For Amgen’s Healthcare Businesswomen Association (HBA) award winners, mentorship, empowerment, and DI&B rise to the top.
When Rohini Deshpande first started at Amgen in 1997, on the heels of her postdoctoral work at the University of Michigan and UCLA, she found a laboratory environment where cutting-edge science was the priority. Both men and women actively collaborated to solve a key challenge of the day—turning monoclonal antibodies into a new therapeutic modality for Amgen.
“I questioned whether I was ready or good enough to take a job at Amgen, but the science I had done before fit in very well with Amgen’s new goals,” says Deshpande. "Certainly, there were fewer women in biotechnology —and in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] fields generally—then, but I felt very supported by male and female mentors and role models who helped guide and inspire me.”
It turns out that not only was Deshpande good enough to do her first job at Amgen—but also many others that followed with increasing levels of responsibility. She now serves as Amgen's vice president of Drug Substance Technologies and the site head for the Amgen Massachusetts facility.
Deshpande thrived in Amgen’s labs, and 25 years later, she’s not only one of the company’s highly regarded scientists, but also a role model and mentor herself, who was recently recognized by the Healthcare Businesswoman’s Association (HBA) as a Luminary award recipient for 2022.
Deshpande is one of three Amgen leaders recognized by HBA this year. Susie Tappouni, vice president, Corporate Affairs, also received the Luminary award, and Disha Patel, director, Digital Technology and Innovation, was named a Rising Star.
“I first joined HBA in the late 2000s, after learning about research they had done on some of the reasons women in the healthcare industry were either dropping out of the workforce or not advancing past middle management,” Tappouni says. “That’s when I became motivated to truly advocate on behalf of myself and other women around me whenever I could.”
Actively empowering women at Amgen
All three recipients come from different parts of the healthcare industry, from communications to scientific research to information systems and technology, but one thing they all have in common is their active roles in Women Empowered to Be Exceptional (WE2), an employee resource group with chapters at Amgen sites around the world.
“WE2 has become an epicenter of powerful discourse on the challenges we’re facing as women in leadership, or aspiring to leadership,” Tappouni says. “The organization creates meaningful forums to address the intersection of inequality in gender and race in the workplace, and it has become an effective resource for building a productive network.”
As the sponsor of WE2 for the Amgen Massachusetts site, Deshpande leads group mentoring sessions for women across a variety of functions. “I really enjoy having inclusive conversations about the common challenges women experience in workplaces,” she says. “For many women, including myself, a common change when taking a leadership role is getting comfortable being in the spotlight, so we talk a lot about the importance of standing up and speaking out. In science we like to say that data speak for themselves, but as leaders we must stand up and speak for the data—and our teams.”
Susan Burke, a director of Process Development at Amgen Massachusetts site says she appreciates the opportunities for open communication that Desphande’s group mentoring sessions provide. “Hearing the candid perspective of a female executive leader talking about the skills and strategies women need to develop as they advance in their careers has greatly enriched the program and helped me gain a deeper understanding of the professional and corporate culture at Amgen,” she says.
Patel currently serves as the global vice chair for WE2, a mentor for the group at Amgen’s headquarters in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and she’s also working to create the WE2 community at Amgen Ohio in her new role as Digital Technology and Innovation site lead. “I am a firm believer in servant leadership and paying it forward,” she says. “The opportunity to be engaged with this group early on and see how it has evolved into a durable capability within our organization to help support, encourage, develop and advance women is wonderful.”
Mentorship makes a difference
The HBA is an organization created around the core purpose of furthering advancement and impact of women in the business of healthcare through the guidance and support of mentors and sponsors. “Earlier in my career, I identified more senior women who had knowledge and experience of what to look out for as I began my journey. One of my most impactful, amazing mentors in that early phase career was Diana McKenzie, Amgen’s previous chief information officer,” Patel says. “As I got a few more years under my belt, I started to look for mentors that had different experiences or skill sets that I admired, regardless of tenure, as this brought on different ways to look at my career.”
Tappouni explains that she found one of her most impactful mentors after transitioning from consulting to her first “in-house” job, leading science communications for the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). “Kristin Ludwig (until recently, the chief marketing and communications officer for ASCO) was a champion of mine when I worked there and has remained a mentor to this day,” Tappouni says. “I really admired the way she led her team through her no-nonsense style, how she was so supportive of the empowerment of her people, embracing of inclusiveness and belonging, and her open-mindedness to always listen, evolve and innovate.”
For Deshpande, it was the leaders she reported to along her journey that she credits with helping shape her career. “They pushed me out of my comfort zone and believed in me – even more than I believed in myself,” she says. “I trusted their confidence, became an avid learner and it ended up being a fantastic experience.”
Growing Amgen’s focus on Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging
Deshpande says that Amgen’s culture has been professional and equitable throughout her time here, and that she especially appreciates the company’s clear, strong and renewed commitment to Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DI&B) in recent years.
“I see Esteban Santos (executive vice president of Operations) so committed to diversity, and I realize that we are making it a purposeful, sustainable journey toward an inclusive future,” she says. “It feels very gratifying to be part of a team where we discuss DI&B openly, celebrate our progress, and evaluate areas needing more work.”
Throughout her more than 16-year tenure with Amgen, Patel has taken an active role in Amgen’s DI&B efforts through a variety of internal and external programs. “I have a front row seat to seeing and influencing how we are developing and promoting women, and women of color, within the company,” she says. “I am encouraged in our journey as a whole for Amgen in DI&B, and over the past few years our ability to actively discuss topics like unconscious bias, psychological safety, and what it means to be an ally, not to mention the number of career promotions and lateral moves that are occurring, it’s a step in the right direction.”
“Amgen has made significant strides on the DI&B front in the past few years,” Tappouni adds. “But we can’t let up on our efforts to continue recruiting talented and diverse women into Amgen from all corners of the world and at all levels. We need to redouble our efforts to tap into new tributaries for talent and create productive new networks to draw in the future women leaders of tomorrow.”
Amgen has been a corporate partner of HBA since 2010, supporting the organization’s dedication to furthering the advancement and impact of women in the business of healthcare. Members of Amgen’s senior leadership nominate and review the Rising Stars and Luminaries who exemplify leadership and have contributed significantly to the company’s business.