To celebrate International Women's Day 2021, FASTNET FIRST-HAND chats to Niamh Cotter, Senior Manager Quality Compliance with Alcon, the global leader in eye care. Niamh tells us about her own career path, addresses the gender imbalance in STEM, and advises the next wave of female talent.
What is your education background?
I have a BSc in Biomedical Science (UCC) and MA in Business Management (UL).
You started with Alcon in 2019. Why did you apply for this role?
I had recently moved into the Medical Device industry and I was eager to build on my experience in that sector.
As well as building on my experience, I was looking for a new role that would challenge me, a role that would create learning opportunities but also allow me to leverage the skills and knowledge I had previously obtained throughout my working career in the Pharmaceutical industry. The role in Alcon ticked all of those boxes for me.
What appealed to you about this company?
One of the more valuable lessons I have learnt over the years is the importance of considering the ‘company fit’ when you are making a move between employers. Finding the right company is equally as important as finding the right role. My personal priorities when considering Alcon as a potential employer were company culture and opportunities for progression. It was obvious from my first interview that the company had a culture they were extremely proud of and one they were actively working to preserve. During the interview, I was questioned by HR on how I, as a potential new manager, would I ensure this established culture was maintained. Further on in the interview, I was given an overview of the Alcon RADAR program, a global company initiative that encourages international development rotations for selected candidates, it was clear to me that Alcon were a company actively engaged with the development of their associates. My questions were answered even before they were asked, I left that interview with great confidence Alcon would be the right fit for me as an employer, I just had to get my foot in the door!
While the medical technology and pharmaceutical industries are both essential to health, what are the main differences between the two?
While certain similarities can be seen overall the two industries are extremely different. Independent sets of regulations govern these industries and although both serve to ensure patient safety by controlling product quality and efficacy, their requirements vary greatly. The greatest differences in these regulations are driven by how the respective drug or device interacts with the human body and the associated level of patient risk. Medical Devices are inert and mechanical in nature while pharmaceuticals, being chemical in nature, actively interact with the human body. These interaction types bring with them varying levels of risk to the patient and drive the differences in regulatory controls across the two industries. Development and the associated rate of design change also vary greatly when comparing these two industries. Pharmaceuticals tend to have longer lifecycles with improvements rolled out slowly over an extended timeframe, often decades, while identified improvements for medical devices can reach the market at a much faster pace, often available to patients within one or two years.
What actions are needed to improve gender balance in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM), and encourage women to consider STEM careers?
I think it needs to start with encouraging greater uptake of STEM subjects in schools, planting the seed of interest in the early years of education to reduce the imbalance in third level and following on into STEM careers. There is a great opportunity for employers to introduce transparent and effective diversity initiatives to actively encourage more young women to enter fields with gender imbalances. The mentoring program in place at Alcon has proven to be of great interest to women across the company. Initiatives such as this not only support and encourage the development of young women within the company but also prompt conversations and create the opportunity to shine a light on the achievements of our senior female role models onsite.
What advice would you offer to those starting in a STEM career?
My advice to new graduates would be to keep an open mind as you progress on your career path and consider all opportunities available to you. It is great to have a progression plan but remaining flexible and willing to step away from that will ensure you don’t miss out on valuable development opportunities presented along the way. Be sure to network as you go, having established contacts in similar organisations across your industry is a great resource and will stand to you as you progress throughout your career.
Thanks, Niamh. Happy International Women's Day to you and all your colleagues at Alcon.
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