who are equally passionate about making an impact. It is these women and the teams they lead that will bring forth future innovations and developments that will ultimately improve the quality of life for patients in generations to come.

About the authors

Dr Harietta EleftherochorinouDr Harietta Eleftherochorinou is a Fortune 40 under 40, top 25 Women in UK Healthcare and the managing vice president of Innovation Ventures at IQVIA, an S&P 500 company with approximately 82,000 employees and operations in 100+ countries. Through this role, Dr Eleftherochorinou leads globally the portfolio of investments and partnerships, so as to transform healthcare and accelerate patient impact. She is an AI pioneer with 18 years of experience in designing and implementing large scale AI solutions for health. A Women in STEM ambassador, committed to diversity, ethos, and inclusion, she speaks regularly at forums on these topics. An electrical and computer engineer, Dr Eleftherochorinou holds an MSc in Bioinformatics and PhD in Medicine from Imperial College London.

Dr Christina MackDr Christina Mack’s research has been published in top journals including CDC’s Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report, JAMA Internal Medicine, and Annals of Internal Medicine on topics covering the effectiveness of medical products, infectious disease, sports medicine, and methods in machine learning.  She advises organisations on data science, global health, and disease prevention, including the FDA, CDC, biopharmaceutical companies, the NFL, NBA, and International Olympic Committee.  She co-chairs the Scientific Oversight Committee for FDA Medical Device Epidemiology Network and the RAPID Safety Signal Discernment and Biostatistics workgroup.  Dr Mack is a Fellow of the International Society for Pharmacoepidemiology and on the Advisory Board of the Carolina Health Informatics Program.  Featured by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Forbes, among others, she was dubbed a Top 20 Influencer in the 2020 NFL Season by NBC Sports, and referred to as a COVID-19 “SWAT Epidemiologist” by the Washington Post.  Dr Mack has been recognised by the Healthcare Business Woman’s Association for leadership and innovation, is a frequently invited speaker on careers in science and technology, and is a mentor for the World Economic Forum Global Shapers “Transformative Role of Women and Girls” initiative.