Abbott’s Claire Bhogal talks about paving the way for gender parity, allyship and important conversations
As someone who has spent over two decades working in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) industries, I have seen first-hand the progress being made by women who are taking more opportunities.
It has been an interesting journey; beginning with a very hands-on technical role to the senior leadership role I fulfil today at global healthcare company, Abbott.
I started my career with Abbott as a statistician in 1998 and, at the time, many management positions were filled by men. My first line manager, however, was a woman and she has been a real inspiration to me throughout my career. The things that stay with me are how she was always focused on the bigger picture, had a real presence in meetings and ensured her voice was always heard.
This inspiration has helped me to face challenges and opportunities along the way. In particular, a turning point came when a manager told me that a project, to which I had given my absolute all was to be passed to a male colleague. I was determined and fought for my right to deliver that work and deliver it well, which I did. It was then I truly realised that important – and sometimes difficult – conversations are at the heart of driving systemic change.
This experience was an example of me demonstrating confidence in my own abilities, ensuring that I would be considered for future opportunities. I believe my self-confidence was largely due to how I was raised, with strong female role models and parents who have always supported each other equally. My mother was the breadwinner for part of my childhood and both my parents have always encouraged and supported me in everything I chose to do. This ensured that I never doubted what I was capable of.
I led the team that analysed the key clinical trials and worked on the feasibility of developing that core technology into a device where finger pricks for glucose readings would no longer be required.
That concept became Abbott’s glucose sensing technology, the FreeStyle Libre system. This connected technology now allows over four million people with diabetes around the world to monitor their glucose levels without the need for painful routine finger pricks. We hear from users regularly about the difference this technology has made to their lives and I am so proud to have been part of the team bringing such life-changing technology to so many.
While I am proud of my accomplishments in my career, progress is rarely made alone. One notable milestone was when a former R&D director offered me an opportunity to lead a major project for our business. He recognised my abilities and knew I was capable of more responsibility across the broader R&D organisation.
Years later, I understand this was a great example of allyship – that he was promoting and sponsoring me for a role outside my expected career trajectory because he knew I was the right person to deliver what was needed for the business. Allyship is vital in ensuring that a diverse range of voices can contribute fully to our businesses.
At Abbott, the contributions of women have been recognised for over 130 years – when Abbott was first founded in the late 19th century many employees were women. And to this day we remain committed to building on this heritage for future generations through our Women Leaders of Abbott (WLA) employee network. WLA was founded in the 1990s and, with approximately 9,000 current members worldwide, we continue to focus on gender inclusion and parity.
Furthermore, I am the current UK WLA chapter lead. WLA supports career development for women through education, mentoring and informal networking. In recent years, this has become a broader initiative as we recognise the need for allyship among all employees. WLA highlights opportunities for women to take different career paths.
Indeed, Abbott and the WLA believe that harnessing the creativity generated by diversity of thought can ultimately lead to the development of even more life-changing technology.
Our WLA steering groups include people who are ethnically diverse, members of the LGBTQ+ community and men. As part of our sustainability plans, Abbott is committed to achieving gender balance in global leadership roles by 2030, meaning at least 45% female representation at manager level and above.
Getting women into STEM and leadership roles doesn’t start when they join the workforce. For me it’s always been important to inspire the next generation of women. At Abbott’s Witney site, we work with schools and communities to encourage young girls to consider careers in STEM.
As part of this outreach, we often ask the children to draw a picture of a scientist and unfortunately around nine in ten of the young girls we meet will still draw a man. This is a reminder that representation and visible role models are key and that drawing on our diverse group of scientists and engineers to participate in our community events is so important, as it allows children to see people in STEM who look like them.
To continue steps forward for women, we need everyone – including men – to be involved and have meaningful conversations that lead to positive change. Resilient companies will gain strength through stronger representation of women and under-represented communities.
Diverse perspectives, combined with shared goals, inspire new ideas and better ways of thinking, so we must keep doing all we can to encourage better access to STEM career opportunities for all.
Claire Bhogal is Director of Research & Development at Abbott’s Diabetes Care business and UK Chapter Lead, Women Leaders of Abbott. Go to abbott.co.uk