February 16, 2022
Women in Leadership Series - Sabrina Johnson
Bioscience President & CEO at Daré BioscienceGuest
We talk to Daré Bioscience President and CEO Sabrina Johnson about her perspective on the advancements women have made in the biotech industry, why good things happen when we're not afraid to take a leap, and how adopting a mindful approach in our professional lives helps us separate legitimate progress from pointless activity.
"Diversity can really impact your bottom line and improve your outcomes and results, and so I'm happy to see where the world is heading – and not just with gender diversity."
HANNAH LIPPITT: 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.
HANNAH LIPPITT: This week, I
spoke to Sabrina Martucci Johnson, President and CEO of Daré Bioscience and chair of the board of the Clearity Foundation, which strives to improve the survival and quality of life of women with ovarian cancer.
I started by asking Sabrina what motivates her, and to explain a bit more about why women's health needs more attention.
SABRINA MARTUCCI JOHNSON: My name is Sabrina Martucci Johnson, Founder and CEO of Daré Bioscience, focused solely on developing products for women's health. And that is what motivates me; getting products out there for women that address some of the conditions that really impact their quality of life, and products that can address those conditions. So scanning contraception, vaginal health, sexual health and fertility.
Women's health is an area where we're still working on doing a better job of taking our learnings from other therapeutic categories and applying them to women's health, and ovarian cancer is a great example of that where in other areas of oncology, of cancer therapy, we do something called tumor profiling so that we can best understand the nature of the tumor and can best link that to therapeutic options that have the greatest likelihood of success. And some of the early work that the Clearity Foundation did, in particular, was looking at applying basically those same kind of approaches that we're used in a lot of other types of cancer into ovarian cancer where it just wasn't done historically.
So when it comes to women in the workplace, could you tell me a bit about what progress you've seen in your profession so far?
SABRINA MARTUCCI JOHNSON: Yes, yes, I've seen a lot of progress for women, although we have a long way to go still. So I am an engineer by training, I'm a biochemical engineer and when I started in the pharmaceutical industry, in the biotechnology industry, there really weren't as many women represented in the sciences, in STEM roles, and certainly not in leadership. When I first became a public company Chief Financial Officer in 2002 and I would go to investor conferences for publicly traded companies, I might be one of the only women at the conference, or certainly one of the few women in what's called the c-suite. And now being a public company CEO, I'm proud to say that there are many women when I go to these events. We need many, many more. We are still severely underrepresented in terms of leadership positions, particularly in STEM and certainly on boards of directors as well, but there is much more openness to bringing women in as much more of organizations are embracing the need for diversity. And frankly, that diversity can really impact your bottom line and improve your outcomes and results, and so I'm happy to see where the world is heading – and not just with gender diversity, but all kinds of diversity. But there's a lot of work ahead.
LIPPITT: Yeah, so true. I think when you talked about diversity being important for business as well, it's not just a women's issue, it's a business issue. So what about the future, what progress would you like to see in the next five to 10 years?
SABRINA MARTUCCI JOHNSON: I would love to see more balance and more representation commensurate with our representation in the population in leadership and leadership in industry. So that's one. I'd love to see a more equitable balance, like I said, representative of the population that we represent when it comes to leadership roles in industry and bottom-line positions of influence, whether they're an industry, whether they're in government, wherever they may be.
The other thing that I would love to see is more importance played on advancement of healthcare options for women. So, we still are just underrepresented in clinical studies, in terms of interest and in our therapeutic conditions that women suffer from and conditions that should be addressed. There's far too many examples of conditions where we don't have a product that's FDA approved, even though there's an analogous condition in men where there's a product available or where women of reproductive age haven't been adequately studied or certain types of cancer conditions where the impact on women can be dire. But there isn't the industry focus on drug development the way that it could be, and we might have the tools to make it better.
HANNAH LIPPITT: Any particular stereotypes about women in your profession that you'd like to bust?
SABRINA MARTUCCI JOHNSON: Yeah, in terms of stereotypes about women I would say in my profession, which is leadership in the health care industry, I think the stereotype has been historically that it's a certain type of woman that can advance to that level and that it's not OK to bring your whole self to the workplace, your “whole woman's self” to the workplace and still advance. And that is simply not true. The best way that women can move forward is to bring your whole self to the workplace, and some of the unique sometimes perspectives and skills that being a woman allow you to bring to the table. And that again goes to the theme of diversity. That’s what helps us make great business decisions, not just as women, but as a society; having a diversity of voice when it comes to decision-making and problem solving. And so part of that is bringing your whole self into the workplace. So I think that myth that you can't be all women and still advance in leadership or advance into the c-suite, I think we're changing that and society is finding that we all have work-life balance that we have to achieve. We all have a full personality that we need to bring to the table and frankly, by doing so and addressing the work-life balance needs, and allowing women to be themselves and bring that diversity of voice to the table, is really what's helping. In those circumstances, organizations and societies make better decisions and achieve better outcomes.
That brings us to our next question about going back in time to the start of your career. If you could do that, what advice would you give yourself?
SABRINA MARTUCCI JOHNSON: The advice that came from one of my great mentors later in my career – and if only I had met him earlier – there are a couple of things that she said to me that just had such an impact and I wish I had learned them earlier. One was sort of this concept of if a door opens, walk through it. If you're given an opportunity, even if it feels uncomfortable or you're not sure what's behind that door or why you're being asked to go through the door, good things tend to happen when you just kind of leap and have faith that you can get through it, and that you can make things happen because as you mature, you realize that those kind of opportunities don't happen all the time. And you often don't get a second chance to leap at those opportunities. So, if a door opens, go through it. And the other is sort of this concept; activity is not the same as progress. Try to take a mindful approach to everything you're doing, whether it's your career strategy, whether it's how you're interacting in the workplace, whether it's in your personal life. But recognize that motion is not necessarily positive momentum. So, the theme is just that busy work isn't necessarily what makes it happen. It's choosing the work you do, and being very purposeful in the work you do, and making sure that you can draw a straight line between those activities and progress.
What is the message you'd like to send to women thinking about a career in your profession?
SABRINA MARTUCCI JOHNSON: Just dare to do it. If it's what you want to do, do it. Speak up when you have ideas. Make sure your voice is heard. Don't be afraid to share your ideas and speak your mind. That voice is what's going to propel you forward.
HANNAH LIPPITT: 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!
Women in Leadership: Non-Executive Director of Soleno Therapeutics