Recently, Lena Mishalov (Director, PV Technological Innovations, Astellas Pharma) spoke with Accenture as a part of our ongoing series on Women in Life Sciences. During our discussion, Lena shared her experience and insights from an accomplished career in the life sciences industry—one that she hopes will never end.

As a child, what was your dream job? How did that lead you to engineering, and eventually, a career in life sciences?

Ellen (Lena) Mishalov: Growing up, I never pigeonholed myself into one “dream job.” Depending on the day, I wanted to be a doctor, a teacher, a scientist…and the list goes on from there. It was less about what I wanted to be, and more about the role that I would play in my future environment. Early on, I knew I enjoyed solving complex problems. I was the kid constantly raising my hand on difficult questions and I envisioned myself in a leadership role. Ultimately, I wanted to offer real-world value and empower those around me. I was drawn to engineering because it’s challenging, team-oriented, and functionally beneficial.

Shortly after my university tenure, my family emigrated from the Ukraine to the United States, where I decided to build my career: first in computer programming, logistics, and eventually, in pharmaceuticals.

What major challenges or barriers have you overcome in your career?

EM: Predictably, my first major barrier was language and culture. As an immigrant to the United States pursuing a career in a technical industry, I had to work on my communication skills and put my “quick learner” skills to the test.

My next noteworthy challenge was making the jump from team member to manager, and later, from manager to leader. These transitions taught me that it’s important to relinquish control and trust my team to execute correctly. When you’re immersed in the day-to-day and enjoy the problem-solving aspect of your job, it can be difficult to let go. However, effective leadership means trusting people with diverse backgrounds, cultures, and skill-sets to get the job done and to add lasting value. This is equally true at all levels of a high-functioning organization, whether you’re assuming managerial responsibility at a local office or taking on an international leadership role.

Tell us about your experience as a woman in the life sciences industry.

EM: I tend not to see things through a woman’s “lens.” When I look at one of my team members, current or prospective, I focus on that person’s qualifications, skills, and problem-solving abilities. Fortunately, my current colleagues – and more specifically, those in leadership positions – take a similar view.

But it wasn’t always that way. As a young woman pursuing a scientific, technical career in the 70s and 80s, I was often given funny looks or asked if I was “sure” I wanted to continue this career path. In my university engineering group, there were 30 men and five women. Despite the odds, I have found almost every male colleague supportive once I demonstrated my capabilities.

Do you think it’s important for women to pursue careers in life sciences?

EM: First and foremost, I encourage women to pursue the discipline that interests them the most. It’s important to disassociate career disciplines from gender, and instead, ensure young women have the confidence and drive to pursue their interests. From my perspective, self-doubt is the more prevalent and insidious barrier women need to overcome regarding any career path, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) or otherwise. There are a lot of smart, capable women in the world who -- wrongly -- doubt their ability to assume leadership positions.

What is important, and what I often do, is to encourage women to challenge themselves and pursue their most ambitious goals. Once you realize what you’re capable of, you’re able to bring out the best in other people and be the best leader you can be.

What are you most looking forward to in your career?

EM: In the short term, I’m very excited about the work I’m doing at Astellas, helping them develop new technologies and transform their business processes globally. For a challenge-seeker like me, it’s incredibly rewarding and affords me the ability to constantly learn, grow, and help others do the same.

I want to continue helping people as a leader and mentor, so it’s only natural that when I was invited to take part in the Women in Life Sciences Series with Accenture, I accepted. I look forward to reading more about other women in life sciences community and helping women in the life sciences industry realize their biggest ambitions!

As far as the long-term…I’m not exactly sure. All I know is I’ve never really envisioned myself retiring. I want to continue to add value in whatever I do, and fortunately, I work in an industry that allows me to do that every day. I don’t see any reason for that to end.

This blog is part of a series that focuses on individual journeys of the women in life sciences who are driving change to how we develop and deliver better patient outcomes.

Ellen (Lena) Mishalov

Astellas Pharma Global Development, Inc.

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