Paving the Way: Bold Perspectives from Female Executives in Biotech

Paving the Way: Bold Perspectives from Female Executives in Biotech

By Katie Litwin | March 6, 2024

Just in time to celebrate Women’s history month, GQR Life Sciences is excited to promote a blog series led by our very own Katie Litwin to celebrate female executives in the biopharma sector.

Katie kicks off her series sitting down with Lisa DiPaolo and Kimberly Moran, both of whom are recent graduates of the highly selective Women in Bio’s Boardroom Ready Program   which is designed to optimize a woman’s chances of success in finding a board appointment in Life Sciences. She’ll explore topics of negotiation, navigating management challenges, building a strong company culture, and more.

Their experiences not only celebrate their individual achievements but also mirror the significant progress women have made in life sciences. As we acknowledge the strides made by women in the field, we draw inspiration from Lisa and Kim among many others, whose resilience, negotiation skills, and strategic insights are paving the way for a future rich in inclusivity and innovation in life sciences


Lisa DiPaolo

Ms. DiPaolo was appointed as Executive Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer in September of 2022. She brings more than 20 years of pharmaceutical and biotech experience to her new role.

Most recently, Ms. DiPaolo served as Senior Vice President, Human Resources, at Ipsen where she led the Human Resources function for the North America business as well as global R&D and Business Development where she successfully led broad organization transformation to scale the business. During her tenure, she was also responsible for building and leading compensation and benefits, talent management and talent acquisition globally. Previously, Ms. DiPaolo spent 8 years at Biogen in several leadership roles and in her last role served as Vice President, Global Therapeutic Operations, Global Medical and Executive search. 


Reflection and Rise:

When you look back at the progression of your own career, are there any habits or qualities that you can attribute to your rise or contributing factors that you would recommend other women consider?

Embracing challenges without feeling fully prepared has been pivotal. Many women undervalue themselves, hesitating to step into roles for which they feel underqualified. However, the real learning occurs in action, supported by a reliable network. My career growth stemmed from my readiness to embrace opportunities for growth, proving you don’t always need to feel completely ready to dive in.


Negotiation – it’s never easy, but have you ever had a situation where you have had to negotiate on behalf of yourself, and do you have any advice on the best way to navigate?

Negotiation is a constant throughout one’s career, though often unnoticed. The key is to proceed with confidence, without apology. Asking for what you want is essential, and understanding your worth is crucial. Many women worry about negative perceptions, but advocating for oneself typically garners respect for your self-assuredness.


What do you think makes up a “good” exec team and in situations of disagreement, how do you manage conversations within your leadership team?

A good leadership team thrives on diverse perspectives, consisting of individuals capable of working harmoniously with others. Such teams prioritize the collective good over individual victories, focusing on alignment and accountability. In disagreements, the ability to unite and advance together as a cohesive entity is fundamental, ensuring the company’s success over personal gains.


Management comes with its fair share of challenges. Working with difficult employees can definitely be one! How do you best deal with a direct report you may be struggling with?

Clear and direct communication about expectations and areas of growth is essential, along with providing necessary support. For executive roles, addressing those who don’t fit the culture promptly is vital, as prolonging such situations serves no one’s interests. Terminations, when handled respectfully, can lead to mutually beneficial outcomes, allowing both parties to move forward positively.


You’ve worked in environments large and small – is there any advice or best practices you would take and apply in a smaller company setting?

In a smaller company setting, it’s beneficial to take best practices from larger companies and adapt them to be more agile and suited to a smaller team’s unique dynamics. For instance, talent management and succession planning are highly structured in large organizations. These processes ensure the right people are in place for the company’s current needs and future growth.

In a smaller company, these practices should be simplified but remain strategic. The goal is to create a system that identifies and develops talent within the team yet is flexible enough to respond to the rapid changes that small businesses often experience. Implementing a lightweight version of performance management can maintain the focus on employee development without the bureaucratic overhead.


I’ve seen this scenario a lot where – You’re uniquely qualified for a position, it’s one thing to know it, and another thing to articulate it – do you have any suggestions on how to go about preparing on this topic and best position yourself? 

Confidence grows through experience. Overcoming hesitancy is a mindset shift, gained through facing and navigating challenges. Preparing a compelling narrative of your journey and aligning it with the position you seek is important. Preparation and the ability to articulate your story through concrete examples are key to promoting yourself effectively.


The Future of Biopharma:

Remote working has become quite a popular and contentious point of discussion. How has your organization adapted to the shift? Have you found the impact of “remote work” has hampered your employee satisfaction or opened new doors for your company?

Our organization has adeptly adapted to the remote working model, resulting in an increase in employee satisfaction. By implementing ‘core weeks’ where employees are expected in the office three days per month, we’ve maintained a balance between remote flexibility and in-office collaboration. This hybrid model has kept productivity high without detracting from our company culture.


How are you creating a consistent employee experience remote and in-office if it’s mixed?   

Achieving a seamless remote and in-office experience is challenging. Engaging activities during core weeks, coupled with regular virtual touchpoints like coffee chats and focus groups, have fostered a sense of community and belonging. Our CEO is a strong believer in team development and ensures the Executive team provides a forum for their teams to discuss issues, achieve alignment, and drive accountability. The impact of remote work has been largely positive, demonstrating that with the right approach, flexibility can coexist with a connected and dynamic work environment.


Do you foresee any hiring challenges that you’ll face over the coming year related to this split between remote vs in-office? If so, how do you mitigate those with your talent acquisition strategy?

Our company has embraced remote work as an integral part of our culture, recognizing its potential to boost productivity, widen our talent pool, and meet current and prospective employees’ desire for flexibility. This shift has not only maintained employee satisfaction but also expanded our reach in hiring diverse talent across different geographies, bringing fresh perspectives into our team.

As for hiring challenges, the key to balancing the remote versus in-office dynamic lies in flexibility. Our talent acquisition strategy is rooted in offering candidates options to work remotely, in-office, or a hybrid of both, depending on the role and team needs. This flexible approach places us at the forefront of modern work environments, making us an attractive choice for top talent who value adaptability in their work-life balance.


What goes into making and also SUSTAINING company culture as your company grows?

Preserving a small company culture amidst growth involves implementing processes without sacrificing agility. It’s essential to hire individuals aligned with core values, focusing on traits like adaptability and innovation, to maintain dynamism and prevent stagnation.


Connect with Lisa DiPaolo



Kimberly Moran

Kim Moran is Head of U.S. Rare Diseases, where she oversees the rare disease commercial organization in the U.S., preparing for future launches and building the strategy for our entry into multiple rare diseases. Kim’s career began in rare, working in myasthenia gravis, and she believes through our deep understanding of patients and their needs, we have a responsibility to take risks to deliver for them. Over her nearly 17 years at UCB, she’s seen the organization grow and evolve, giving us the opportunity to gain closer proximity to patients, understand their unmet needs, and deliver unique solutions, including through digital pathways.


Reflections and Rise:

When you look back at the progression of your own career, are there any habits or qualities that you can attribute to your rise or contributing factors that you would recommend other women consider?

Reflecting on my own career, I think being more open allowed me to achieve success. A lot of times you (women) feel there is some traditional career trajectory you should have. The world doesn’t work that way. You should strive to be long-term minded, and capabilities minded. Think to yourself, “how can I add more tools to my toolkit?” and “what else should I add to round out my profile?”

Be aware of trends and what else is out there that could present itself as a risk or opportunity. As a business leader, you need to understand the trends and resources available to you to continue to innovate in your space and role. As an example, while a few years ago I knew very little about AI, I really dove in to immerse myself in digital and AI trends to be able to understand the implications better for my business. 


Negotiation – it’s never easy, but have you ever had a situation where you have had to negotiate on behalf of yourself, and do you have any advice on the best way to navigate?

I negotiate probably daily. I love it. I want women to be more comfortable with it. There’s nothing wrong with asking for something or making a request. And framing it in that way can be a good tactic to use; that you are “making a request”. I suggest also considering taking a basic negotiation course. Understand the cognitive theory behind negotiation if that helps you overcome the fear and come up with a strategy. Consider, ‘what is the most basic thing you are willing to walk away with or from’. 

Negotiations also often go multiple rounds. There can be multiple conversations. So, come up with your initial strategy and continue to shift it as conversations continue. We also have a duty to role model it for others in our organizations so that other rising leaders can see effective negotiation tactics. 


If you were to give yourself any advice reflecting back to your early career, what would you say?

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Earlier in my career, I did way too much. I’m a big fan of simplification. I got to a point where I was taking too much on my plate. I began to reflect on, what are the three most important things I need to do to be successful in my role and how can I achieve those. But doing 20 things an inch deep is not doing anyone any good.


Let’s dig a bit deeper here – how do you decide what ARE the most important things you need to do to be successful in your role, especially early on in your career when you want to make an impression?

1. Get feedback and alignment from those around you of what they consider to be the most important elements of your role

2. Sense check with key stakeholders. Come to them and say, “this is what I’m focused on, is there anything you see as a higher priority” and constantly updating that list depending on shifting organizational/personal priorities and

3. Be a great communicator with your team and management, and in combination with continuously seeking alignment will make you focused and impactful. Then, over time, you’ll start to figure out what is important and learn how to read the strategic trends for the future to make your own assessments and shape your strategic advice.


What do you think makes up a “good” exec team and in situations of disagreement, how do you manage conversations within your leadership team?

A good executive team should be a diverse group. There should be a mix of industries, perspectives, experiences. There should also be collaboration, as well as healthy conflict and debate. This means a team that knows how to have a debate, and ultimately walk away aligned. That takes good psychological safety and trust. Especially at larger companies, you can’t have two people steering in different directions and bringing that to their teams.


When you think more holistically about your own career progression, have you ever taken a “step back” in title? If so, how do you recommend that rising leaders think about title in comparison to other factors and do you have any over-arching advice of how to think about this?

I would reframe this from “taking a step back” to “taking a lateral move to eventually step up”. It goes back to the toolkit – taking these moves moved me from a global role to a US role or a medical director to a sales role. With the toolkit analogy, you must consider what you are gaining as a result. And you can tie that experience back to goal setting. As an example, saying, “if I take this, I want to achieve X” – and then you can speak with your manager about those 12-18 months objectives and how they can help you manage that.


You’ve worked in environments large and small – any advice on best practices/habits you would take and apply to a smaller company setting or vice versa?

I started my career in a very tiny biotech. I was employee number 36. So, I was able to quickly learn all the different functions at a biotech. Each person owned their role. I learned accountability from that. I also learned agility. You don’t always have to have all the information to make a decision. Large pharma can learn from that agility – of course, with guardrails around it. But working on risk tolerance is huge for leaders at any organization.

There are also layers for decision making at larger companies. I would suggest larger teams empower decisions that are made at a technical level. At the executive level, you need to have the smell for it. Ask, “does this smell like the right decision and are the right people in that function to make the right decision”. But allow your people to own their work.


The Future of Biopharma:

Remote working has become quite a popular and contentious point of discussion. How has your organization adapted to the shift and how are you creating a consistent employee experience remote and in-office if it’s mixed?

I’m a big fan of the hybrid model. There are some tasks that require a quiet, focused environment. There are other tasks that require being in person and collaboration in situations where personal connection and reading the nonverbals is so important. Every company and every department has to figure out the secret to their own success. But the biggest thing I would encourage organizations to consider is being intentional about your time and setting guidelines that are consistent. Be intentional about expectation around in office time. At the end of the day, if you want to attract the best and brightest talent you have to have some flexibility no matter what decision is made.


What goes into making and also SUSTAINING company culture?

Be clear about the health and the direction of your company culture. If you are in a position of driving change, you must be clear about the why behind organizational changes. If you want to retain talent, you have to make clear to employees why they are valued. Communicate. Don’t communicate too early but communicate clearly. Don’t dangle uncertainty too long. People stress, swirl, and leave. The more you can be clear about what is happening and why, then people aren’t panicking as much.


What do you think makes up a “successful” interview/hiring process? And how can you hire effectively at scale or consider other avenues to bring in necessary resources?

I think what makes a good interview process is a very clear expectation of the capabilities, competencies and skillsets that are necessary for the role. Additionally, it is smart that interviewers understand their biases. There’s a SEEDS model that we use that can help individuals identify their biases a little bit more, which helps you become more objective. I would be very clear to the interviewee about your company culture and assess that. “Is this person adaptable to change? Or do they look like they’re flexible enough to work well?” And finally, I would recommend a diverse interview panel. Whoever is interviewing you should also demonstrate the diversity of your company.


The future of AI in Life Sciences. How do we de-mystify it and do you seek AI as a risk or benefit? How are you integrating it into your company?

My recommendation is to not be so scared of it. When we hear computers have human-like qualities, we immediately get scared and believe our jobs are at risk. But AI is just pattern recognition. It just does it faster than we can. We use it with our salesforce effectiveness to better understand the patient journey more and understand where patients get stuck in the clinical trial process. I recently saw a presentation with the NIH where researchers used AI to analyze rare disease patients and did an analysis of the entire genome of the patient against all possible drug candidates that could impact the one gene in question that was causing the disease and they found something that worked. I think first understanding why you might need a new system and how it will benefit you will help people understand it better.  It’s not about replacing human beings; it’s about enhancing our abilities.


Connect with Kimberly Moran





About the Author
Katie Litwin

Katie Litwin is an Executive Vice President within Life Sciences in New York, specializing in working with professionals in Regulatory Affairs who are driving the next era of drug development.

Her network is made up of individuals who work on innovative approaches to the world’s most pressing diseases to deliver therapies and cures to patients everywhere.

Katie’s ability to identify the highly-specialized backgrounds required for a career in Regulatory Affairs have translated to an impressive track record of placing senior-level executives in this field.

What makes GQR’s Life Sciences team stand out the most is their sincere passion for science in each company they are involved in working with. The team’s ability to build long-term relationships with experts in the space have made them genuinely knowledgeable about where the best talent is located.

Katie is a dual citizen to the U.S. and Canada. Outside of work, she is passionate about traveling, outdoors and trying new restaurant and recipes!

Connect with Katie to speak about your dream career or where you’d like to take your team next!

“I found Katie very engaging and well versed in the role and employer, especially for a Regulatory position. I have had many recruiters call to place for Regulatory roles that have no knowledge of the Regulatory field and it is very difficult to obtain a clear understanding of the role and expectations.”

– Life Sciences Candidate


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