Celebrating Progress for Women in Clinical Research

Women In Clinical Research Panel

Women who are shaping the field of clinical research.

Senior professionals outline advice for improving diversity.

Women’s History Month in March offers a great opportunity to celebrate the vital role of women in all aspects of clinical research. In addition to an expanding role as participants in trials, women are leaders at stakeholder organizations, skilled clinical research professionals, and passionate advocates for female representation in clinical research.

This blog showcases viewpoints from four women who will participate in a Signature Series panel discussion which will kick off the ACRP 2023 conference in Dallas, Texas.

Deb Tatton of Parexel: “Be comfortable being uncomfortable”

“My perspective is that of a woman in an executive leadership position who has worked her way up from an entry-level data management role,” says Deb Tatton, President, Global Clinical Operations, Parexel. “After 27 years with Parexel, I’m often asked by younger women for career advice—and my answer is that if you are passionate, committed, hard-working, and tireless, the sky’s the limit in the clinical research space. Ambitious women should learn to be ‘comfortable being uncomfortable,’ because that’s how we learn in this fast-changing industry. Women account for as many as 70% to 80% of clinical research professionals, and the opportunity to advance is there for anyone who wants it.”

“As we look to advance the diversity of study participants, the decentralized clinical trial (DCT) elements that advanced so far during the COVID-19 pandemic will be very helpful,” adds Tatton. “By enabling us to take studies to patients, DCTs ease the burden of participation, especially for those with family caregiver roles, who are disproportionately women.”

“We also need to continue educational efforts to improve awareness of clinical trials and the central role of participant safety, for example, through educational efforts with patient advocacy groups,” states Tatton. “This will help ensure that we have the right clinical trial population from a scientific perspective, and make sure that there are appropriate treatments for everyone.”

Jeanne Hecht of JTH Consulting & Associates: “Board diversity drives a robust strategy”

“My perspective is that of a female member of seven fiduciary boards in the life sciences sector,” says Jeanne Hecht, Founder and CEO, JTH Consulting & Associates (Chapel Hill, N.C.). “Put simply, the role of a board member or chair is to appoint the CEO, review and edit business strategy, and approve the company’s annual budget.”

“Within organizations involved with clinical research, representation of women and minorities has an impact via two avenues,” notes Hecht. “First, as contributors to talent within the organization, helping reflect the customer base or end-users for the organization’s product or service. This can build the organization’s understanding of its customers’ cultural and technical perspectives, how they may embrace the product, and where challenges may arise. Second, board members with differing backgrounds and perspectives—whether based on race, nationality, gender identity, handicap or other factors—bring diversity of thought, which is essential to the board role of developing a robust strategy.”

“One challenge in improving board diversity is the need for in-depth technical understanding of the organization’s business, as well as financial acumen—which are essential to the board’s role of optimizing financial performance,” Hecht advises. “To meet these high expectations, anyone with an interest in board membership should be sure to develop financial skills early in their careers. An additional challenge is the need for a large network across functions to call on for expertise—which should be a focus of attention at all career stages.”

Jessica Fritter of The Ohio State University: “A passionate advocate for women”

“As a strong biracial woman, mother, and wife, I have overcome barriers and negative expectations, and have become a passionate advocate for women in the world of clinical research,” says Jessica Fritter, MACPR, ACRP-CP, Associated Faculty, Clinical Instructor of Practice, The Ohio State University. “With a full understanding of the challenges women and minorities can face, I give the highest priority to active mentorship of young professionals.”

“I’d also like to thank my own mentors, including Carolynn Jones, DNP, MSPH, RN, FAAN, Clinical Professor, The Ohio State University; and Grace Wentzel, CCRP, Executive Director, Site Operations at Javara,” says Fritter. “Many of us within ACRP also benefit from the stellar leadership contributions of ACRP’s Executive Director Susan P. Landis, and Denise Snyder, MS, RD, Associate Dean for Clinical Research for Duke University School of Medicine.”

“My own recent research on diversity among clinical research professionals has led to eye-opening findings, such as several female survey respondents saying that their gender hindered their sense of belonging within the research team,” notes Fritter. “While we’ve come a long way, these perceptions clearly show the need for more progress—and I am committed to driving this.”

Women In Clinical Research: Perspectives of Progress

Join this diverse and esteemed panel of women leaders at ACRP 2023 [April 28 – May 1; Dallas, TX], who will speak to progress in clinical research for women and inspire us all to advocate for women in clinical research. View complete schedule.

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Virginia Nido of Genentech: Sponsor-protégé relationships “a key to diversifying the workforce”

“As we work to improve diversity in workforce at Genentech, we have in place a pilot program to support sponsor/protégé relationships on a global scale, across regions and cultures,” says Virginia Nido, Global Head, Industry Collaborations, Genentech. “A sponsor-protégé relationship is a two-way street that delivers career success to both parties. The protégé must first prove their potential upfront by delivering on key projects, then the sponsor advocates directly for the protégé’s next promotion, raise, or high-visibility assignment.”

“Based on research by economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the sponsor-protégé relationship is a proven pathway to make both parties more successful in their careers,” explains Nido. “Protégés report higher career satisfaction and greater confidence, with sponsors saying they have expanded their skillsets and benefited from value added by the protégé, while also increasing their career satisfaction. I have solid personal experience of this type of relationship with my colleague, Julia Medina, who is clinical operations lead at Genentech,” explains Nido. “Our relationship developed organically based on a personal connection. As a protégée, she was trustworthy, willing to take on any assignment, and had a growth mindset. As her sponsor, I have been able to support career opportunities and high-visibility assignments, advocate for promotions, and push her to take risks. We have both benefited greatly.”

“Sponsorship can be key to diversifying the clinical research workforce and moving minorities into leadership,” concludes Nido. “In past decades, male leaders have been sponsors for women. Now it’s time for all leaders to step up and do their part as sponsors to advance women and minorities.”

Written by Jill Dawson