The pandemic threatened to halt clinical trials and derail development of biosimilars. But thanks to the diversity they’ve cultivated, these Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) award-winning leaders were able to transform their operations to triumph over the competition.
Disruption stalks supply chains. Roadblocks define the regulatory highway. So, if you want to talk about problem-solving under pressure—managing disruption, sidestepping roadblocks, and consistently beating the competition to market, even during a global pandemic—talk to executive directors Noemi Romero, Manufacturing and Clinical Supply, and Vanessa Belozeroff, Project Management Biosimilars.
“When I’m worried about strategy and business solutions, the one thing I want is people who will bring to the table ideas that are counter to mine or to others and drive us to more innovative solutions,” says Belozeroff.
Yet such people don’t just materialize, Romero stresses. “To transform our thinking, all of us need to do more to diversify our representation in the workplace.”
Few are doing more than these two women, who have just been recognized by Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) as a Rising Star (Romero) and Luminary (Belozeroff). These leaders are mentoring diverse talent across Amgen’s employee communities, ensuring the company can out-innovate the competition no matter what adversity lies ahead.
Harnessing Difference Through Affinity
As global chair of Women Empowered to Be Exceptional (WE2), Amgen’s largest employee resource group, Belozeroff launched a mentorship program in 2016 that has in the last five years brought hundreds of women closer to the strategy-setting table by developing their soft skills as well as their business and strategic acumen.
But the greater accomplishment, she feels, was in strategically repositioning WE2 as a business resource group. In 2016 she established the framework that, using data, articulated how WE2 was positively affecting not only women’s promotion and retention but also the business. That got the attention—and secured the sponsorship—of the executive leadership team.
“In 2020, when Amgen CEO Bob Bradway told our executive directors and officers community that it’s important to the business to support diversity inclusion and belonging, that really moved the needle,” she says. “Because it moved the conversation about diversity onto the main stage.”
WE2’s success in turn instigated employee resource groups across the company, Belozeroff says, to position themselves as business resource groups and better understand their impact on members’ careers and Amgen. “They may be called employee resource groups,” she says, “but they’re innovation hubs. By tapping into the insights of our staff, we can connect more customers to our products.”
A co-founder of WE2’s AML chapter, Puerto Rican native Romero also recognized early in her Amgen career how affinity could be harnessed to propel women forward. She noticed that whenever staffers became pregnant or gave birth, they resigned. “These women thought, ‘I can give my life to my family, or to my work, but not to both,’” she recalls. Raised by a working mother and schooled in confidence by having attended an all-girls school, Romero knew otherwise. “I advised them we have the responsibility to shape our work-life balance so that it works for us and for the company,” she says.
In 2017, when Romero relocated to Thousand Oaks (where Amgen is headquartered) to oversee Supply Chain Excellence, she noticed that many on the floor were of Latin origin. Through ALEN, Amgen Latin Employee Network, Romero nurtured their ambition and mentored them to acquire more responsibility by connecting with others. “I truly enjoy coaching fellow Latin staff, particularly those that have been stuck in their roles for quite some time.”
Yet it is through ABLE, Ability Bettered Through Leadership and Education, that Romero sees her greatest opportunity to build the company’s innovative bench strength. She jumped at the invitation to chair ABLE because, having watched her mother contend with a lifelong hearing-impairment, she understood not merely the challenges that people with disabilities overcome, but also the ingenuity they develop as a result. Then she set about repurposing ABLE to promote ways to harness that ingenuity. The employee resource group is sponsoring, for example, a neurodiverse pilot this summer. “ABLE has traditionally been focused on community service,” says Romero. “Now, we’re also focusing on attracting, integrating, developing, and retaining people whose disability—visible or invisible—brings us different perspectives that are critical to our success as an organization.”
Rising Stars, Shining Luminaries
The Rising Star and Luminary awards bestowed by the 11,700-member HBA recognize Romero and Belozeroff in part for their tireless support of women’s professional development. HBA ultimately based its selection, however, on the strength of the women’s business contribution.
“The HBA award recognizes that our women executives are driving the innovation that make us a world leader in biotech,” says Murdo Gordon, executive vice president, Global Commercial Operations and the executive sponsor of WE2. “Thanks to our diverse, world class talent, we have the innovative pipeline to sustain our competitive market edge.”
The award affirms, for Romero, the importance of diversity and transformational leadership. “This past year the pandemic forced us to create a completely new way of doing business,” she says. “My team transformed the delivery of supply for our clinical trials. Before, patients had to go to the clinic to participate in a trial. Today, patients can visit a clinic for treatment or request applicable clinical products to be delivered to their home. I’m very proud of my team.”
Belozeroff is likewise honored to be recognized for the value she’s delivered to the establishment of our biosimilars business unit and for helping lead the advancement of our once pre-clinical portfolio to one of five approved assets.
Yet she hopes the visibility conferred by the HBA award will help all of her mentees see that external networking—with organizations like HBA—is as vital to Amgen’s future as it is to their own. Along with the appointment of Judy Brown, senior vice president, Corporate Affairs and Thousand Oaks Site Head, to HBA’s 2021 Advisory Board, the awards give Amgen’s female executives not only industry-wide exposure and influence, but also a peer network that will amplify their impact at Amgen.