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International Women’s Day: In conversation with Sanofi’s Anju Bhalla

To mark International Women’s Day 2022, Pf spoke to Anju Bhalla, Head of Oncology and Haemato-oncology for Sanofi UK and Ireland. Anju has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for 24 years and held multiple sales and marketing roles, with vast specialty care experience.

Here, Anju discusses her route into pharma, her role at Sanofi UK and the advice she would give to other women entering the industry.

Why did you choose a career in science and what route did you take to get to where you are?
I studied Biology and Psychology at university but can honestly say that when I graduated, I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do and initially found myself working in an fast-moving consumer goods sales role. It was only after meeting a friend of a friend who was working in pharmaceuticals, that I realised it would be perfect for me. It meant I would be able to use skills from my degree and work in an area that I would find truly rewarding.

For the past five years I have been working as Head of Oncology and Haemato-oncology for Sanofi in the UK and Ireland, but before that I worked across a number of different functions including sales, analytics and marketing.

What motivates you to work in oncology?
Unfortunately, we all know someone who has been diagnosed with cancer and this has an impact on us and what we do. What gets me out of bed in the morning is knowing that I can make a difference to someone’s life, whether that’s through broader activities that we do, or bringing a new treatment to patients. There are many challenges to overcome in oncology and it’s been great to work with a team that shares my passion for tackling these challenges to truly make a positive impact.

What has been your highlight in the past five years working as Head of Oncology and Haemato-oncology for Sanofi UK and Ireland?
Bringing two medicines to market in areas of high unmet need are particular high points, especially given that one was the first licensed treatment in its indication. It’s all about ensuring all options are there for patients, and my role in enabling that makes me feel really proud. It’s an immensely rewarding time to be working in oncology as we see advances continue to come through, and it’s great that we at Sanofi will be able to contribute to some of those exciting innovations in the years to come.

I can’t reflect on the last five years without mentioning COVID-19. As we have adjusted to a new way of working, it’s been inspiring to see how the team has grown stronger together and the willingness to be there for one another. This positive approach from everyone, to not be afraid to say how they feel and accept support from others, has been great to see. To think that half of the team joined during the pandemic, you wouldn’t believe it if you saw how they engage and interact with each other now!

Casting my mind back to 2020, I was pleased to lead the Diversity & Inclusion workstream for Sanofi. This was the first year for this workstream and it started conversation and thinking around this important topic, which has translated into positive initiatives today.

How has working at Sanofi shaped how you approach working in oncology?
The passion people have for supporting patients with the best possible care, coupled with the company’s focus on us, its people, has created a truly collaborative and safe environment where I am comfortable to make bold decisions. I feel motivated to step out of my comfort zone and try new things, with a view to continually raising the bar for the cancer community.

As a company, we are chasing the miracles of science to improve people’s lives, and the freedom we are given to explore brave ideas helps with this pursuit.

How would your team describe you?
I would hope that they see me as someone they can always talk to and loves to challenge the status quo.

Who inspired you growing up?
Although I didn’t realise it at the time, my parents were the ones that inspired me when I was younger. They were always fully supportive of me, no matter what it was that I was exploring and never once dampened my expectations or ambition because of my gender or ethnicity.

Why is gender equity important in science?
For me, it boils down to having a diverse group of people, that offer diversity in their thoughts and perspectives. There are plenty of statistics I could throw at you but I think a quote from Henry Ford really sums it up for me: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.” If everyone in the room is similar, with the same viewpoints and same ways of thinking, then how are you going to incite change? It is important that everyone is afforded the same chance to be lifted up and bring their ideas and perspectives to the table and we must ensure our unconscious bias doesn’t influence our decision making.

How have you sought to help others succeed in the industry?
Something I feel I could have done earlier in my career is use my voice more to empower others. Now, I recognise how important it can be to see someone like me – a woman in a somewhat male-dominated industry – working and succeeding in a leadership role. I take real pride in sharing my insights and lifting up others to succeed in their career.

Is there anything you would like to tell other women thinking about a career in science?
It is important to listen to yourself and be yourself no matter what you do. You’ll be a lot happier in life and in work by being true to yourself and I have found that others will get a lot more from you when you’re not hiding part of who you are.

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Emma Cooper
Emma Cooper
Emma is Digital Editor at Pf.

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