Around the world, women make significant contributions to the life sciences. In this series, we trace the career progression of notable women in industry to find out what led them to study science and how we can encourage more women to consider a role in STEM.
In this edition, Giulia Guerrini, chief pharmacist of digital pharmacy medino, talks about her journey from classic student in Italy to start-up superintendent and explains why it is important to champion women in leadership positions.
What inspired you to pursue a career in life sciences?
Since I was young, I knew I wanted to do something related to medicine and health. I’ve always found the human body so fascinating and complex, and I’ve always been curious to understand how things work and how we work.
Despite my interest in health, before going to university I actually took a completely different path and studied “classical studies” in high school, so subjects such as ancient Greek and Latin . But I had a great chemistry and biology teacher who ignited my passion for medical subjects, so after high school I opted for a pharmacy-related organic chemistry degree. Shortly after completing a Masters in Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Technology in Italy, I decided to move to the UK to work as a pharmacist.
What has you professional path been ? How did you come to your current position?
Before joining médino, I built my career as a substitute pharmacist in various pharmacies in London. I have worked with all kinds of patients, cases and pharmaceutical environments giving me the perfect training to help a wide range of clients across the UK.
I always like to think outside the box and consider myself to be creative and explorer – all the reasons why I decided to join medino, a digital pharmacy start-up, as a superintendent pharmacist to be involved in a project forward-thinking that revolutionizes the way we think about the pharmaceutical industry.
Through this experience, I was able to advance training in other areas such as buying, digital marketing, content writing and technology while continuing to focus on developing my clinical expertise as well as my knowledge in other branches of medicine, such as nutrition and supplements.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome in your career and what did you learn from it?
To be honest, the biggest challenge for me was adapting to the UK pharmaceutical system. As I said, I graduated in Italy and worked in pharmacies in Italy for a while, and the system and role of pharmacists is totally different. When I converted my degree here in the UK I had to learn a whole new set of laws, guidelines and ways of operating.
Although difficult at first and definitely daunting, I found the role of pharmacist in the UK much more interesting and recognized as an integral part of healthcare. I think this experience has definitely given me the confidence to move forward in my career. I learned that if you want something and you work hard to get it, no matter how hard it is, you will get there.
Why is it important to encourage girls and young women to take up positions in the life sciences?
Unfortunately, our society has long labeled (and still does in some cases) things, jobs, and activities as a “feminine” or “masculine” role. I can’t deny that pursuing a career in a role that historically has been mostly filled by men can be daunting, but I believe that if you’re passionate about something, you’ll most likely excel at it.
I work with many female colleagues, and not just in life science roles, and I can definitely say that they are all truly amazing at what they do and inspiring. Of course we all have to work hard to achieve our goals, they are not a given, but that’s for everyone.
How do you think the role of women in leadership positions is changing?
I think it’s fair to say that more and more women are now in senior positions within our sectors, but it’s not yet equal. Most companies are now aware of gender inequality in the work environment, but it is important that women move into higher positions because of their merit, and not just because the company has to show that it works on a balance between male and female employees.
I think there is still work to be done to achieve gender equality, both by companies in the hiring and career progression process and by women, who need to believe more in their skills and manifest.
What advice would you give to girls or young women considering a career in the life sciences?
If that’s what you like, go for it. Don’t think twice. It’s fun and challenging, but in a good way. You are constantly learning and every day is different. You can pretty much shape your role and experience however you want, and you can choose which branch you prefer to work in within our industry.
My advice is: don’t limit yourself and take risks. If an opportunity for something new, something different, maybe even a little scary, comes your way, give it a try. You might be surprised at what you can achieve.
How can the pharmaceutical industry encourage more women to pursue scientific careers?
Generally speaking, the light should be shone on senior female personalities. Bringing up such a topic may seem redundant to some, but it is extremely important as it can encourage many women to move forward and advance in their careers.
I think that one of the obstacles for women who reach positions of responsibility is often the family. The UK’s limited government allowance for maternity and paternity leave can discourage people from taking up higher positions. I refer to both men and women because I believe it is important that partners can share family duties, allowing both to focus equally on development and career progression.