Changemaker, Dr Flic Gabbay, tranScrip Partners
‘We’re making progress, but we’re not there yet’, is Dr Flic Gabbay’s assessment of how attitudes to diversity and inclusion have changed over her distinguished career as a pharmaceutical physician and business leader.
To say the passionate and dynamic co-founder and Managing Partner of tranScrip Partners, (the specialist pharmaceutical services consultancy which received investment from Palatine’s Impact Fund in January 2021) has had an interesting and varied career, would be an understatement.
With degrees in both pharmacology and medicine, Flic moved into pharmaceutical medicine in 1979, while on a research year during her training in obstetrics and gynaecology. She worked for May and Baker, now Sanofi, for two years before moving to US pharma group Parke- Davis, which later became part of Pzifer.
When she was promoted to serve on the board of Parke- Davis’ UK and Irish subsidiary she was one of just two women out of 200 senior leaders in the business.
Having reached a certain level, she found herself with limited options to further advance her career, due to her gender.
“The industry then was very different to now,” she recounts, “No one would hire me – I was far too forthright, and a woman. They weren’t ready for someone like me, so I set up my own company.
“I pleased to say attitudes have changed incredibly since my time at Parke- Davis, it was a very a different era. It’s funny, in those days women all wore blue suits to work, it was how you were expected to dress. I never conformed, I would turn up in bright yellow or red clothing, just to shock.
“It was a very different place, and not a good place to encourage women to develop. There were some very good women, but you had to be very forthright in order to make progress. The UK at the time was lagging behind. What was then ICI and Wellcome were very conservative places and Glaxo has only just started up.
The biggest barriers she encountered to her career progression were related to her having a family.
Looking back with hindsight she says that railing to her superiors against their failure to promote her, was not the right approach.
“I think the barriers I have faced have really been around being frustrated that my seniors decided that for one family reason or another I should not be promoted.
“On others occasions I wasn’t promoted simply because they thought that I wouldn’t leave because I had more family responsibilities than perhaps some of my male counterparts.
“As those things are thrown as you, you become quite feisty and prickly, which can be counterproductive. I think you have to learn to deal with it and be analytical.
“Over time, I have learned that you can drive change stealthily and by using soft power.”
Flic is rightly proud that as a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences she helped launch a mentoring programme to support, inspire and encourage up-and-coming women in the industry.
She says: “I have had the most wonderful rewarding career and it’s important for me, and others too, to celebrate scientific careers. It’s about the empowering people to be a part of an amazing sector that genuinely changes lives through discovery of new medicines. We need more people, from different backgrounds to enter our industry because it is amazing. We have to tell our story better.
“For people starting out in the life sciences sector, my overwhelming piece of advice would be to enjoy it, and don’t let the barriers of getting frustrated overwhelm you to the point where you don’t see the excitement.”
She is pleased that the world is now “a very different place” to when she started her career. Within the pharma sector, she says “extraordinary progress” has been made in some companies – in GSK for example, 40-50% of their senior managers are women.
There is still work to do however she admits.
While tranScrip offers highly flexible working arrangements to enable staff to have a good work-life balance and also runs diversity and equality training, Flic is aware that, as an international business, there is still some work to overcome unconscious bias.
“Essentially this is about respect – trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes – and it’s something we think about every day, but it’s not easy.”
On a positive note, she concludes: “If we, each of us, makes small changes, we will get there.”