In brief

In brief

  • A conversation between Laurie Cooke, CEO of Healthcare Businesswoman’s Association & Nicole Cohen, Managing Director, Accenture Life Sciences.
  • Laurie Cooke, CEO of the HBA, sat down with Nicole Cohen of Accenture Life Sciences to discuss, Cooke’s experience as a leader.
  • What motivates and inspires Laurie to continue her work promoting women in the industry.


NICOLE COHEN: Hi Laurie, it’s great to see you. I thought I would start by giving you a chance to open up and give a bit of an introduction—before I sing your praises, of course.

LAURIE COOKE: Thanks, Nicole. It’s great to be here. I'm the president and CEO of the HBA, and I've been part of the organization in this chief executive role for coming up to 15 years. Hard to believe! It's such a passion that I have to really be bringing women across the globe together with a mission, which is simply to advance women that are in the business of healthcare. And what could be better than that?

NC: I can't think of anything. I'm going to start with a little bit of singing your praises before we get into some questions to learn more. I do want to share from personal experience with you, a bit of my HBA experience, and as well, from a non-HBA CEO—as someone in the industry—a perspective.

So a number of years ago, I was selected amongst a group of amazing women to be a luminary in an annual event where women are honored across the industry. The event was in New York City, not too far from where I live on the east coast. I headed into the night before for cocktail hour, and as many of you can imagine, when you walk into a room filled with people who are chatting and laughing, your eyes go right to the bar, you know, “Where can I just go and just have something to do for a few minutes while I kind of get my bearings and figure out how you go to interrupt a conversation? Do you go up to people?”

No sooner did I walk in the room with just an ounce of nerves, like, “Oh, here we go,” with a group of amazing people, when I was immediately welcomed by a number of people introducing themselves, reading my name card, telling me where they work, asking where do I work, whether they were a competitor of mine or a companies or competitors. I should say I was immediately welcomed. There was a warmth in that room that I've not seen before. It was almost, I would say, a magical experience. It really was.

That was a few years ago and I continue to tell people who are in the industry, or work for the company where I work, that these events have the secret special sauce. There's a camaraderie—the best way to describe it as “warmth,” a welcoming spirit. And I wondered if I could ask you what is that secret sauce?

LC: Oh, well, that is HBA’s radical hospitality. It is something that was incredibly important to me. As I had gone through my career, one of the things is, you don't really have an environment where you have other women who care about your success. I mean, truly care about your success. So we create our events with that in mind. Someone's walking into the room, they don't know you, and you want to embrace them and figure out: how can you help? And because they're going to help you and you're going to help them, the rising tide raises all ships.

So, this is really important for women, especially if they're in a career where they're really busy—you know, head down working—and they go home to start their second job at home as family caregivers, etc. To walk into a room and be seen, I mean really be seen is... it makes me have chills still to this day. I've been doing this for 15 years. It's true. It happens. It's real. And we want more people who care about that to join, right? That's what we're about.

NC: Well, you had me at hello! So, I was impressed from moment one and continue to be impressed. Maybe you could share a bit more? It definitely comes across—your passion for support, awarding women, for women being present, for other women, for the advancement of women.

Can you talk to us a bit about your passion—about what drives you?

LC: I guess, for me, it's about fairness on one hand and health outcome on the other hand. I started out my career on the medical side. I was a microbiologist, then a pharmacist. I worked in the pharmaceutical industry for quite a few years doing global development, trying to develop antibiotics that would save people's lives. So, it is critically important for me that we are doing the best healthcare we can practice.

I do think, from the perspective of better healthcare, if we have more women, more balanced conversations—and when you look at the end customer, which is what all businesses should do, we should be asking, “Do we understand the customer?” The customer is a woman. At least 80 to 85% of all healthcare decisions are being made by women. And so you really want to have that represented on the side of the people developing, marketing, and supporting products, as well as getting more women into clinical trials, so we better understand gender differences, etc.

So, one driver is about better health outcomes, which I do think is going to happen with more women at the table. But the fairness, that equity it has been in me since day one. It is so important to look after others. We have a responsibility. You want to leave this world a better place than when you came into it. So, for me when I look around and I see more men at senior levels than women, when I know at least 50% of women came into that talent pool, it doesn't make sense. Something is not fair. And when something's not fair, I want to fix it.

NC: Oh, I love that. And how do you think we're doing? How do you think the industry is doing?

LC: Okay. It is changing and I'll give you an example. The HBA. At first, we were about, “Oh, let's really be there for each other.” And then it became more, “Let's help fill in the skill gaps and confidence gaps that women had.” And then we were like, “Wait a minute, there's nothing wrong with women. We're trying to fix women like that's the problem. No, the problem is that there are systemic barriers that are built into organizations.” And if you think back, organizations were built by men, for men. And that's not a criticism, it's just a reality. So, it's built on the idea that a man had the wife at home, looked after the kids. It didn't work. And so, the way things are built are for what a leader looks like—you need to have global experience, you have to pick up and move—and you can do all of those things when you have someone at home. So, things have been built with a man in mind. That's the norm, right? So, we have to change that norm.

So, we put together something called the Collaborative, where companies join because they really care and they agree. They're going to put data on the line, they're going to measure, they're going to hold themselves accountable. And together, we are collectively trying to solve those systemic issues. And within a very short period of time, this set of companies, on average, is 12% more women at all levels than companies that aren't in our collaborative. So, it can be fixed. What it takes is a company that says, “From the top, we are going to fix this,” really meaning it: we're going to fix this.

The bad side of it is, oh my goodness, it's going so slowly. I mean, seriously, this can be fixed much faster. I think we think it's much harder than it is—and it doesn't have to be that hard. So, I am positive, things are happening. And we do have solutions in place. We just have to, you know, get the right people on the bus.

NC: I'm proud to work for a company that has done a lot of what you said. I'm actually very excited, putting in some measurable goals. I won't even call them a target. They are measurable goals. And I think you're right. You see change when you define what good looks like and you measure against it and you hold people accountable. And it really is a shared goal.

LC: Exactly. And you want the best talent, don't you? So, you're not going to get the best talent if you're only looking at 50% of the talent pool. So, how are you going to attract that other 50%? Well, women are getting a whole lot smarter about what to ask when they are interviewing to join a new company. And your company is going to be much more attractive to bring in the best and the brightest. So, I think there's an incentive there as well.

NC: In your career journey—and the HBA is global—do you see differences in how different parts of the world are approaching this?

LC: I do think that the way we talk about it perhaps is a bit different. The way we measure it, whether there are regulations in place for it, I do think that that is different. However, I do think we finally have the business case for change. It has been institutionalized, and generally speaking, companies get, “I will be better off financially, in front of my stakeholders, in front of my customers, if I have a more gender balanced team.” You hear companies now say, when a consulting company comes in—any kind of vendor, potential partner—when you look across the table and you see all white men, chances are they're not going to get the job anymore. And that's a tremendous change from what it used to be. So, I'm really pleased about that.

I do think there is, perhaps, a difference in culture in the daily life that feeds into what the work life is like. When we lived in New Zealand, they had a much stronger love of and respect for your physical side of the house, right? So, people were much more physically active in their home life, in their family life. So, that balance really seemed to be there. And I really appreciate that. In the UK, there seems to be less women working than in New Zealand. More women worked in the UK.

But then in the US it appears very much at the front, things are gender balanced, etc. But we still have a lot of bias here—but I think the piece that's not in the US is we do not have work-life balance. And that makes it incredibly different. Because, how do you balance a job that never ends? You're always connected, and you're trying to be the best mom you can be, the best partner you can be. And that's hard when work just doesn't let go.

So, there's good things in all the different places we lived.

NC: I have to say, globally, as a global workforce, we've all been confronted with the impact of the pandemic on our family lives and what it truly meant for the work-life balance. Even if you thought you had figured it out 12 months ago, you had no idea what was about to cause major disruption to that equation, or that balance or the way that you were approaching how you made it all work. And I'm not just saying this because who you are, but the HBA gives this great opportunity for women in all parts of healthcare, at all levels, to look at each other, to turn to each other for examples or for a shoulder, even if we’re still all figuring it out.

How would you advise—especially some of the women in healthcare perhaps just starting out or a few years in—how might they tap into HBA? And what can they expect from that network?

LC: You know, when I first found the HBA, my regret was that I hadn't found it earlier in my career. The access to role models, and that went outside of my company.

So, we go outside of the cultural norms that a company might have, and you start to see how broad leadership can look—and different leadership approaches—and what you should ask for, how to get ahead. And, “When should I think about going for my next opportunity? How do I do it? How do I negotiate for salary?” The whole piece. But it's the role models that make you realize you didn't even know. Like, you thought you knew, right? You didn't know. And so, the role models are so important. And I encourage joining the HBA; I truly say you should belong to an association.

One of the biggest things is you meet people, they meet you, and that's how you get jobs. So not only is it role models, it's someone who can knock on the door, open the door and introduce you to someone else. And that is so important when you're early in your career, to have that infrastructure, that network.

NC: I completely agree. I love what you said. I think belonging to an association is great. I'm going to push the HBA for those who listen to me.

Of course, I’ve seen it in action. There's nothing like it. So, I wanted to get to know you also personally, and learn about your leadership traits. I've seen some of your other discussions, and I've gotten the chance to learn so much about you. But I'm going to approach this question a little bit differently, which is, outside of the business world—in your personal experiences, hobbies, interests—what might you have learned that you took into the business world that has helped shape you as a leader?

LC: Wow, that is a wild question. Alright, I’ll roll with it. We had this wonderful leadership conference, where we brought in this maestro who taught leadership by taking the Philadelphia Orchestra, which he did not know. We just invited the orchestra and he came in, and he demonstrated live, how in an orchestra, everyone has a part. No matter how small, a teeny piccolo to the massive bass or what have you. I think I learned a lot about leadership. I was in an orchestra. I played clarinet. And the things that you learn about tenacity, you have to practice, you just have to do it. You have to put the hours in. And you have to be collaborative. You need to be there for your team member.

And then there's competition, because the way you move up is you have to challenge the chair that's next to you. And you go into a competition to see who plays better. And that reminded me when we were in this conference—thinking back to what it was like being in that chair playing—was just when you are making music with other people, it is magical. And that is what happens to me when I am in the workforce and you are working with team members. And it is magical when stuff is moving. It’s hard to replicate. But you know when you don't have it, because you don't have that magic, and everything just feels hard, right?

NC: I love it. And you've definitely, as I said, created magic with the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association, for us, for the women out there in the industry, day in, day out, you've created a place for us to learn, grow, and really support each other. And the sky's the limit. So, I want to say thank you. Thank you for spending these minutes with me, this time with me. I hope to speak with you again soon, Laurie.

LC: Thank you so much. It was such a pleasure.

Nicole Cohen

Managing Director – Life Sciences


Laurie Cooke

President and CEO – Healthcare Businesswoman’s Association

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