Women of Pharma: Martina Muttke

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In a special series of exclusive PharmaTalent interviews we shine a light on the women leading, inspiring and blazing a trail within industry.

Pf’s Political Correspondent, Claudia Rubin, wrote recently about how pharma has a long way to go in offering equal career opportunities to women, citing the fact that among the top 20 pharmaceutical companies, as ranked by sales in 2016, senior female executives represented just 17% of the management team. ‘Pharma knows it must find a way to encourage more women to rise through its ranks’, Claudia wrote.  

According to the Pf People 2017 Perception, Motivation and Satisfaction Survey Report, the pharma industry is represented by more females than males, at 58% to 42%. Women in pharma also appear to have greater longevity, with the survey finding that more than 15% of female respondents have been working in the pharmaceutical industry between 11 and 20 years.

Women’s roles are evolving, and pharma is one industry where they can rise through the ranks, as the success stories of the inspirational women featured in our new series show.



Martina Muttke, Head of International Medical Affairs at Shire, on what it takes to be a successful woman in pharma.


What do you do?

I’m head of the International Medical Affairs team at Shire, the leading global biotech company in rare diseases. We are the champion for people with rare diseases – one of the most over-looked patient populations in the world. I lead the medical teams in over 70 countries outside the US and spend a lot of my time finding, empowering and retaining talented people who are able to create a positive, patient-centric culture throughout the world.

Medical Affairs has become a critical area in both the pharma and biotech industry. The challenge is to excel in science, entrepreneurialism, communication and courageous leadership – all at the same time!


How did you get where you are today?

I trained as a doctor but, after my studies, I didn’t want to commit to a certain specialty, or be bound to a particular place. My grandmother owned a pharmacy, and I always found drug development fascinating. I started to become interested in pharmaceutical industry opportunities, and saw possibilities for roles in areas like marketing, research and medical.

I started my career as a Medical Adviser in Virology at a pharmaceutical company and then worked in multiple therapeutic areas, before moving on to more managerial roles. Today, looking at what my team and I are doing at Shire, I am especially happy to see how we focus on putting the patient at the centre of our efforts. For me, this is what our work is ultimately about.


What contributes to your success?

Curiosity, courage, a passion for people, foreign cultures and the desire to be a lifelong learner have all helped me through my working life. When I started my career in pharma, a very senior executive urged me to plan my career step-by-step in advance, with clear milestones and timelines. I disregarded that advice and, instead, looked for opportunities that were fun, and followed my heart.

My flexibility and high level of ambition have helped my career, as have a positive mindset and determination never to take “no” for an answer!


Do women have to work harder in pharma?

I feel women need to work as hard as men – this is not a gender issue. I have always been offered the same chances as my male colleagues. I know a lot of male managers who prefer to hire and promote women, because they have been convinced by their qualities and performance.

When I asked some female colleagues this question, their responses were mixed. Some felt a definitive “yes”, because they think there is still not enough female representation at the top. Without doubt some women do encounter gender barriers, but this is not only in pharmaceutical companies, and I do see this changing.


How can the pharma industry attract and retain more senior female executives?

Attract us by offering more flexible working conditions, great pay and outstanding development opportunities. Provide support to women that allows a balance between work and family. This is also about company culture – when it comes to retention, companies should not only focus on creating diversity discussions and coaching programmes, but actively promoting women into senior roles in the organisation.


What qualities and talents does a woman entering the pharma industry need?

I asked this question to some of our female leaders at Shire, and received interesting answers.

First of all, you have to be good at your job. Competence is a basic quality; as is persistence, empathy and high self-esteem.

Another important element is common sense, a mindset which is often underestimated. Studies show female brains to be better wired for leadership; less impulsive behaviour, better judgement and more empathy. Women can be strong leaders by displaying these qualities, and thus become huge assets for the company.


What’s the best piece of careers advice you’ve ever been given?

Luck is preparedness meeting opportunities.


What does your professional future look like?

What I find really interesting is the new role of ‘Chief Patient Officer’. It’s great to see the realisation that the patient is indeed our most important customer. Patients are becoming much more responsible in managing their health, which is largely attributable to our world going digital.

Patients will soon request participation in all stages of a drug’s development and lifecycle, as an active partner. This will be a fascinating advancement in the coming years, and a real challenge for industry.
Shire is on this journey as a very patient-centric company, and I’m excited to work further on how we can best serve individual patient needs.