As a physician, I specialized in immunotherapy for hematology-oncology: using the immune system to attack tumors. Now I’m in the business of drug development.
Looking at cancer drugs in their early stages of development, I make medical assessments about which ones may have the potential to be safe, effective treatments. Then I try to educate potential stakeholders, including physicians, government agencies, and investors.
I’ve known since I was 15 or 16 that I wanted to go into science. In Mexico, where I’m from, you go to medical school young—I was 17. I worked as a personal trainer to help pay for it.
My interest in business also emerged early. My mom made these beautiful gelatinas, a popular Mexican treat, and we’d sell them around the neighborhood. I’d come up with new sales pitches, new ways to make the business better. People thought I was cute and funny. That helped shape me as a businessperson.
It was difficult when I first came here. I didn’t speak much English. A mentor said to me, “As a Mexican woman, you’ll just have to work three times as hard.” People hear my accent, and it’s not like I’m from the UK or Germany, where people assume you’re educated. When you’re from Mexico, they assume you’re the nanny.
Now I’m divorced, a single mom, and it’s hard. After work, people say let’s go have a drink, let’s get dinner. But if you have to pick up your kids, what do you do? Fair or not, that’s what it is. If I want to go to that dinner or take that trip, I figure it out. You have to let go of a little guilt as a mother.
Pharma is very male-driven. As a woman, if you want a seat at the table, you have to be prepared. You have to learn things that maybe come more naturally to men. Successful women learn how to manage situations, not take things personally. We have more control than we think.
On the elevator, I notice, men get straight to business. Women gravitate to small talk. I want to teach my kids to think and speak more productively, to use their voices. I believe you can be a “womanly” woman, wear your red lipstick, and still be smart. I feel strongly about breaking stereotypes. Like about what it means to want money—I think that holds women back. There are so many stereotypes about working mothers.
After my divorce, which was very complicated, I felt a shift in my work. I enjoy it more now and do it better. I have much greater focus. I like mentoring other single mothers and showing them that it is possible and acceptable to be a successful business woman as well as a full-time, involved mother. I coach them to stop relying on others, and I teach them business skills that will help them make their own income.
I make more money because I’m social, I’m loud, and I’m single. I’m a very public person. Okay, that’s a Latin American stereotype; maybe some stereotypes are true! But it opens doors for me.
Interviewed on January 31, 2018