Dr. Saori Watanabe Miyano of Eisai's Tsukuba Research Laboratories is Senior Director of the Oncology Tsukuba Research Department that spearheads the company's cancer research. Interested in biology and chemistry at high school and wanting to learn about these subjects in greater depth, she went on to study pharmacology at university. She considered becoming a pharmacist, devoted to helping the patients she encountered in person, or a drug development scientist, so that she could provide better drugs for patients all over the world. Having considered her options, she chose a path that led her to the Tsukuba Research Department at Eisai. Having gained experience as a researcher and steadily advanced in her career, Dr. Watanabe became a Senior Director of the Oncology Business Group in Japan and now heads a team of some 20 scientists. Maintaining regular contact with colleagues at Eisai's overseas laboratories, she plays a prominent role as one of the company's female leaders.

There seem to be fewer successful women than men in the field of science. In terms of women's careers in drug development, how have things changed since you came to work at Eisai?

Saori Watanabe Miyano: When I began my career as a researcher, Eisai already had a certain number of female researchers at the Tsukuba Research Department, and they had achieved good results in the lab. However, most of the female scientists were involved in practical work, and hardly any were in management or leadership positions.

I think things were much the same at other pharmaceutical companies in Japan. I believe there were slightly more women in leadership and management roles at companies with offices overseas.

In 2019, 44 percent of the new graduates hired by Eisai's R&D Department were women. Also, the proportion of female managers in the R&D Department is now over 10 percent. Compared to when I joined the company, female managers are a more familiar presence.

Has being a woman ever put you at an advantage or a disadvantage in the drug development field?

SWM: I don't think gender has that much impact in the lab. So, I couldn't say being a woman has been an advantage or a disadvantage. However, in a male-dominated environment, women stand out, so I have been told that when I attend meetings with other organizations I'm more likely to be remembered. But I don't think that has had much impact on my work in pharmaceutical research.

When it comes to social gender issues, though, it's a different story. Women are supposed to be good at doing steady, meticulous work, and multitasking. Of course, that applies to some men, too, but it's often said that men are better at work that takes a bit of bold decisiveness.

There may be some truth in that, broadly speaking. But when preconceptions like this become entrenched in an organization, you end up with a model effectively prescribing that women plug away at the everyday stuff rather than getting promoted, and that model gets imposed on all the female employees. It's a kind of cognitive bias.

As a woman, when you work surrounded by that kind of bias, you can miss out on improving your skills, and your career options can narrow, before you've even noticed that it's happening. I think it's important to respect the individual rather than assuming someone will be a certain way because she's a woman.

When I joined Eisai, my departmental head at the time had apparently reviewed his management method and had decided to stop assigning work based on the traditional mindset of women being good or bad at such-and-such types of work. My direct boss also provided me with guidance free of gender bias. I feel I owe my current career success to them.

What advice would you give female researchers wanting to work towards managerial roles?

SWM: Much depends on the career aspirations of the individual in question, or on what kind of life they want to live. Many mistakenly believe that when you go into management, you can't do research any more. If I were advising someone reluctant to take the exams required for a promotion to management because they wanted to continue doing research, I would tell them that they could still do research, even as a manager.

The big difference between managers and non-management researchers is that scientists working in management have more opportunities to make decisions about research policy and goals. Non-management scientists don't have many opportunities of that kind, but then again, they may be freer to concentrate on their experiments. It all depends on the person. Some people feel that following their boss's instructions fits with their own working style and values. The important thing is that each individual should take the time to think about achieving self-realization through their work. That's the first step towards building a career, I would say.

Speaking for myself, for my first four years at the company, I didn't sketch out a clear-cut road map for my own life as a scientist. I was simply driven by a strong desire to achieve good results in my research, to help create good drugs. But little by little, I started feeling limited by the narrow range of my own work, which was just doing experiments and collating data.

In about my tenth year at the company, I started feeling a desire to be able to steer the direction of the lab, as a manager. I think this was because, while pursuing my career as a scientist, I was starting to see more of the big picture. So, then I decided to follow a career path that would allow me to keep conducting oncology focused experiments while performing a management role.

In your career so far, have there been hurdles you felt you had to overcome?

SWM: For a manager, it's important to be able to bear in mind a broad range of missions and goals for the whole team. Compared to the narrow range of responsibilities of a staff-level researcher, a manager needs to keep track of wider goals while pushing forward with their work. Making the shift to that mindset was the first hurdle.

Luckily, because I'd progressively taken on roles with increasing levels of responsibility within my own team, I was able to ease into the leadership role. I had already acquired the skills needed to think things through on my own and make my own judgment calls. Research is a job where you go deep, but to be an asset in management, you need to stretch upwards and take more of an overview.

What is your work-life balance like?

SWM: To be honest, I'm not that great at maintaining a good work-life balance. Like me, my husband works in a research lab, so I don't draw a bright line between my private life and my work, either in the workplace or at home. On the plus side, my husband understands my work, and the situation at my workplace.

Some of the people I work with struggle to find time to spend with their partner. To those people, I would give this advice: prioritize the work that has to get done. Rather than trying to do absolutely everything, narrow it down to what's really important. Define a clear-cut range of priorities and get results by concentrating on them.

Your working hours can also be restricted by circumstances like having to look after family members or undergoing medical treatment yourself. In that case, I would advise you to start by talking to your team. Have the whole team figure out which work needs to be prioritized. To get your team to deliver great results, one of your primary tasks as a manager is to look after your team members.

Eisai provides good employee benefits and has a good support system. In recent years, the company has also established a parental leave system to encourage male employees to become more involved in childcare. We are also seeing a good take-up of child care leave (which can be used if your preschool child suddenly falls ill), sick leave (which can be taken as required in half-day units for dialysis, cancer or fertility treatment), and our teleworking system (allowing employees to work from home once a week), among other initiatives.

Although experiments can only be done in the lab, work such as collating data, reading scientific papers, creating documents and so on, can also be done at home. Some employees save up their non-location-specific work for the days when they work at home. It's a good way of spending more time with the family and lightening the burden of commuting.

It's important that our employees make use of these systems as one way of improving their everyday life at home and at work.

Eisai's labs provide a female-friendly working environment. And that's not just because of the systems in place. It's because our leadership understands what's required to make it easy for women to work here. Another thing that I think helps to raise motivation here is that as individuals, we each explicitly define the work we want to do in our department.

How do you encourage your team members to grow and develop, and what advice would you give them?

SWM: I'd advise them to build relationships that enable them to consult with their superiors on a more granular basis. When you're a manager, you have to be away from your desk a lot of the time, at meetings and so on. When I'm at my desk, rather than projecting a "don't-disturb-me" vibe, I try to communicate approachability, so that my team members know they can come and talk to me at any time.

Reluctance to talk to the other person because they look busy can lead to a breakdown in communication. For their part, a manager might also hesitate to drag a team member away from an experiment when they're obviously deep in concentration. But even if you can't have a face-to-face conversation right away, it can be helpful to reach out by email or other means.

In my department, I have middle-management team, when I can't stay in touch with everybody on my team, my middle-managers monitor whether all team members are being looked after.

As for training my team members, I think it helps to provide firm guidance when they first join the company. As a new hire, you start by learning the pattern of your job, and when you've mastered that, you go on to learn the pattern of another job, and practice what you've learned. Through this process, you learn how to do original work, and how to work effectively.

Eisai's training system is also outstanding. Even so, training can only provide an introduction. You learn the other 95 percent through doing the job. I make sure that coaches are always available in the lab. Coaching helps the coach grow and develop as well as the trainee, so it's an opportunity for both parties to enhance their skills.

I also encourage my team members to attend a conference once a year. We live in an age where scientific literature is easily accessible online, but there are plenty of important topics and trends that you only get to hear about by going to conferences. If someone feels it's too much trouble to attend conferences, I think it's my job as a manager to give them a bit of a push.

As a female leader, is it important to network with other leaders?

SWM: Since 2014, Eisai has been holding cross-departmental training sessions that bring together female employees. We have discussions on various subjects, and we have made proposals that led to concrete initiatives.

Our mentoring program is one example. My own mentor was Eisai's Representative Corporate Officer at the time. He had started his career in the lab and had worked at overseas offices and at head office, so the mentoring he gave me was based on his own experience in research and business.

He gave me a lot of suggestions that helped me develop a wider perspective. They weren't just about research, but also about what to bear in mind when developing a product, and how to prepare for the period following your product's market launch. He also taught me things I should know about within the company and introduced me to people in a range of roles. The relationships I established back then are still very useful to me in my work today.

I would like to do more networking with female leaders. On the other hand, when people congregate for training or other purposes, I also think it's good for leaders regardless of gender to get together to share and discuss problems.

Do you have opportunities to network with female leaders outside Japan?

SWM: Yes, I do get to network with female leaders overseas. Eisai has laboratories not only in Japan but also in the USA and Europe, and one of them is headed by a woman. Here on the Japan team, we frequently interact with other female scientists and directors abroad, in the course of our work. Eisai's laboratories and sales office in the US employ numerous women, both in the lab and in management roles. I have a real sense that many of those managers are demonstrating strong leadership.

As I learn from all these overseas leaders, I want to continue growing and developing so that I can provide even better leadership.

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.

Saori Watanabe Miyano, Ph.D.

Senior Director – Biology Research


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