Dr Ulrike Graefe-Mody
06 September 2017
Sarah Pfeffer

“Shared responsibilities models can work successfully”

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. So get to know Dr Ulrike Graefe-Mody, Associate Head of Medicine, Metabolism at Boehringer Ingelheim, Germany. A feature by Taiseer Kuzbari and Sarah Pfeffer.

Dr Graefe-Mody studied English and American literature and Philosophy for one year in the United Kingdom before she started a science degree in Germany. She received her diploma in Biology in 1997 and her PhD degree in Pharmaceutical Biology in 2001, both from the University of Wuerzburg, Germany. Her PhD thesis focused on the clinical pharmacokinetics of phenolic compounds and was carried out in cooperation with the University of Florida, USA.

16 years ago, she joined Boehringer Ingelheim’s Clinical Pharmacokinetics/Pharmacodynamics group in Biberach and worked there for the first eight years of her career, then moving to the medical organization. Six years ago, she relocated to Ingelheim. As Associate Head of Medicine, Metabolism in Clinical Development/Medical Affairs, Dr Graefe-Mody is head of the Early Clinical Development Team which is responsible for the global clinical development of internal projects and for clinical assessments of external innovation.

 

 

Diversity as a source of creativity and team success

 

“The year in the UK and the time spent in the US research lab during my PhD were very influential on my later developments,” says Dr Graefe-Mody. “I was part of a highly diverse group of fellow students from all over the world. I liked the mix of cultures, genders, perspectives on the world which I found interesting, sometimes challenging, but always inspiring. But especially when it came down to working together I felt the value of a diverse team: we were coming from different educational systems and had a different training at school, including different approaches to problem solving. For example, my fellow students from India had a strong mathematical focus in their school education and had solved the problems we were given before others had finished the problem statement. German students had received a much more intense training in chemical structures of pharmaceuticals compared to others, so everybody brought a distinct expertise and skill set to the table. At that point, I decided that I would want to work in a global function, and that I wanted to keep this momentum in my professional career after I finished my PhD”. In her initial role as team member in the global medical team, Boehringer Ingelheim has offered her this opportunity. Now, Dr Graefe-Mody is herself in a position to build diverse teams.

 

Diversity as a business imperative

 

“For our business, such a mix of skills, imagination, and different ways to approach challenges is crucial. The value of our products is driven by innovation, and at this early stage of drug development that my team is involved in, you need a visionary and creative mindset to imagine what our customers around the world may value in about five to ten years from now. So, naturally, you want to have a good representation of key regions also in your global teams.” And drug development itself is a fairly complex topic. “Based on my previous experiences, I am convinced that highly diverse teams will be our key to innovation and to mastering the challenges ahead of us. We aim to bring value to patients, society, and healthcare through innovation. And innovation is driven by diversity of thinking.” Besides, a diverse team creates an inspiring and stimulating workplace, and attracts talents to join, or stay, with Boehringer Ingelheim.

 

Changing work-life models

 

But diversity goes beyond nationalities, gender, race, or age groups, and can also include different experiences, strengths and styles of working and leading. As an example, work-life models have become more diverse in the last years, especially for families with children. Traditionally, particularly in upper management positions, one partner worked full-time, while the other partner worked part-time or stopped working altogether to look after the family. This model, however, is adapting with the next generation, who prefer to split their time as-needed across work and family obligations, and other outside interests. For instance in small companies, it is already established that a shared responsibilities model is not mutually exclusive with assuming senior management responsibilities. Larger companies are also recognizing the emergence of new work-life models, taking such steps as allowing employees to work flexible hours and from home so they can share responsibilities within their family. These efforts to support the work-life needs of employees will benefit not only the employee but can lead to enhanced productivity and development and retention of talent.

 

Shared responsibilities models are challenging – and rewarding

 

“My husband and I are both working full-time and raising two children, which is an equal challenge – and joy, for us. I think this only works when both partners share the responsibilities at home and respect each other’s professional needs. Since my husband has to commute to work two to three hours a day, I usually work from home in the late afternoons so I can be there when the kids come back from school. The combination of work and family needs certainly requires some degree of organization, self-management and discipline, but we both find it very rewarding. But let’s face it, when you spend most of the day at work and the rest with the children, there is little time left for your hobbies and yourself for some years, especially when the children are younger. At work, I was in the fortunate situation that my supervisors at Boehringer Ingelheim supported me, and thus far my schedule needs outside of work have not hindered my development.

 

And while flexibility for business travels or face-to-face presence in late-day meetings may be more limited for a few years, other capabilities tend to grow instead, including leadership skills or systems thinking. “For example, my two children provided the most intense leadership training I have ever experienced. I think they value the same behaviors as my colleagues do, but their feedback is much more immediate, outspoken, and permanent. If you do not lead by example, give clear directions, keep your promises, or listen to what they have to say, you will know right away that this will not work, and you take those learnings back into your professional life.”

 

A future based on a mixed gender role model

 

Dr Graefe-Mody believes that with the next generation, a shared responsibilities model like hers is becoming more common. “Every family tries to find the setup that works best for their needs. If you want to choose a shared responsibility model, there are respected high-performing male and female leaders at Boehringer Ingelheim who have chosen to share responsibilities in their families and who do not see it strictly as a decision for career over family, or vice versa. I think what is needed are role models who not only tell but show young talents, and especially women, that this can be achieved.”

"At Boehringer Ingelheim, we strive for excellence, and diversity is a key driver to achieve this, says Dr Ulrike Graefe-Mody. "
Sarah Pfeffer

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