December 28, 2021
Women in Leadership Series - Hillary Theakston
Executive Director at The Clearity FoundationGuest
We speak with Hillary Theakston, Executive Director of The Clearity Foundation. Hillary talks about her career motivations and reflects on the impact of her mentors. She also describes The Clearity Foundation and its role in guiding women with ovarian cancer to better clinical outcomes.
"What I hope to see is that women don't have that hesitation of, 'I'm not ready,' but are more confident or more willing to step into roles that may feel like a stretch, but that they can develop into."
HANNAH: Hello, and welcome to the Totally Clinical Podcast brought to you by Teckro. Totally Clinical is a deep dive into the freshest trends, big time challenges, and most excellent triumphs of clinical trials.
I'm Hannah, your host. Join me as I chat with industry experts, trailblazers, thought leaders, and most importantly, the people benefiting from clinical research.
So tune in, settle back, and don't touch that dial. It's time to get totally clinical.
Today I'm speaking to Hillary Theakston. Hillary is executive director of the Clearity Foundation, which works to improve the survival and quality of life of women with ovarian cancer. I started by asking her more about her career and what motivates her.
HILLARY THEAKSTON: I actually started my career in biotech and life sciences companies doing communications for them, investor relations, public relations, and corporate communications. And then in 2011, I had the opportunity to work for the Clearity Foundation, which was founded by a biotech entrepreneur who is well-known in the San Diego community, Laura Schawver.
So that really began what is now a 10-year adventure into the nonprofit patient advocacy space.
And so it's been just an incredibly gratifying experience for me.
Like a lot of us, my family has been impacted by cancer. And so to be able to work in a space and for an organization that is helping patients and families through some really difficult times in their lives has been really rewarding and gratifying for me.
I think what has been most encouraging to me and what I've observed in my own career is the willingness of women to mentor other women in their organizations. And I benefited tremendously from this in my early career at a biotechnology company where our CFO was the first female vice president at a major accounting firm. And she really made it a point to mentor some of the women in our organization, including me.
And I really have her to thank for the direction that my early career took and her willingness to invest in me, to develop me, to provide training and coaching and mentoring. And I've been gratified to see that in the various roles that I've had over time. So that has been a tremendous source of inspiration to me, is the willingness of women. And I think Kamala Harris has been quoted as saying along the lines of, you may be the first, but make sure that you're not the last.
HANNAH: So in terms of progression you've seen during your career, it's been mainly around mentoring and you feel that that's really changed within the time you started and today.
HILLARY THEAKSTON: I was very fortunate to benefit from probably a pioneering mentoring spirit early in my career. And I have seen that accelerate and expand over time. So I think that that is a positive change, that what I experienced earlier in my career as very individually driven type efforts have expanded into organizations and networks and more formalized means of providing mentoring to young women in their career and really throughout their career.
HANNAH: And now looking to the future, what progress would you like to see for women in your profession? In terms of future, that could be five years, 10 years, depending on a period you feel within which it would be realistic.
HILLARY THEAKSTON: I think an observation about women's careers and professional advancement that has really stuck with me or lodged in my mind is this dynamic that we tend to see with women advancing in their careers and what I understand to be a certain hesitancy, a sense that I'm not ready for that. And I think we've seen it across many industries and politics and advancing into leadership roles.
So what I hope to see is that women don't have that hesitation of, I'm not ready, but are more confident or more willing to step into roles that may feel like a stretch, but that they can develop into. I think that the willingness to stretch in that way, to take on a larger role, even if you don't have all of the boxes ticked, even if you don't feel like you have every single base covered, the willingness to step into that and to bring your unique voice to that role I think is very powerful. And I hope to see that expand even more so.
HANNAH: If you could go back in time and give yourself advice starting your career, what would it be?
HILLARY THEAKSTON: The single piece of advice that I would give to myself is to trust in the unique point of view and perspective and even gift that you can bring to your roles and to your profession and to your organization. I think early in my career, there was a definite sense of, what do I need to learn to become proficient, to become expert in a particular area?
And there was, I guess a certain focus on, what more do I need to learn? What expertise do I need?
What training do I need? Where do I need to fill in those gaps to be successful, to be productive and effective in my role?
And I think it's important to do that, right? Training is important. It's important to expand your experience and your expertise and to continue growing.
But I think it's also important to balance those core competencies or those areas of training with the belief that you have something unique to bring to the table and that you might do your job differently than someone else who comes with a different background, with different training. But that's OK. There's that your unique point of view, your life experiences have value and can be additive and contribute to the work that you're doing.
I think that that provides some level of reassurance, especially as you get into leadership positions where you feel the weight or the responsibility of the organization. And it's natural to worry about whether you're making the right decision, to be concerned with whether you have all of the information and expertise that is needed to make decisions that are very important for the future of the organization.
HANNAH: So what do you think is the greatest gift of your professional career?
HILLARY THEAKSTON: I would say that it wasn't until I moved into a nonprofit patient advocacy role that I really felt what I had heard people talk about. Of course, when you read career advice or you consume career advice, it often pertains to finding something that you're passionate about.
I really was able to find and connect with something that was deeply meaningful to me and something that I had very deep passion for in the cancer advocacy space. And that has been the greatest gift of my professional career, is to be able to work on something that I care very deeply about, that has been a significant impact and influence on my life. And to be able to do that professionally has been incredibly gratifying.
And another piece of that has been the opportunity to work with people who are similarly passionate and motivated has been unlike any kind of team or collaborative experience that I've ever had.
HANNAH: Could you tell me a bit more about the work you do at the Clearity Foundation?
HILLARY THEAKSTON: So at the Clearity Foundation, we are committed to helping women and their families access the latest science and research and data about ovarian cancer that can help them have an easier journey, that can help them have a better clinical outcome.
As we see it, and as our patients and caregivers experience it, there's a big gap between standard of care and what is known. So a lot of our work at the Clearity Foundation is to help women sift through the wealth of data and information that's available to help them identify resources and information that are high quality and are appropriate for them.
And a lot of the work that we do is in helping women to identify clinical trials that might be more suitable, given their clinical history and given their tumor type. Because unfortunately, women are not often enough informed about clinical trials as an option.
HANNAH: And that's your dose of Totally Clinical. For all the listeners out there, you can follow Teckro on Twitter. The handle is @teckroofficial, LinkedIn and Facebook, and subscribe to our YouTube channel. And of course, download the Totally Clinical Podcast on Apple, Spotify, and Google.
See you on your next visit, and remember to bring your friends. Thanks for listening. Goodbye.
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