Earlier this month I had the privilege to attend the inaugural Women in Life Sciences Forum, facilitated by the American Pharmaceutical Group, with support from 10 Downing Street and the Office for Life Sciences.

The surroundings were incredible; we met at 10 Downing Street which was fabulous – but the assembled group of women outshone their surroundings.  There were women attending from the most senior levels in pharma, science, government, charities and regulators.  They were all at the top of their game, in terms of their careers.

Our conversations were focused on how we support women to move into health and life sciences careers, how we encourage them to move to senior levels in the sector and how we enable them to thrive.

The discussions covered work/life blend, managing international commitments with local commitments, taking our place on the speaker circuit as leaders in our field, supporting each other, how to be a carer (of children, parents and partners) and how to get our voices heard in what is still a male-dominated field.

We had many ideas and many common experiences and challenges that we were all facing.  These included our voices not being heard in meetings where we’re the only woman, frequently being asked to be the ‘token woman’ on a panel or at a speaker event,  struggling with attending a plethora of evening events when we have homes and families, which we all acknowledged was a problem for men as well.

At the AHSN Network, we’ve recognised some of these issues and we’ve recently run an action learning set solely for women working across the network who aspire to move to more senior roles.  This is now evolving into a cascade of action learning sets across the network, for both men and women aspiring for leadership roles – led by the women in the first set.

We have a Women’s Speaker Bureau where we promote national speaker slots to women in the network.  We concentrate on ensuring that our decisions are made by a diverse group of leaders and at the Health and Care Expo in September we launched a set of Diversity and Innovation pledges.  These include supporting all our staff to positively challenge and promote positive action when they see a lack of diversity.

The Women in Life Sciences Forum will be progressing a number of initiatives to support a diverse and representative health and life sciences sector.  In a sector that makes such a difference to people’s lives I hope it’s not only our duty but our joy to encourage diversity of leadership and thinking so that our whole population benefits.

The Women in Life Sciences Forum, facilitated by the American Pharmaceutical Group, aims to bring together senior-level women from across the wider life sciences sector, with a view to creating and facilitating a unique networking forum and build supportive relationships across industry and policymakers.

The Forum hopes to provide a platform for women to share their personal experiences of working in senior roles across the life sciences industry, and to encourage a more diverse and representative life sciences sector for the benefit of women at all levels.