Claudia Lehmann_Boehringer Ingelheim
02 August 2017
Jacqueline Berlin

“We need to get past the stereotypes”

At Boehringer Ingelheim, we are powered by our people. This is why we nurture a diverse, collaborative and open environment, valuing and respecting the differences of our people because we are convinced that diversity is an enormous asset. Now more than ever we must understand and utilize the competitive advantage that diversity and inclusion brings us: it drives innovation. For us, Diversity is the mix. Inclusion is making the mix work. We focus on fostering an inclusive environment which allows diversity to flourish. Valuing this diversity of thought and creating an inclusive culture is not only the right thing to do for our people, it’s the smart thing to do for our business. While we focus on diversity of thinking, we have to admit that gender is one of the most visible dimensions of diversity. We should increase gender balance in our leadership to reflect our diverse markets and customers: 80% of the healthcare decisions are taken by women. With our series "Women in Leadership" we want to introduce female colleagues who hold leadership positions at Boehringer Ingelheim, to share their experiences, successes and challenges. With that, we hope that we can inspire our leaders and our talents to continuously strive for development. In the career blog, they tell us about their career path, how they combine work and private life and why our society needs a mindset change. In this edition, we spoke with Claudia Lehmann, Head of Global Pharmacovigilance Operations at Boehringer Ingelheim.

Mrs. Lehmann, what do you do at Boehringer Ingelheim?


I am Head of Global Pharmacovigilance Operations at the Ingelheim headquarters. Pharmacovigilance means collecting and analyzing information and data about the safety of our drugs. This could involve discovering side effects, for example, for inclusion in an ongoing risk-benefit analysis so to ensure that any red flags are detected immediately and appropriate action taken. We work globally and closely with patients, physicians and the authorities to guarantee the safety of our patients.



How did you come to be here?


I studied medical documentation at a vocational school and I stayed on as a teaching assistant there after completing the program. In the long run, however, it was too theoretical for me. The offer from Boehringer Ingelheim came at just the right time and everything has progressed gradually since then: the tasks became increasingly more interesting, my career more dynamic.


I didn’t receive a degree or a doctorate, and yet, I am nevertheless the global head of my department, because I never hesitated when opportunities came my way. I have just always made the best out of every situation. And Boehringer Ingelheim offers great opportunities in that respect.



Do you remember the moment you were offered your first management position?


Very well, in fact. I had been in my role for four years and had no previous management experience when our manager came into the team meeting and said that we should discuss as a group which of us should be his successor. My colleagues realized I was the best candidate more quickly than I did. I remember calling a friend for advice, and he simply said: “Just go for it. What could go wrong?”


It was an intuitive decision on my part – and, in retrospect, a wise and brave decision on the part of my former boss, who always supported and encouraged me. Wise, because he wasn’t the one to choose his successor and instead let the team discuss it. Your immediate colleagues often have an unerring instinct about who will be able to lead and have the courage to make decisions. Brave, because I had zero management experience and was still quite young. Nevertheless, he was confident that I had what it takes, and he also provided me with a coach.



How was the transition from colleague to boss?


A bit of a mixed bag, to be honest. To go from being part of the group to standing alone, on the other side, so to speak. You are forced to ask yourself: Can I do this? Do I want to? I think that men are often quicker to overcome such doubts and find it easier to assert themselves – in my experience, women tend to be more reticent.



Does that mean you believe that men and women have different leadership styles?


No, it has more to do with character. A good manager has an entrepreneurial mindset, is accountable and shows initiative. As long as you have the basic material, you can work on the rest. This is the reason I am also against the women’s quota – women need to learn to put themselves forward, assert themselves and clearly formulate their objectives. Until women start doing this and stop feeling that they cannot take charge and show ambition, the quota will not work either. If we can get past the stereotypes, therefore, the quota debate will resolve itself.



So, how can women change things?


Women need to know what they want. They need to consider their choices and not simply fall into something and then see what happens. Women also often feel obliged to take on the things nobody else wants to do – and it becomes a vicious cycle. It is perfectly fine to say no once in a while, even if it means no longer being everyone’s friend. And, we should be under no illusions! We simply cannot dedicate one hundred percent of our energy to both our family and our career – nor should we have to.



Do you speak from experience?


Absolutely. Even today, society tells us that a woman’s role is to look after the family, when in reality that responsibility should be shared by both partners. My husband and I have two children and, for the past 16 years, my husband has taken care of running the household while I work full time and even commute. Many people think it’s great, others just don’t seem to get it and ask questions about who does the washing and the cooking, etc.


We still don’t talk enough about models such as ours, which only goes to demonstrate the constraints that German society still imposes on us. Other countries, like the United States and France, have made significantly more progress in this area and are establishing different social frameworks. And particularly if you are a working mother, you have to be able to switch off when you’re home. Naturally, as a mother, you are still faced with the demands of the family, but this does not mean that you should also have to spend your weekends doing household chores, washing and ironing. There are always ways to make it work. And there’s no need to beat yourself up about it – although for many people, especially women, this is easier said than done. You have to make peace with your choices and steer your own course.



What support can the employer provide in this regard?


The intergenerational dialogue needs to be encouraged more, and more interaction between people at the start of their careers and company veterans, so that we can share and discuss examples such as ours and other alternative forms of family and career.



Do you have any final advice for young up-and-comers?


When planning your career, think about what you want to achieve in your life – and vice versa. The two must be compatible.

"We simply cannot dedicate one hundred percent of our energy to our family and our career – nor should we have to, says Claudia Lehmann. "
Jacqueline Berlin

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