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Women in Leadership Spotlight: Women’s Health Month: Emma Morris

We’re highlighting some of the amazing Women in Leadership for Women’s Health Month. Today, let’s get to know Emma Morris.

Name: Emma Morris

Job Title: President, Executive Search

1. Personal Journey

Can you share a bit about your personal journey and how you came to be a leader in the life sciences industry?

I was born and raised in Southeast London, and after completing my education, I was drawn to the recruitment industry as it is a meritocratic environment where you can advance your career quickly – especially if you are tenacious and produce results. I got involved in start-up staffing environments and businesses early in my career. During the 2008/09 recession, I was offered a unique opportunity by a publicly listed British company to build and lead an international sales & recruitment team supporting the life sciences industry. I took the challenge in earnest and flourished in this environment. The biggest lessons I learned about leadership during these years were leading by example, doing what you say you’re going to do, and doing whatever it takes not to disappoint people. Despite appearing separate, these actions all flow from a consistent commitment to integrity. Since then, I have sought leadership positions where I have had the opportunity to build a successful business with a blank canvas, find sales strategies that work, lead by example, and develop high-performing individuals. Joining Planet Pharma at the beginning of our EU inception in April 2014, our CEO entrusted me with the task of creating and leading our regional business. Within five years, we had grown to ~35 internal employees and were doing business in ~40 different country locations across the EMEA region. Bringing that through to the present day, I am now based in the US and responsible for developing our Executive Search practice within Planet Pharma. Learning to be a leader never stops, and I am lucky to continually learn from external leaders as part of my regular day-to-day.

What challenges did you face on your path to leadership, and how did you navigate them?

There were and are a lot of challenges along the way. There have been many practical challenges, such as learning how to develop and operate a business compliantly and profitably and being open to change in terms of redefining and pivoting sales strategies, capabilities, and processes. The most significant personal challenge I’ve overcome as a leader is establishing myself as a credible figure. Being a woman who got into leadership at a young age and having the fortune of being blessed with youthful genes (!), I always felt a need to prove myself and overcome preconceived judgments. an example, I remember one of my team telling his client, “I’m bringing my VP to our meeting”. When he showed up with me, the client looked straight over my head and said to my male team member, “I thought you said you were bringing your VP?!” The client looked pretty awkward when he realized that was me!

I have been able to overcome challenges like this by being a subject matter expert on my business, not being afraid to speak up for myself, and building strong relationships with my peers, leaders, team members, and external clients. I am lucky to be surrounded by colleagues who encourage people to lean into their strengths and develop their weaknesses.

2. Inspirations and Role Models

Who were your inspirations or role models as you pursued your career in the life sciences?

Growing up in London, I was heavily inspired by my paternal grandparents; they both had supercharged personalities, unwavering resilience and a thirst for knowledge that was passed onto me. I was taught to be curious and stay solution oriented in every situation. More importantly, I was taught to be kind and treat other people how I’d like to be treated myself

How have role models influenced your approach to leadership?
Their mindset was that there is no such thing as an unsolvable problem, it just takes time, thought and discussion, and an optimistic outlook. This is a sentiment I have carried with me into my adulthood and professional life and has greatly shaped my approach to leadership.

3. Professional Accomplishments

What are some of the key accomplishments in your career that you are most proud of, particularly in the realm of women’s health in the life sciences industry?

Developing others. I am very proud to have played a part in shaping many other people’s journeys into leadership. As a leader, you have a tremendous amount of influence over others, and it is critical to use that wisely to help people advance. As women, we tend to be more self-conscious about promoting our own successes. I am glad to have had the opportunity to provide guidance and promotions and put the spotlight on several talented and strong women, both within our business and externally. Seeing their careers reach heights they didn’t previously believe to be possible is extremely rewarding.

Can you share any initiatives or projects you’ve led or currently working on Planet Pharma?

In my current role, I spend my time working mostly with C-suite biotech leaders and PE/VC firms to provide executive-level consultants and permanent / direct-hire resources. As part of this, our group is well-connected to identify business opportunities for core Planet Pharma and scoop / RFP opportunities.. Our post-placement candidates often become clients. It’s also a great indirect opportunity to learn from veteran execs and investors and keep a pulse on what’s happening in the market at a high level.

4. Work-Life Balance at Planet Pharma

How does Planet Pharma prioritize work-life balance for its employees, especially for women in leadership roles?

Planet Pharma has always championed an environment where your ideas are wanted and opportunities are limitless. By that, I mean it’s up to you to work hard, deliver results, take on responsibility, and get out of it what you want. For some people, that might mean a work-life balance, prioritizing work and maximizing opportunity, working long hours each day. However, for others, it may mean a work-life balance where life is a higher priority. Everyone is afforded the autonomy to make time-management decisions based on what is important to them. Of course, there are expectations, but all individuals are empowered to be the boss of their own time and efforts. This flexibility allows everyone to manage their own work-life balance in a way that suits them, depending on what might be going on in their life.

Have you found strategies or practices at Planet Pharma that have helped you maintain a healthy balance between your professional and personal life?

Personally, I have benefited from this autonomous environment and have found that I can plan my schedule depending on client demands, internal business needs, and my personal life. I am an early riser, and I enjoy maximizing my time before I start my working day to do things that are important to me; like walking my two dogs and going for a swim. I now have a 5-month-old daughter, so spending quality time with her is important to me too.

The general ethos at Planet Pharma is to “work smart and deliver results.” We have resources available to us that allow us to maximize our time at work and deliver those results while still finding time to have a healthy and fulfilling personal life.

5. Future Directions

Where do you see the future of women’s health heading within the life sciences industry, and what role do you envision for women leaders in shaping this future?

Interfacing with executives across various life sciences companies daily, I am encouraged to see an increasing focus on the critical importance of diverse representation at the executive table. There are so many great industry initiatives that champion women, such as Women in Bio (WIB) and CHIEF, which take cross-industry female leaders and put them in a networking and brainstorming environment to learn from one another. This will bring a much-needed shift in perspective, fostering a more inclusive environment where women’s health concerns are prioritized.

While more women are leading in life sciences companies, the gender pay gap persists (reports show 12-20% compared to their male counterparts). This disparity and challenges like motherhood penalties discourage talented women from pursuing leadership roles in the field. To close the gender pay gap; companies need transparency in salary structures and accountability for pay equity. Unconscious bias training and mentorship programs can empower women, while work-life balance initiatives keep them competitive. This multi-pronged approach fosters a fairer industry for all.

Looking ahead, I believe the leadership table will be collaborative. Women leaders will actively support and mentor younger women in the field, fostering a supportive network and paving the way for the next generation.

What advice would you give to women who want to follow in similar footsteps? 

  • Find mentors: Build a strong network and find mentors who can offer support and guidance. Leadership is not a solo act.
  • Stay resilient and have a voice: Be persistent, advocate for your ideas, and learn from challenges.
  • Say “YES!” to opportunities: The path to leadership can be challenging and is rarely linear. All experiences are opportunities, even if you fail. By putting your hand up and saying ‘yes’ when asked to do something, you will make yourself invaluable amongst your peers and leaders, and you’ll be on your path to leadership – one step at a time!
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